Completed East of England and The Midlands: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C 34 Is this a portrait of William Henry Bateson (1812–1881)?

Portrait of a Gentleman
Topic: Subject or sitter

I think this is William Henry Bateson, based on a comparison with this portrait:

The collection has no further information, and the portrait has no identifying marks.

Any further information would be welcome.

James Bartholomew, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It is certain that this portrait does not show William Henry Bateson. The title has been updated to 'Portrait of an Unidentified University of Cambridge Doctor of Divinity' and the work dated to the 1850s from the sitter’s robes.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Martin Hopkinson,

Is there any inscription or label at all on the back of this painting or on the back of its frame or stretcher? Does the College have any record that it owns a second portrait of this sitter? Does the College own any photographs of Bateson?

Kieran Owens,

Do the portraits of the sitters in the attached composite convincingly show that they are both of William Henry Bateson? The faces seem significantly different, especially comparing the straight thin lips of the left-hand sitter to the rather fuller, bow-shaped lips of the right-hand painting of Bateson. Maybe the passage of time might have changed the shape of them, but not that much, surely.

Perhaps a clear identification or the sitters' robes might throw more light on the position of these men within the Cambridge College structure. To illustrate the various academic landmarks in Bateson's life, and to work out if the robes match any particular achievement during it, the attached obituary, from Eddowes's Journal and General Advertiser for Shropshire and the Principality of Wales, Wednesday 30 March 1881, might help determine if these sitters are one and the same person.

Also, should the portrait on the right of the composite be more correctly identified as being by the Liverpool School of painters' John Ewart Robertson (1820 - 1879)? There are several portraits by him on the Art UK website to which it may be compared. Bateson also born in Everton so there might have been a connection between the two similarly-aged men from earlier in their lives.

Kieran Owens,

By way of a possible corroboration of the suggestion above that John Ewart Robertson was the painter of the right-hand portrait of William Henry Bateson attached above ( and here at ), the artist exhibited a portrait (no. 319) at the Royal Academy in 1865 of "James Aikin (sic), Esq., of Liverpool".

William Henry Bateson had been married on the 11th June 1857, at St. Bride's, Liverpool, to Anna, daughter of James Aikin (sic), Esq, of Liverpool. It is most likely, therefore, that John Ewart Robertson, having painted the father-in-law, was the artist who painted the son-in-law.

Osmund Bullock,

Indeed, Kieran: I don't think there's any doubt that the 'John Robertson' who painted the identified portrait of Bateson at St John's was John Ewart Robertson. Apart from anything else, there is no other artist called John Robertson recorded as painting portraits at the time, let alone ones of this size and quality. Comparisons with other J.E.R. works fully support the attribution, and the Liverpool & James Aikin connections would seem to clinch it. The one of Bateson's father-in-law exhibited at the RA in 1865 is here , and oddly is dated 1873 on Art UK. This cannot be right, unless it was a later duplicate (less likely as a gift from his widow). The DNB gives a date of 1864-5 for Bateson's portrait - on what basis I don't know, but that would fit well with the more probable date for Aikin's.

Back on topic, I agree that the comparison with our portrait is not wholly convincing, especially (as you note) in the mouth...but not impossible. If the Robertson portrait is c1865 - he looks old for a man of 53, but he'd suffered serious ill-health 30+ years before - then ours (if also of Bateson) would surely have to be at least 10 or 15 years earlier. What we need is an expert on academic/clerical dress. The narrow bow tie curiously twisted to form a sort of cross (and the plain-fronted, unbuttoned black top with almost a roll collar) seem very distinctive. A concerted search through other university portraits is called for, I fear...

Tim Williams,

I should think the main clue is on the spine of the books upper right.

I've looked at a high-res image (and indeed the painting itself), and no detail can be seen on the books at all. Nice idea, but the artist hasn't tried to indicate any title, just given a general impression of a fairly standard binding.

To answer an earlier question -there is no label or identifying mark on the back of this painting.

Betty Elzea,

It looks as if it has been painted from a photograph.

Barbara Bryant,

The ODNB lists another portrait of Bateson at St. John's College. It is an undated watercolour by E.H. Palmer. Might we be able to see an image of that for comparison? Can Art UK approach the collection to make this enquiry?

Jacinto Regalado,

To my eye, the face definitely does not look like that of Bateson's known portrait linked above.

Jacinto Regalado,

None of the visible portraits in the rest of St John's College collection on Art UK show the same sort of tie, though a number do show the kind of collar worn by Bateson in the Robertson portrait.

Osmund Bullock,

Sadly just a cartoon, and in any case too late in life to help with our conundrum. But yes: many, many thanks to Kathryn. It makes a huge difference when we get such a helpful response from the collection.

Jacinto Regalado,

The two paintings in question show men with different faces. I agree that the picture under scrutiny may well be after a photograph; it reminds me of contemporary engravings also made after photographs (it could almost be a coloured version of one such engraving). Still, the known Bateson portrait shows a softer, fleshier, rounder or more squarish and "weaker" face. Even allowing for an age difference, if the only basis for thinking our picture is of Bateson is the Robertson portrait of him, I am not at all convinced.

Barbara Bryant,

Thanks very much to St. John's. It's an interesting image but unfortunately won't help with our quest to identify the sitter in the oil portrait.
Considering the comments about how the portrait might relate to a photograph, does anyone have any further thoughts?

Jacinto Regalado,

Can anyone determine if the collar or cravat is clerical, academic, or otherwise, and if it can help narrow down the date?

Jacinto Regalado,

Does the collection's "Accession number 54" relate to a date of entry into the college's holdings?

Jacinto Regalado,

Ideally, an entity like the National Portrait Gallery would have visual recognition software that could match this picture to any similar image in its collection, particularly of photographs. Is that feasible?

Barbara Bryant,

Alex Kerr of the Burgon Society, an educational charity devoted to the study of academical dress, has kindly informed me that the sitter is wearing a Cambridge DD festal gown.

"Up to the mid-19th century the festal gown for all Cambridge doctors (except MusD) was of scarlet cloth with silk facings and sleeve linings described as ‘pink’ or ‘rose'. The DD was distinguished by the black cord and button holding the sleeve. The LLD and MD got a scarlet cord and button."

"By the later 19th century the DD’s silk had become what is called ‘dove’ - turquoise shot pink silk. Other doctorates adopted different silks - LLD: light cherry, MD: mid-cherry; ScD: pink shot light blue; LittD: scarlet."

It would seem that our Cambridge Doctor of Divinity dates from the mid-19C as he wears the scarlet cloth robe and pink/rose silk facings and sleeve linings, with the black cord and button on the sleeve identifying it as a DD.

Jacinto Regalado,

I suppose the picture could still date from the third quarter or so of the century, meaning 1850-1875, though it could conceivably be earlier, but it looks more like mid-Victorian.

Jacinto Regalado,

I assume the sitter is wearing a clerical collar, albeit much less typical or common than the one worn by Bateson in the Robertson portrait. It seems we now need an expert in clerical dress.

I have reviewed the very helpful contributions to date, and the images known to be of William Henry Bateson and, as a number of contributors have said, it does seem unlikely that Mr Bateson is the subject of this particular portrait. Unless there is further comment I suggest that we should move to close this discussion with a recommendation that the collection may wish to consider changing the title of the work to 'Portrait of an Unidentified Cambridge Doctor of Divinity' and to amend the artist description to 'British School, mid 19th Century'. Thoughts would be most welcome.

Osmund Bullock,

A chance discovery in the Library of Congress collection of Roger Fenton Crimean War photos which confirms that this unusual shape of bow tie was indeed being worn by some clerics in the mid-19thC: It shows the principal chaplain to the forces in the Crimea with his fellow chaplains, and dates from the spring or early summer of 1855.

Attached is a higher-res version of the image. The focus is rather soft, but at least two of them seem to have the same sort of tie, though perhaps not with such a high collar.

1 attachment

Thank you Osmund, that is most helpful. As has been mentioned previously, we are no further forward in identifying the sitter of this portrait as it does seem to be unlikely that the subject is William Henry Bateson. Subject to Barbara's views on the matter I suggest that we should move to conclude this discussion with the recommendation that the title of the painting should be amended to 'Portrait of an Unidentified Cambridge Doctor of Divinity' and to amend the artist description to 'British School, circa the 1850s'.

Barbara Bryant,

Agreed, this portrait does not show Bateson. We have established that it is a cleric of the mid 19C but he is still an unknown Doctor of Divinity from Cambridge University. The noticeable cross-over white tie, compared to Osmund's photo by Fenton, lodges the portrait closer to mid 19C than later. So as Grant suggests, describe it as: ' Unidentified Cambridge University Doctor of Divinity', 'British School, circa 1850s'.

Louis Musgrove,

Just a thought- might it be the previous Master, Ralph Tatham -- !839 to 1857-- although I can't find an image of him to coroberate .????

Another case where 'everyone knows who this is, and by' at some point became 'everyone who knew is dead' without doing the simple thing, i.e writing both indelibly somewhere on it: but there is a probably fairly safe presumption it is a DD with a close St John's connection, if only as a test 'possibles' need to meet.

Barbara Bryant,

I also think Tatham would be too old to be the man depicted in this portrait.

Louis Musgrove,

He would have been 61 upon becoming Master- not out of realms of possibility- but even though the identified pictures are profile it looks a bit unlikely- even though the ears are similar.Ah well !

Barbara Bryant,

As per the earlier comments, and agreement by Grant, this discussion can be closed. It is certain that this portrait does not show Bateson. We have established that it is a cleric of the mid 19C wearing the robes of a Doctor of Divinity. So as Grant suggests, describe it as: 'Unidentified Cambridge University Doctor of Divinity', 'British School, circa 1850s'. This is a much better description of the work than it previously had so that is progress.