Completed British 19th C, except portraits 39 Is this a scene from 'The Merchant of Venice'? Is John Emery the artist?

Topic: Subject or sitter

Could this be a scene from Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' with Shylock, his daughter Jessica and Lorenzo? There appears to be a signature above the date at the bottom left corner.

The collection comments: 'The signature appears to be 'J. Emery' with a date of 1879 (I think). Could the artist be John Emery?

I have been unable to find any signatures to compare it to.'

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

This painting has been retitled 'Othello Relating His Adventures' and the additional title information '(copy after Douglas Cowper)' has been added. The artist is now listed as John Emery (1802–1893). These changes will be visible on Art UK in due course.

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion, as well as detailed biographical information about the artist.


I think our postings must have crossed paths- see my latest post on the original discussion:

I have just discovered a record for this painting and an accession number:

Othello discoursing on his love for Desdemona by John Emery. Dated 1879
Donated by the artist's grand-daughter

Martin Hopkinson,

- but Andrew, do not you think that this picture must be based on another much earlier work?

Scott Thomas Buckle,

The subject is "Othello relating his adventures [Othello, act I, sc. 3] and is known from a steel engraving by Alexander Dick after D Cowper. Folger has an image of the print on their site:

I'm not sure whether the Potteries' Museum version is a later copy by Emery or a version by Douglas Cowper himself. Cowper's version was exhibited at the RA in 1839, so the 1879 inscription could be a misreading of this.

Osmund Bullock,

The Art UK version is fairly high-res: enhanced detail of the bottom left corner attached. The signature does look like 'EMERY' - it's certainly not 'Cowper', anyway; and the date looks much more like 1879 than 1839. I would say, too, that though the colouring is nice enough, all the detail displays the bland and mechanical look of a rather amateurish copy - there is more life, to be honest, in the faces and figures of the engraving.

John Emery was born and lived almost all his life in the heart of the Potteries. He is listed throughout as a portraitist, though two of his children became china painters. His other works on the website are similarly rather lifeless (the Castle Drogo ones are slightly better) and he looks self-taught - one of the self-portraits may be based on a photograph. With the provenance found by the Collection, I see no reason to doubt that this is, indeed, a later copy by him of Cowper's 1839 RA work.

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Yes, definitely figure types, etc. of the 1830s not 1870s. There was also an engraving by E.Finden after this painting by Cowper in The Royal Gallery of British Art (1842)

Although Cowper died age 22 in 1839, he had a high reputation as a painter and draughtsman and his few works all sold. He is even represented in the ODNB.
We might ask if Emery's picture was painted after the original oil of 1839 or the engraving. Its size suggests the former. And if so, how might he have had access to the original?

Shaun Everett,

Personally, I would start at Raphael and work forwards, even though the subject matter is different from Raphael.

Emery would have required access to Lansdowne's London house or, more probably, Bowood (Wilts) to copy directly: given L's encouragement of contemporary artists that's possible but it would have involved a special journey to either for Emery, plus the costs involved, so if a direct copy it must have been a specially commisioned one by a local patron.

Osmund Bullock,

Assuming, Peter, that it was still with the Lansdownes when Emery copied it. It was the 3rd Marquess, aged nearly 60, who acquired it at (or soon after) its RA exhibition in 1839. If this copy was not made until 1879 - possible, as the picture came from the family, and Emery was still painting occasionally in the early 1880s - we are on to the *5th* Marquess, who as a young man of 34 may have had rather different tastes. It could in any case, notwithstanding its size, derive from one of the prints - its inflation to a 3ft-wide canvas might have contributed to its relative blandness.

Osmund Bullock,

I may have done John Emery an injustice in a previous post. Though most of his portraits on Art UK are poor, it is clear from newspaper search results that his earlier work was well-rated at least locally, where he exhibited from the early 1830s - and not just portraits, an 1839 review singled out "...a very promising painting of Rebecca and Isaac, by J.Emery", and there is mention in the 1850s of a Virgin & Child. On a broader stage, a (full-length) portrait of the pottery manufacturer Charles Meigh shown at the Manchester RI in 1853 was highly-praised by the Man. Examiner & Times (see attachment 1). This 1842 mezzotint after another local worthy’s portrait also bespeaks a fair level of competence more in line with the Peek portrait at Castle Drogo: The London tea dealer William Peek was closely related by marriage to Charles Meigh.

By the early 1860s Emery was losing business to photography, and like many others decided to try and join ‘em if he couldn’t beat ‘em. In a series of advertisements in the summer of 1862 he promoted himself as a photographic artist as well as portrait painter, though there is no sign that he was very successful in the venture. He was still painting portraits in the mid-1870s & early 80s. See attachments 2, 3 & 4.

A leading local Catholic and Freemason, Emery received several local masonic portrait commissions in the 1850s & 60s - one, at least, was engraved. His son John, a piano dealer and musician, later became Mayor of Hanley, and the octogenarian artist’s last noted work was a portrait of his son as retiring mayor, presented to the Borough by him in 1883 (see attachment 5). The previous year a portrait he had painted of the first mayor, John Ridgway (d. 1860), was also presented to the Borough for the Council Chamber (attachment 6). These may still be in public collections, but are perhaps unidentified – I struggle when using Art UK’s search engine, but perhaps others will have more luck in finding possible candidates.

Pat Cook 01,

As the GGgrandaughter of John Emery, I would be interested in discovering whether more of his work still exists.

Pat Cook (née Emery)

I think we can summarise this discussion and make the recommendation that the painting is by John Emery (1802-93), entitled 'Othello Relating his Adventures', painted in 1879, and is a copy of the original by Douglas Cowper (1817-39) exhibited in 1839, made either from the painting or a print. Particular thanks to Scott Thomas Buckle for finding the original and Martin for correcting my premature conclusion.

Pat Cook 01,

I supplied the Mapping Sculpture site with John Emery's exact date of birth, which I had obtained from the Staffordshire Record Office. I did not furnish the site with any other information about him.

Thanks for that but I'm trying to clarify if there is any evidenced suggestion he was also a sculptor? If not, his presence on the Mapping Sculptor site at all just sows confusion by implying he was.

Pieter may be right here. The sculptor Emery seems to be a different person. See the attached for the this Emery's works exhibited at the RA from 1849 to 1865. That he was resident in London strongly suggests he is not the same as the artist based in Staffordshire. The evidence about the Emery of the Potteries show him as an oil painter and photographer.

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Douglas Dodds,

PS You might need to cut-and-paste the above link to get it to work correctly!

Thanks Barbara: that John Emery (b.c. 1825- d. 18 April 1895) of London and Lichfield is also separately on the Mapping Sculpture site:

(His last RA exhibit in your Graves RA extract -'the late Lord Hatherton'- is a Staffordshire piece being of Edward John Littleton, 1st Baron Hatherton, 1791 – 1863, of the long demolished Teddesley Hall there. )

So it looks as though the Staffordshire painter John Emery (1802-93) is simply an intruding red-herring who should be fished out of the Mapping Sculpture pool...

Pat Cook 01,

I am not sure that my esteemed GGGrandfather, John Emery (1802-93) would have liked to be called an 'intruding red-herring!'

Yes, very complicated. Thanks, Pieter. The sculptor did have a Staffordshire presence but is surely not the same fellow as the painter of the picture under discussion.

Being Staffordshire-raised myself, no disrespect intended to Emery the painter (1802-93) but it seems clear enough that he is out of plaice (ouch!) in Mapping Sculpture, possibly based solely on a reference to him as 'Sculp Artist (Portrait Painter)' in the 1891 census, unsupported by any evidence of sculptural work. So that site needs to (at least) 'disambiguate' him better from the London and Staffordshire sculptor of the same name (c.1825-95) and I have asked them to do so. This only relates to the matter originally raised here in terms of clearing confusion before wrapping it up.

With the aim of progressing Art Detective's primary function, can I again summarise this discussion and make the recommendation that the painting is by John Emery (1802-93), entitled 'Othello Relating his Adventures', painted in 1879. It is a copy of the original by Douglas Cowper (1817-39) exhibited in 1839, made either from the painting or a print. Particular thanks to Scott Thomas Buckle for finding the original.

At least two people have now tried to contact Mapping Sculpture about the painter's inclusion on that project's database and as this is not the responsibility of Art Detective can I ask that we move on.

Jade King,

The collection has been contacted about this recommendation.

(However The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery recently informed Art UK the collection no longer has a dedicated arts curator.)

So where do we go from there please?

This strikes me as one of the cases we have discussed where, for whatever reason, collections have put things on Art UK but (a) have had no resource thereafter - be it either of specific expertise or other staff willing/able to make a change to old information or (b) have lost one or other for subsequent reasons. In either case it leaves matters either pending attention or - as in this case, fully resolved hanging in limbo potentially indefinitely.

The obvious solution is some provision for the agreed Art UK view to be noted as an alternative to old collection information demonstrably wrong. With luck the collection would eventually also 'tick the box' but if not there's at least a sensible conclusion.

Jade King,

Art Detective is set up for collections – unfortunately it's all we can do to wait. This discussion is linked to from the artwork page on Art UK.

Well, it looks like this is going to add to the long list of long waits so I might as well post here the following summary so far. If there is a previous potted biography, no-one has yet mentioned of it:

John Emery, 1802–93

John Emery was born on 16 November 1802 at Hanley, in the Staffordshire potteries. A Roman Catholic and local freemason, he exhibited locally from the early 1830s, including some religious subjects, but was primarily a portraitist. A portrait of Thomas Brutton, another notable local mason and governor of Stafford Gaol, was reproduced as a good quality mezzotint by Samuel Reynolds junior in 1842 (copy in NPG) and a full-length of the pottery manufacturer Charles Meigh was critically praised when shown at the Manchester Royal Institution in 1853 ('Manchester Examiner and Times', 16 November). His last noted work was a portrait of his son John, a piano dealer and musician, who became Mayor of Hanley for 1883. He presented this to the borough late that year and in 1882 another donor presented one of Hanley’s first mayor, John Ridgway (d. 1860), for hanging in the Council chamber. Emery also seems to have done some copies: 'Othello Relating his Adventures' (Potteries Museum) [the picture discussed here] is an 1879 copy taken either from Douglas Cowper’s original painting of 1839 or a known print of it. The 1851 census, when he was living at 3 High Street, Shelton, Stoke on Trent, lists two of his children as apprentices to a pottery painter and a cabinet maker. Though continuing to paint likenesses into the 1880s, by the early 1860s he was also advertising himself as a ‘photographic artist’, as photography began to affect the demand for painted portraits: local press adverts for 1862 show his photographic ‘Portrait Rooms’ at 9 Albion Street, Hanley ('Staffs. Advertiser', 21 June). In the 1891 census he is referred to as a ‘Sculp Artist (Portrait Painter)’ but there is no evidence he was a sculptor and he is not to be confused with the sculptor John Emery (c.1825–1895) of London and Lichfield. Emery died at Hanley on 3 January 1893: the probate value of his estate, just over £65, suggests his prosperity was limited. Eleven works in the Potteries Museum include three self-portraits, and family portraits of his daughters.

Osmund Bullock,

It's perhaps worth mentioning that the confusing word 'Sculp' on Emery's 1891 Census form is clearly an annotation added later in the Census office as part of the statistical analysis (the handwriting is very different) - the original enumerator just wrote "Artist (Portrait Painter)". It's not clear why this happened, as the official sub-categories were in fact 'Painter (artist)', 'Engraver (artist)' and 'Sculptor' - oddly, though, I believe I have seen it before. In this case, anyway, it was clearly an error.

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Thanks for that clarification Osmund: the obvious possibility is that someone back of house in the Staffordshire census also got wires crossed with the local sculptor of the same name.

Pat Cook 01,

Further to Pieter van der Merwe's interesting biography, it should perhaps be noted that both John Emery, the portrait painter and his son were only briefly members of their local Masonic lodge from 1857-1860, probably for business and social reasons. The Membership Register records their resignations in 1860. The Catholic Church then, as now, teaches that Freemasonry and Christianity are incompatible and one cannot be a member of both.

Thanks for that useful tweak. I did long ago raise the same incompatibility point in relation to someone else in the late 18th century who was raised as a Catholic seminarist but did not take orders and later became a notable freemason. The advice I got was that, at least in Britain, Papal writ on the matter had less effect - then and now- than elsewhere; though presumably rather depending on how Catholic the individual's observance might be.

Pat Cook 01,

The history of The Sacred Heart Church in Hanley records that the church opened in 1860. The first resident priest arrived in February that year and stayed with John Emery and his wife Susannah.

Hospitable of them, but it looks like being recalled to stricter orthodoxy was a side effect as far as John was concerned! Its Andrew Greg's call as Group Leader in this area on when we perhaps call a halt on this one, but the queries originally raised have all been resolved save for the collection ticking the box.

This is not the first time I have tried to close this discussion! Thanks, Pieter for your excellent biographical work.

The recommendation is that the painting is by John Emery (1802-93), entitled 'Othello Relating his Adventures', painted in 1879. It is a copy of the original by Douglas Cowper (1817-39) exhibited in 1839, made either from the painting or a print. Particular thanks to Scott Thomas Buckle for finding the original.

Edward Stone,

Thank you for all your contributions. The collection has been contacted and we await its feedback on this recommendation.

Edward Stone,

The collection has contacted us and is happy to accept this recommendation.