Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 18th C, South East England: Artists and Subjects 35 Is this actually a double portrait of Mawdistly Best’s father and uncle, Thomas and James Best?

KT_MMB_14_003
Topic: Subject or sitter

The subjects currently named were not born before the artist's death. Either the sitters are wrongly named or the painting has been incorrectly attributed.

Harry Best-Shaw, Entry reviewed by Art UK

35 comments

The Collection has added: ‘It has been suggested that the sitters may be Mawdisty's father and uncle, Thomas and James Best. More information on the sitters would be useful.’

Christopher Foley,

There is no sitter called Best listed in John Jope Rogers' "Catalogue of 760 pictures by John Opie RA" (1878) which is unusually reliable for its date; nor does Ada Earland list any such in "John Opie and his circle" (1911). A letter quoted by her from Miss Brightwell's "Memorials of Amelia Opie"(1854) refers to an ALS from the artist saying "A Mr Best called on Saturday, and said he meant to be or have somebody painted, but I have heard no more". No portrait of a sitters of this name is listed in the RA Catalogues.

Opie tends to be something of an attributional catch-all for doubtful portraits of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Viv HENDRA,

Do the costumes suggest a date for the picture?
I would be more inclined to doubt the attribution to Opie than the identity of the sitters.

The painting is only 'attributed' at Maidstone.

Jacinto Regalado,

It would be helpful to have Lou Taylor date the picture based on the older boy's dress.

Osmund Bullock,

Getting the subject's name wrong is not the ideal start to a new discussion. The name is 'MawdistLy' with an 'L' (occasionally found as 'Mawdistley'); for some reason either Art UK or Maidstone got it wrong in the listing, and it's wrong on this other one too https://bit.ly/2uU4T3Z. The latter error was actually pointed out 2½ years ago in the other Best discussion https://bit.ly/30nACtv (27/07/2018 04:03), and the correct word has been used in the thread there 25 times so far. It's time we got it right. [Ed: thank you, this has been corrected]

By Mawdistly Best I assume we are talking of William Mawdistly Best (1809-1869) and his younger brother James John Best (1811-1844). It is suggested instead that we are looking at their father Capt Thomas Best (1783-1813) and his elder brother James Best (1781-1849) of Park House, Boxley. See Burke's Landed Gentry here https://bit.ly/30eIpdn.

Osmund Bullock,

Guessing that the elder boy in the portrait is around 12-14 years old, the younger about 10-12, the question is, are we looking at a date for it of c.1821-3 or c.1793-5? I would think early 1820s, if only because the 1790s seems too early for trousers - but perhaps children wore them at an earlier date. I think we must as ever look to Lou for advice on this one.

There is actually another Mawdistly Best in the next generation, Mawdistly Gaussen Best (b.1826) also of Park House, second son and heir of James above. This Mawdistly's elder brother James was born in 1822, but pre-deceased his father in 1845. However I think that possible pairing must be too late, as the painting's date would have to be in the mid-1830s, and the boys around 4 years apart in age.

Jacinto Regalado,

They look younger to me, Osmund, but I agree this is more likely to be c. 1820 than 1790s, which would obviously exclude Opie.

Osmund Bullock,

By way of a most interesting comparison, here https://bit.ly/2OsYqcM are two cricketing brothers of (a bit surprisingly) 6 & 11 years old in a triple portrait of 1793 by Thos Beach, and indeed they are wearing breeches, not trousers, and furthermore their hair is much longer. The open frilly collar as worn by our younger sitter is much the same, however.

Jacinto Regalado,

Great minds think alike and all that, Osmund. Our boys look younger than the Pole boys, by the way.

Osmund Bullock,

Snap!

I don't think the elder one of ours is much younger, Jacinto, or I doubt he would be wearing essentially adult clothing.

Jacinto Regalado,

I think the Best boys (if so they are) could be 6 and 8.

Jacinto Regalado,

Beechey comes to mind, but this may be a bit too harsh for him.

Osmund Bullock,

I rather think the Pole boys have had their age upped a bit by the artist to demonstrate their maturity and suitability for membership of the ruling class. It's quite a common feature, and the posher the child is the more adult they tend to be portrayed. The habit only dropped away gradually during the C19th, as childhood became more celebrated.

Jacinto Regalado,

I agree about the Pole boys, Osmund, but the same argument could apply to the Best boys.

Osmund Bullock,

It could, but I really don't think an eight year-old would be shown with a high wing collar and full 'choker'-wrapped cravat and big bow. I hope someone can find the portrait exhibited at the RA or somewhere, I'd love to know who's right!

Martin Hopkinson,

is the interesting building and its architect securely identifiable? presumably Park House, Boxley? demolished in the 1950s
Medway Archives Centre have papers relating to it and the family's brewing business. The Best family owned it from 1720

Martin Hopkinson,

Chilston Park, Lenham under the Downs was also a Best property until 11819

Martin Hopkinson,

Kent Library and Archives Centre have papers for the Chilston Estate

Martin Hopkinson,

If we do not yet have dates for the sitters, perhaps we should have an opinion from a costume specialist?

Jacinto Regalado,

Martin, I believe the building is Rochester Cathedral, as per the title.

Martin Hopkinson,

but does it really look like that cathedral? Was there ever a cricket ground near the cathedral?

Tim Williams,

I don't think the architecture fits for Rochester either, looks more like Eton College chapel.

Tim Williams,

Rochester only has one small section of crenellations. This building has four between every buttress.

Martin Hopkinson,

Eton of course has long been involved with cricket. Did any of the Best family attend the school, and do any of them feature in the College's collection of leaving portraits?
Dulwich Picture Gallery held an exhibition ot [some of ?] the leaving portraits in 1991

Martin Hopkinson,

so could the boys be their grandsons, Thomas and James?

Osmund Bullock,

Their eldest two sons Thomas (b.1753) & James (b.1755) are much too early to be our sitters; even their younger brothers, Richard, John & George (b. between 1757 & 1759) wouldn't work. The two boys have to be of the next generation at the earliest, and probably of the one after that.

Martin, see my posts above today at 02:37 & 02:42.

Osmund Bullock,

To expand on the info in Tim's post, Thomas, James and either Richard or George (not specified) are the three sons of James & Frances recorded as Etonians in 'The Eton College Register 1753-1790' - they were there in the 1760s & early 70s (https://bit.ly/3efFGs5). In the harder to use 'Eton School Lists from 1791 to 1850' (https://bit.ly/3qnypcq), no later members of the family appear at all.

[One caveat: the latter volume only takes a snapshot of the pupils in 1791, 1793, then every third year thereafter, i.e. 1796, 1799, 1802, etc. So if the boys were unusually only there for a year or two in, say, 1794-95 or 1821-22, then it seems they would not be listed.]

Martin Hopkinson,

I completely agree with you , Osmund - but we do need to identify the building which is not Rochester Cathedral , nor either of the family's Boxley or Chilston houses, but did the family own a house in or near Rochester? Eton is clearly a red herring, but the Leaving Pictures may provide portraits of young men of the period in which the style can be compared withn the Best brothers
I don't know whether the straight cricket bat provides any help over dating

Martin Hopkinson,

The building does not seem to be Boxley church either

Martin Hopkinson,

St Margaret, Rochester was rebuilt c. 1823-4 , but are there are any drawings or prints of it in its earler state? The same question needs to be asked of the Cathedral , as it was altered by Cottingham in 1825, However Newman does not mention any work on the north side of the building

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

Both boys hold cricket bats – so they are not in best dress. Both have
short hair, unlike 1790s when it would have been longer and they would
have worn knee breeches. See comparison – 1: Raeburn- the Allen
Brothers, early 1790s and 2: Pole-the Pole children 1793.

In our portrait, the youngest boy is in frilled shirt – typical wear only for
young boys, with cut away jacket, long drab pantaloon/trousers with
slightly high waist. This high waist was a style left over from 1790s.. with
white socks and flat shoes

Older boy is dressed fully in adult male clothes: collared shirt with white
cravat, white waistcoat, brown cut away tailcoat jacket with velvet collar,
long narrow drab pantaloon/trousers, with front fall closure, white socks
and flat shoes. See matching comparison to clothes in 3: Raeburn, Lt. Col
McMurdo, 1800-1810, in green jacket and drab pantaloons, Tate Britain.

By 1825, styles of men’s jackets, coats and trousers were much more
waisted and fuller. A style that continued into the 1830s.see 4:
1829 fashion plate.

Closest match I found was 5: Raeburn, the Drummond Children 1808-9
(the boy on the hore is aged 6) and 6: Raeburn painted ‘Boy and Rabbit’ c 1815- the boy still with a ruffled collar. My best guess is that portrait dates from
1808-1815.

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