Completed Maritime Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C 72 Is this John Brassington’s portrait of Arctic explorer Sir John Ross?

Sir John Ross (1777–1856)
Topic: Artist

I have been researching a portrait painter from Derby named John Brassington (1798–1882). According to the ‘Derby Mercury’, 1 January 1834, Brassington was commissioned to paint the portrait of Sir John Ross. His portrait of Ross was later exhibited as no. 35 at the Royal Academy in 1836, as well as at exhibitions in Derby in 1843, 1866 and 1870. Due to the date of the painting and lack of attributed artist, I was wondering if this could be the portrait of Ross painted by Brassington?

Both Brassington and Ross were living in London from 1834, so it seems likely that their paths could have crossed there.

It seems that Brassington kept the portrait (or at least a copy of it) to keep exhibiting throughout his lifetime, and the Ross family must have acquired it in the later nineteenth century. This picture came into the National Maritime Museum’s collection in 1917 from Ross’s great-great nephew.

Paige Emerick, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist record has been updated from British School to ‘attributed to Henry Hawkins (1796–1881)’. The life dates, obtained from the National Archives via Ancestry, replace previous active dates for Hawkins.

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


Barbara Bryant,

Some reviews of the Royal Academy exhibition of 1836 might include a description of Brassington's portrait of Ross. It's a shame the article in the Derby Mercury of 2 July 1834, which has a paragraph about the completion of the portrait, does not describe it in any detail. The article indicates that the portrait was painted for Ross's colleague, Captain Jones.

Kieran Owens,

What this portrait depicts is Ross's discovery, as the first European, and subsequent marking by his nephew James Clark Ross, by way of the planting of the Royal Standard, on the 1st June 1831, of the point of true magnetic north. This was achieved during the privately-financed Artic voyage on the 'Victory' steam-ship, which set out in May 1829.

This portrait shows Ross wearing only one medal, that of the Swedish Military Order of the Sword, which he had been permitted by the King to accept and wear on the 4th December 1813.

On his return to England, John Ross was also painted by Benjamin Rawlinson Faulkner, the portrait being exhibited at the RA, in 1834, as catalogue number 261, and entitled "Captain Ross, K.S., R.N."

On Saturday 13th December, 1834, the Naval & Military Gazette announced that "Captain Ross (now Sir John Ross) is, we understand, to receive the honour of the third class of the Order of the Bath."

On the 24th December of that same year, the fowling announcement appeared in the Morning Chronicle: "The King has been pleased to grant unto Sir John Ross, Knight, Captain in the Royal Navy, and Companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, his Royal licence and authority, that he may accept and wear the insignia of the second class of the Imperial Russian Order of St. Anne in diamonds, and those of a Knight Commander of the Royal Swedish Military Order of the Sword, which his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Russia and his Majesty the King of Sweden have respectively ben pleased to confer upon that officer, in testimony of their approbation of his services in the Baltic in the year 1812, And also to commend that the said Royal concession and declaration be registered in his Majesty's College of Arms."

On the 27th December 1834 the Morning Post addd the following: "St. James's Palace, December 24th, 1834. The King was pleased, on the 4th instant, to confer the honour of Knighthood upon John Ross, Esq., Captain in the Royal Navy, Companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, Knight of the Imperial Russian Order of Saint Anne of the Second Class, and Knight Commander of the Royal Swedish Military Order of the Sword."

All of the above goes to highlight the fact that prior to December 1834, Ross had only one specific medal to wear (of the 1813-awarded Swedish Military Order of the Sword), which is what is shown in this portrait. If the painting was executed any later than January 1835, would John Brassington not have been inclined to include these awards of the Order of the Bath and the Order of St. Anne for the 1836 exhibition of his portrait of Ross at the Royal Academy?

The attached image shows the scene from 1831 of the discovery of the Magnetic Pole from a different perspective, but the little canon and the Royal Standard can be clearly seen in both.

John Brassington died on Tuesday 12th September 1888, aged 84. His obituary in the Derby Mercury, of Wednesday 20th September, recalls his portrait of Captain John Ross.

Close inspection of this with a strong light shows no trace of a signature or date (though I agree the suggestion that it is likely to have been done before Ross was loaded with further honours in late 1834). It also shows its pretty rough painting quality (esp clothes) despite the head, hands and background detail being fair enough. The flag at back right bears a heraldic device of a star above three vertical heraldic animal heads all identical but hard to make out, possibly boars or long-nosed hounds and with the motto below 'Deus Adiuvat Nos' (God helps us), all in a gold frame overlaid on a St George cross. I think Ross's 1829-33 expedition was funded by Felix Booth (the gin maker) but whether the emblem is Ross's or his remains TBC. The ship 'Victory' (which is what is presumably shown under winter quarters cover back left) has an Admiralty anchor flag at the bow by the look of it, albeit also rather rough. It is clear enough from the records that by 1917 the Ross family had no idea who it was by, however long they had then had it. If is not by Brassington then other thoughts would help puzzle remains, as for another earlier one of him in NMM which is much better and more Raeburn-like (though Scottish NPG incline to think not by Raeburn). I'll just add here for information though it would perhaps be better to post for separate discussion:

Barbara Bryant,

This is all interesting information, which confirms that the portrait under discussion dates from before late 1834. As I noted in the first post, we know the date of the Brassington portrait of Ross. It was completed by July 1834, according to the article in the Derby Mercury. So no problem about the date. The question is is this portrait of Ross by Brassington or by some other artist. Ross was a very popular subject who was painted at around this time by other artists (Benjamin Faulkner, John Hayter, John R. Wildman, James Green, etc.). Green's portrait is in the NPG; those by Faulkner and Wildman are known by engravings; Hayter's portrait is unlocated. Some works by Brassington for comparison would be useful. He was essentially a Derbyshire artist, who only exhibited once at the Royal Academy.

Kieran Owens,

John Burke's 1852 edition of 'A Genealogical & Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage & Baronetage of the British Empire' clearly describes the arms, crest and motto of the the Booth family. The arms were "Argent, on a chevron, between three boars' heads, couped and erect, sable, an estoile (star), of the field"and the motto was "Deus Adjuvat Nos". (See attachment).

Felix Booth was the main financier of Ross's 1829 expedition, so it is interesting that the prominent flag in the painting should be his, rather than that of William IV. This is all the more interesting as, on page 227 of the book "The Last Voyage of Capt. Sir John Ross, R.N. Knt. to the Arctic Regions: For the Discovery of a North West Passage; Performed in the Years 1829-30-31-32 and 33...." ( ), there is a direct reference to the planting of the Royal standard of William IV by James Clark Ross, Sir John's nephew, at the place of the magnetic north:

"In the mean time however we shall proceed to expose the contra-
dictory evidence which was given by Commander (James Clark) Ross and Capt. (John) Ross, respecting the actual command of the expedition, for according to the evidence of the former he did not consider himself under the command of Capt. Ross, and that he was in fact so far independent of him, that if Capt. Ross had interfered in any of his regulations or conduct, he would have seceded from the management of the expedition altogether. On this subject however the two commanders could not possibly have understood each other, or they must have assumed one character on board the Victory, and another in the committee room of the House of Commons. We certainly do know from our own sources of private information, that Commander Ross as far as the discoveries extended, not only geographical, but philosophical, was the life and soul of the expedition, and that had it not been for his scientific observations, the Standard of William the Fourth would not have been planted on the true position of the magnetic pole; Capt. Ross admits in his evidence, that he was not within forty miles of it, but perhaps the country would have entertained a higher opinion of his personal energy and professional talent, had he gathered the laurels of the discovery himself, and thereby given immortality to his name."

I offer a correction to my details of John Brassington's death above. It occurred on the 12th September 1882 and not, as I posted, 1888. He died at 3, Forester Street, Derby, and was buried at Quarndon on the 16th September.

Further to the life of John Brassington, of Quarndon and Derby, artist (1798 - 1882), he was the son of James Brassington of Derby (1774 - 1844), who was married firstly to John's natural mother Mary Whitaker and secondly to Elizabeth Hallam. Although living in London at the time, John married Eliza Slack, the only daughter of William Slack, of Quarndon, at St. Alkmund's Derby, on the 24th November 1834. The English census records from 1851 to 1881 see him describe himself as a portrait painter. An obituary, from the Derbyshire Advertiser & Journal, of Friday 15th September 1882, is attached.

Osmund Bullock,

I might have guessed you'd post, Kieran, while I was working on mine! Some of the following duplicates yours, but I will post anyway, as I have (amongst other things) conflicting evidence about what flag was planted at the pole.

Yes, this flag is nothing like the royal standard, which would in any case have been (in my opinion) an unthinkable breach of protocol (unless, arguably, King William had sent the expedition out at his personal command and in his name – unlikely, and something that would certainly be recorded). The central shield does indeed bear the arms of Felix Booth (or a version of them) – the three erect boars’ heads are part of the ancient arms of the family, and the motto Pieter mentions is his. Booth bore slightly different arms, at least after being created a baronet in 1835, but they did include a star (on a chevron) – see I haven’t yet found his arms before his elevation, and he may have born them unofficially at that point – the whole flag, with an escutcheon on top of a ?St George’s cross, is heraldically very suspect, and I would guess it was self-designed. But he may well have asked the College of Arms to include a star (in reference to the North Pole) when they granted his new ones as a baronet. Attached is the best image I could make of the flag, men and cannon area of the portrait.

1 attachment
Osmund Bullock,

Though our portrait undoubtedly dates from c.1833-34, the scene does not represent the discovery of the magnetic pole – and incidentally it was not [Captain] John Ross, but his nephew [Commander] James Clark Ross who reached and identified its then position, and did all the observations and calculations that enabled it, during a four-week expedition away from the ice-bound ship across the Boothia Peninsula (named by John Ross for his sponsor, along with many other geographical features). This is made clear in the detailed narratives of both men in the illustrated book about the voyage (a fascinating read) published by Sir John Ross in 1835: A whole chapter is devoted to James Ross’s description of the event and what led up to it (; and on page 557 he recounts how they “fixed the British flag on the spot” (i.e. the Union Flag**, rather than the Royal Standard) and raised a small cairn, claiming it and its adjoining territory for Great Britain...I wonder if he lived long enough to realize how far it wanders around over time!

**See also the crest at the top of the arms granted to one or other of the Rosses here (left-hand page). Not that it really matters which it was , as it is not this event that is shown in our portrait.

Osmund Bullock,

One of the illustrations in the book (page 232), based on a sketch by John Ross, shows the scene at Felix Harbour during the winter of 1829–30, with the ‘Victory’ iced up and under canvas covers. I’m attaching a rotated and enlarged version, along with a tweaked detail of the upper left of our portrait; as you can see, every element in the background of ours is also to be found in the print, and this strongly suggests to me that both represent the same thing. I also think it likely that that the artist of our portrait based some of his work on the print – and/or on a huge and detailed panorama of the expedition that was showing in London from the end of 1833, and to which John Ross contributed much (see and This may have been the source of the error about the “Royal Standard” – at least that’s what I thought before Kieran’s latest find; but I still trust the word of the man who actually planted it over a man who was 40 miles away. Note that the raising of Booth’s own flag on the point near Boothia Felix “near a gun” was depicted in the panorama.

As Barbara says, there were many images of John Ross produced at around the same time (though I think the John Wildman portrait is of his nephew James, not John – or did he paint both?). Many are cheap popular prints with undependable images, but a good degree of consistency between the oils by James Green and Benjamin Faulkner (in the Scottish Nat Galleries) suggests they are decent likenesses. If so, then ours is clearly a terrible one, and I rather doubt that it was taken from life. See attached composite,

Is it likely, I wonder, that such a poor portrait of a famous man would have been admitted to the walls of the Royal Academy a couple of years after leading lights like Green and Faulkner (and Hayter) had exhibited so much better ones?

Barbara Bryant,

Agreed, Osmund. I took the portrait's gaucheness (in composition, as well as likeness) to be indicative of an artist somewhat out of the mainstream. But there may be more to it than that.

James Fairhead,

A quick search of British Periodicals suggests a possibility is that this might be the portrait of Ross by ‘H Hawkins’, that was exhibited at the 11th exhibition at the Society of British Artists (Suffolk Street, Pall Mall). He is described as pained with “bluff, sailor-like features”… “enshrouded in snow with his ship in the distance.” Maybe? Others were not complementary about this portrait: “such interest [in this public figure].. is not materially aided by the merit of the artists.” That is all the detail there is, but all other portraits that I can find don’t have ships.

There is a rather good anonymous portrait in the National Maritime Museum. Is this in Brassington’s style? Or Hayter’s. Art UK have these on their site, so this question posed might also help clear up the hand behind this other work.

British Periodicals reveals an engraving by Mr. G. Bonner, but this was taken from a drawing (The Penny Satirist. July 15, 1837). It reveals, too, a portrait painted by Harriot or Harriet Arnold (née Gouldsmith). The portrait was made into a lithograph printed by Charles Joseph Hullmandel lithograph, circa 1825-1850 It is also not our picture.

Many thanks for confirmation that the 'expedition flag' shows Booth's arms, clearly in a preliminary form to the adjustments made when he became a baronet in 1835.

Given that the portrait predates December 1834, and the details of the background are very clearly the same (with only minor spatial adjustments) as in the illustration of Felix Harbour winter quarters in the 1835 book, it is their source that must be the same. That might be Ross's original sketch, but given the quality of the portrait it seems more reasonable to think that the sketch was first used by Robert Burford for the 1833 panorama (to which Ross contributed), and that the painter re-copied from that at about the same time the Ross sketch was being used to make the lithograph for p. 232 of the book. It may be that the slight variations of composition in the portrait in fact more closely replicate the panoramic version. (I think there was an illustrated 'key' to the panorama, which might just help on that. The other thought that also prompts is whether this is a portrait from life, or from a secondary source including perhaps the panorama? But perhaps let that one lie...)

The well-known Stephen Pearce portrait (also at Greenwich) is that of James Clark Ross: I can't recall one by him of John. The Pearce is hanging in the Queen's House and the one under discussion in the Polar Worlds gallery, so at least (and rather unusually for such a so-so item) currently visible. More on 'H. Hawkins' as a possible alternative contender for painting it would be useful.

I'll post the other 'unknown-artist' Greenwich one separately (though see collection link already provided)

Kieran Owens,

In the linked-to engraving, there are two flags depicted, the "British standard" and the unfurled flag in the right foreground. This, possibly, could be Booth's flag.

The proliferation of Booth's flags in this colour print seems rather excessive:

And yet in the attached engraving, Booth's flag does not appear.

An additional portrait of Sir John Ross can be seen here:

Kieran Owens,

Harriot Gouldsmith "the well-known artist" died aged 76 on the 6th January 1863. At the time of her passing she was "the beloved wife of Robert Arnold, Esq., R.N.".

Captain John Ross and his crew returned to England from their arctic adventures on the 19th October 1833. The Lancaster Gazette of Saturday 21st December 1833 carries a Times' report of Gouldsmith's lithographic depiction of Captain John Ross, the relevant abstraction from which is attached.

Barbara Bryant,

Further to James Fairhead's comment about Hawkins, this review of his portrait of Ross of 1834 at least does not rule it out and may eventually rule it in. See attached from the Morning Chronicle's review of the Society of British Artists exhibition of 1834.

1 attachment

Amendment to above - simply slip of memory: the 'well-known' portrait of James Clark Ross (1800-62), when a commander and dated 1834, marking his discovery of the north magnetic pole, (and currently hanging in the Queen's House, Greenwich) is that by John Wildman: it is Wildman who I don't think painted John Ross.

Stephen Pearce did paint James Clark Ross: the NPG has the 1850 portrait on which Pearce later based a posthumous version dated 1871 for the Naval Gallery at Greenwich Hospital (then under discussion for conversion to become the Royal Naval College), so now part of the Greenwich Hospital Collection at NMM: see

The 'Mirror of Literature' review of Burford's Arctic 'Panorama of Boothia'.... 'just completed' is dated 18 January 1834, which suggests that if the artist was Hawkins he took the landscape details from that pretty late in the day to include the portrait in the SBA show of spring 1834. Ross was also probably bombarded with requests for sittings of all sorts after returning to England on 19 October 1833, which also either gives a tight time frame, or -if this is Hawkins's - requires some other explanation of how he did the likeness.

Henry Hawkins (active 1820-81, with other birth dates online of 1800 or c. 1796). Just one work on Art UK (see link) which is signed and dated 1832 and rather better than that in debate. There are also various and mainly watercolour portraits on sales sites which don't greatly help -assuming by the same man (also called Henry A. Hawkins)

I have doubts about Hawkins, who appears to have been a foundation member of the SBA in 1824 and showed work there in every year for the rest of his life including in 1881 (when he died) except for 1841 and 1849: latterly it was mainly landscape but a mix of that and portraits, many 'society' type earlier on. He also had a fair spread from 1820s to 1840s at the RA. While it all now seems scarce this track record and the one 1832 quarry with figures landscape on Art UK suggest someone of higher early calibre than the present portrait suggests.

Paige Emerick,

Thanks for all the information so far!

Brassington mostly painted portraits of the gentry of Derbyshire and surrounding areas. As well as exhibiting at the RA in 1836 and in Derby, he also had three portraits exhibited at the Suffolk Street Gallery, London in 1836-7, but I'm not sure which portraits.

Other known portraits by Brassington I have found through newspapers and exhibition catalogues include:
• Captain John Ross, R.N, K.S.A, etc, (1834)
• Mr Vernon [possibly George Venables-Vernon, 5th Baron Vernon] (c.1834)
• William Dunnicliff, (pre-1839)
• Mr. Lamb, (pre-1839)
• Douglas Fox Esq., Mayor of Derby, (pre-1839)
• William Collumbell, (pre-1839)
• Self-portrait of John Brassington, (pre-1839)
• H. Hunt, (pre-1839)
• A Boy with favourite dog under tree at half length, (1836)
• Joseph Strutt, (pre-1843)
• James Thomason, (pre-1866)
• Duke of Wellington, (pre-1866)
• Shakespeare, (pre-1866)
• Thomas William Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, (1841)
• Michael Thomas Bass, MP
• Gentleman wearing black hat and coat, bust length
• Martha Crossley, nee Turner
• William Wilkins (from Castle Gate Nottingham), (1827)
• William Wilkins’ wife (?), (1827)
• Sir Francis Darwin
• Mr Morewood of Alfreton Hall
• Mark Attenborough of Ilkeston, (1858-9)

Attached are known portraits by Brassington of a gentleman, a boy and Thomas William Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester. However the quality of the images is not great. The print of Coke is from the Witt Library and the original portrait is in the private collection at Holkham Hall, Norfolk. This is the only portrait by Brassington that I have been able to trace its present day location.

Kieran Owens,

The connection of Captain John Ross to Derby comes through Captain Thomas Jones, R.N. (1786 - 27th September 1845), who commissioned the portrait of Ross from John Brassington. As stated in one of my attachments above, the Derby Mercury of Wednesday 2nd July 1834 stated that the portrait was "painted by Mr. Brassington, one of our townsmen, expressly for Captain Jones, the early friend and co-partner in several scenes of danger of the gallant commander."

As his second wife, John Ross married Mary Jones, the only daughter of Captain Jones, "late of Derby", at All Souls Church, Mary le Bone, London, on the 18th October 1834. She was aged 23, some thirty four years younger then her husband. It is likely that Ross knew his future wife for some time before their wedding, as, in September 1829, Mary Jones Bay was so named during Ross's discovery of the coastline that would eventually be comprised of Brentford Bay and the subsequently-named Port Logan, Port Elizabeth and Port Eclipse.

Details of Captain Thomas Jones' life, as published in William Richard O'Byrne's 1849 edition of 'A Naval Biographical Dictionary' can be seen here:,_Thomas_(a)

and from the same publication there is a detailed biography of Captain Sir John Ross:,_John

The West Kent Guardian of Thursday 10th April 1845 carried the following death notice: "Sept. 27, at Lewisham, in the 60th year of his age, Captain Thomas Jones, R. N."

More details on the lives of Ross, uncle and nephew, can be found in 'Polar Pioneers - John Ross and James Clark Ross', by Maurice James Ross and Eric Ross (1994).

That's all very useful on the Ross/ Jones connection. What would now have to be explained if this is by Brassington is how he was the lender, as I think Paige told me he was before starting this discussion, for its exhibitions in Derby in 1843, 1866 and 1870 (see opening query). It self-evidently explains how it might have got into Ross family possession, but not why either Captain Jones (perhaps, in 1843), or his daughter Lady John Ross or other Ross heirs in 1866 and '70, might have lent it for exhibition under Brassington's name rather than theirs - and subsequently forgotten who did it. The 1834 marriage reference to Captain Jones 'late of Derby' suggests he had already permanently left there so it probably wasn't a case of it being in Derby even in 1843.

Kieran Owens,

The attached composite shows that the background details of this discussion's painting match the positioning of elements that are present in Captain John Ross's own drawing from the same location. The painting of this picture might, therefore, have had sight of those original drawings or the subsequent coloured engraving.

Also attached is a review, taken from the Morning Advertiser of Wednesday 15th January 1834, of Buford's painted Panorama of Ross's expedition. Many of the paintings elements are described therein.

Additionally, there is another view of the same scene.

And finally, I attach the cover sheet of an amusing song dedicated to Captain Ross, the engraved drawing from which was draw by Ross.

Osmund Bullock,

I'm getting a slight sense of déjà vu here. The identical background elements were raised in a post a few days ago (“One of the illustrations in the book...”), along with the likelihood that our artist based that part of the portrait on the illustration and/or Burford’s Panorama; and Pieter discussed this and its implications shortly afterwards. And The detailed description of the panorama (by Ross himself) in the ‘Morning Post’ review is exactly the same, word for word, as the one given in the ‘Mirror of Literature..’ review linked to in the same post (

Your other “view of the same scene” (perhaps based on the ‘Panorama of Boothia’, at least in part) is very interesting – when you posted it previously a few days ago you described it as a print, though it looks to me more like ink and wash. I can’t find it online – what is the source? The song sheet is fun, though I’m pretty sure Ross didn’t draw *that* image! Nevertheless the figures, though altered for comic effect, are certainly based on Ross’s sketches of the ‘esquimaux’, or the lithographs of them in his already-referenced 1835 “Narrative of a second voyage...” (e.g. again perhaps the panorama.

Jacinto Regalado,

The images of Brassington pictures linked by Paige Emerick above suggest a very rudimentary "talent," inferior to the level of the portrait in question, unexceptional though it may be.

Just to be clear: right at the top of this exchange the 'Derby Mercury' of both 1 and 2 July 1834 is mentioned as stating that Brassington had both been 'commissioned' and by then had 'completed' a portrait of Ross for Captain Jones - who, when his daughter Mary married Ross in October that year, was said to be 'late of Derby'. If the present portrait is Brassington's - and it's still just an 'if' - then the source of the background could only have been either Burford's panorama (if it included such details), or the original SKETCH by Ross both used for that and for the William Say coloured print with the title 'Felix Harbour'published in 1835 in the voyage account.

Whoever painted the present portrait the background cannot have been directly from the 'Felix Harbour' print before that became publicly available in 1835.

Kieran Owens,

Osmund, sometimes the volume of correspondence is delivered so quickly as to distract one's attention. I humbly beg for your forgiveness for repeating your own excellent observations and deductions. The link to the drawing is here:

Whoever painted this portrait must have seen an image of the scene in Felix Harbour somewhere. If it is by Brassington, it could quite easily have been that he was shown Ross's own drawings or sketches, as must have Robert Burford, in advance of painting his own panorama. Given the Derby connection, and the likelihood that Brassington was living in London in c.1835/1836 (6, Dyers Square, according to the 1836 submission to the RA), could mean that Brassington was in the capital city at the time of Ross's return and had access to him there.

According to Stephen Glover's 'The Directory for the County of Derby', in 1829 John Brassington was living at Derwent Street in Derby, and was listed as a portrait painter. Pigot & Co's 1839 edition of 'A Directory of London & Its Suburbs' lists Brassington, "portrait painter', as living at 60, Hatton Garden. Glover's 1843 edition of his above-mentioned publication and Samuel Bagshaw's 1846 'History and Gazetteer and Directory of Derbyshire' both list Brassington as a portrait painter, though now living at Friar Gate, Derby.

John Brassington's portrait of Thomas William Coke (32cm x 24cm / 13" x 9") was sold at auction (by Christies, I think) on the 30th July 1976 for £900. If by Christies, perhaps they still retain an image of the work, of better quality than the one posted above by Paige.

Kieran Owens,

Other portraits by John Brassington include:

• Rev. J. R. Errington, M.A., Curate of Derby (1850)
• Mrs. Cantrill, of the Royal Hotel, Derby (full length, 57" x 43") (presented in June 1858)
• Joseph Strutt (1765 - 1844), donor in 1840 of the Derby Arboretum (as a copy of the c.1841 original by Thomas Phillips, R.A., which was destroyed in a fire at Derby Town Hall). Donated by Mrs. Clayton to the Derby Free Library, Museum & Art Gallery in 1888. An enamel after Phillips' portrait was painted by John Haslem and was exhibited at the R.A. in 1841.

Paige Emerick,

Many thanks for the additional information on other portraits by John Brassington, Kieran. Could I ask where you found that information?

Kieran Owens,

Paige, the information came from newspaper reports in the years 1850, 1858 and 1888.

The link below includes an image (which I have also attached separately I hope) of the published circular 'guide key' to Robert Burford's 'Panorama of Boothia' shown at Leicester Square from the end of 1833 into 1834:

The Panorama's image of Ross's ship and camp is clearly different from the background to the portrait, so the latter was not copied from it. That means the artist either used Ross's original sketch or the coloured print based on it (already included twice above) that was published in the voyage account in 1835 .

1. If Brassington did this portrait by July 1834, then he had access to the sketch: that is practically possible if the portrait was from life and for Ross's colleague and soon-to-be father-in-law Captain Jones. The level of detail, such as the good details of the way the ship is laid up, the flags and the Booth expedition banner, are supportive of this

The only things we know standing against it (as opposed to issues of style/hand, for lack of adequate comparators ) is the unexplained fact that Brassington (not Jones or the Ross family) was later reported as the lender when the canvas was exhibited in 1843, 1866 and 1870. One might also ask why a portrait finished in mid 1834 was not submitted for the RA in 1835, rather than in 1836, where his was shown.

2. If it is not by Brassington but still completed in 1834 - as the presence of only Ross's medal for the Order of the Sword suggests - then it is by someone else who also had access to Ross's sketch.

3. If the background came from the print, then the portrait must date to after that was published in the voyage account in 1835, but Ross is deliberately and accurately shown with just the one decoration he had before December 1834. It would not however have been possible to do the background to the level of accuracy it has solely from the print -which does not show the detail and accuracy the oil does either of the Booth banner or of the laid-up ship.

Despite the loan puzzle, 1 or 2 must be the options for 1834 completion,whoever by, and the Jones link to Ross's sketch favours no. 1 and Brassington as artist, since the 'Derby Mercury' (of 2 July we are told -though I've not seen the text) states he had then 'completed' his portrait. Even if that is wrong as regards July completion, the Jones link and the medal still favour Brassington up to December 1834.

No. 2 might also predicate, and no. 3 oly does, some other equally utilitarian artist to whom there is no clue, and a commission for which there is no other evidence in either 1834 or '35, or of a personal connection that would have given such a painter access to Ross's sketches at any date. If by such a painter in 1835 or later, the background become more easily explained as from the print - but not at a sufficient level of accuracy to be the only source. The lack of Ross's other decorations (CB and Russian Order of St Anne) also argue against 1835 or later.

I don't think we yet have enough to attribute this to Brassington on artistic grounds, but certainly enough to record his name in connection with it as a 'possible' on circumstantial ones.

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Kieran Owens,

Pieter, you say that "The Panorama's image of Ross's ship and camp is clearly different from the background to the portrait, so the latter was not copied from it. That means the artist either used Ross's original sketch or the coloured print based on it (already included twice above) that was published in the voyage account in 1835."

The attached composite surely shows that in its basic layout, far from being completely different to Ross's sketch, Buford's Panorama follows the same essential layout and placement of detail. The image of the Panorama shows a guide for visitors in its most basic of details, not unlike the floor plan maps of the rooms in the annual RA catalogues. What we do not unfortunately have is an image of the Panorama itself, showing Buford's own painting style.

We know that Ross's sketches provided the basis for Buford's painted Panorama, as it stated so on the pamphlet's cover. So either his sketch was the direct influence on this portrait or Buford's work was. Any which way, these three works do seem to be very closely linked, as compared to the drawing of the harbour scene attached above.

Paige Emerick,

Thanks for the information Kieran. I emailed Christie's about Brassington painting of Thomas William Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester sold in 1976. It was them it was sold through and they sent me the following attachment. The painting sold for £90 not £900 to an absentee bidder, who had a maximum bid fractionally higher than that. They are unable to disclose the name of the bidder due to the 50 years non-disclosure rule and unfortunately there is no image of the painting.

However, from looking at the measurements of the portrait I am wondering if this is the same one that is at Holkham Hall. The information I received from Holkham Hall regarding their portrait (the black and white copy at the Witt Library is attached above), states it was painted in 1841 at Longford Hall, Derbyshire and is 6 1/2 " x 5 1/4". There is an additional inscription on the reverse written by Henry Coke (Thomas William Coke's son) stating ‘This is a good likeness of my father in his last year.1906 Henry Coke’. They are unsure when they acquired the portrait (sometime after 1855 and before 1997), but suggested c.1906 was probable.

The portrait sold at Christie's is listed as 12 3/4" x 9 1/2" (32.5 x 24.5cm) so is larger than the current Holkham Hall one. It also lists a c.1869 date rather than 1841. Thomas William Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester died in 1842 though. Are these two different portraits?

Burford's panorama was a 360-degree circle comprising (if in the large panorama circle at Leicester Square) nearly 10,000 square feet of canvas, approximately 30 feet high x c. 283 feet long if laid out flat according to a calculation I made years ago. The way panorama and theatre 'diorama' keys were made was to take them from either the painters' working design or the finished work, for rapid and cheap printing. Broadly speaking the elements of Ross's (probable) sketch or sketches are there in the Burford key, but over a wider area with the heights also stretched for drama: the portrait background and the print are closer in general form, but the print not sufficiently detailed to be a basis for the details in the portrait background. The Booth banner -as this last composite above shows - only matches the panorama in being on the right, but on a much higher point. To do the background of the portrait from the panorama predicates 'recompressing' all its apparent elements to the same relationships as in the 1835 print, assuming that probably more accurately reflects Ross's sketch(es), if only because being on a sheet of paper rather than a vast curved canvas. We can't know without having Ross's original sketch(es): its simply a matter of judging likelihoods. It's really the July 1834 date that's critical: if it's more or less accurate, either Brassington did it that summer or didn't do it at all, and if he didn't then we have no information as to who did and how, either then or in 1835 or later, and the 1835 print alone would still not have been enough to supply the detail of the background.

James Fairhead,

“The Ladies Magazine (and museum). Improved ser(ies), enlarged” is an interesting magazine as it reviewed works by many of the women artists exhibiting in the UK in 1833-37.

In one of them (as far as I can make out, volume 4, Jan/June 1834), and with only snippet view on Google books) there is a further description of the Hawkins portrait of Ross on page 299., original supposedly in Oxford).

“117. Captain John Ross, R. M., by H. Hawkins. The figure and face of the hero of the day is as like he had walked into the frame; nor is this painting a mere portrait, it lays just claims to the historical style : the scenery of the….

Rather infuriatingly the snippit cuts of there... I can’t find more on google.” and can't find a copy so am defeated...

Kieran Owens,

As a full version of the above-referenced notice, page 230 of the 1834 issue of 'The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume XXIII' carries the following, as part of a review of the exhibition of the Society of British Artists:

"Many of the portraits are of public interest, as those of Commander James Ross, by J. R. Widman; and of Captain John Ross, by H. Hawkins; yet we must add, that such interest of (sic) these two specimens is not materially aided by the merit of the artists."

John Hayter's portrait of John Ross was exhibited at the RA in 1834 as exhibit number 306.

Benjamin Faulkner painted two portraits of John Ross that were exhibited at the Royal Academy. The first, in 1829, as exhibit no. 87, was entitled 'Captain Ross, K.S., R.N., now on the voyage of discovery to the Arctic regions'; and the second, in 1834, as exhibit no. 261, was entitled 'Captain Ross, K.S., R.N.'. In 1836, Faulkner's portrait of 'Lady Ross', was exhibited at the RA as exhibit no. 582.

James Green's portrait of Ross was exhibited at the RA in 1834, entitled 'Capt. John Ross, K.S., R.N.", as exhibit no. 330.

Additionally, Mrs. Mary Hamilton, miniature painter, had her portrait of Ross exhibited at the RA in 1834 as item no. 822.

And a 1830 portrait of "Captain Ross" was exhibited by J. Beech at the RA as exhibit no. 648.

James Green's portrait of Ross is in the NPG.

One of Benjamin Rawlinson Faulkner's is in the Scottish NPG: they say 'about 1834' for date (which age also suggests) so probably the second (RA 1834 no.261) : a print by Hart which they also have suggests that it is a half-length version of a more three-quarters one showing left hand, belt of uniform etc which may have been the 1829 one.

I see no immediate web clues as to whereabouts of the others: any ideas?

The Wildman of James Clark Ross is at Greenwich and its entry already notes it was shown at the SBA in 1834.

James Fairhead,

Kieran, the Mirror of Literature review that you cite (that I cited above too) is not the same as the Ladies Magazine review, for which i found only a snippit version of, but which looks promising) and this is different too to the one Barbara cited above. Thus there are so far three different descriptions of the Hawkins portrait from different sources reviewing the exhibition in 1834.

Osmund Bullock,

It was a bit of a job, but I managed to cheat almost the whole page of the Lady's Magazine of May 1834 that contains the review out of Google Books' snippet view, one little section at a time; and I've also reconstructed (in purple) the only missing bit, which turns out to be part of their review of Wildman's portrait of his nephew, also exhibited at the SBA. With hindsight it might have been quicker to hop backwards to the British Library, and take a photo...!? See attached.

It's doesn't, alas, quite live up the promise of James's snippet - much of it is rather unclear in exact meaning, though it does mention admiringly "the glowing brilliancy of the stars above the head of the great navigator".

Just for the record, the first review James found of the same work was in 'Arnold's Magazine of the Arts...' (May 1834). He's already quoted everything relevant from it, but here's the link anyway:

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Barbara Bryant,

Just some observations following on from Pieter and James.

See the attached portrait by Faulkner that Pieter referred to. If this is John Ross in 1834 (i.e. presumably Faulkner's RA picture of 1834), then this man looks somewhat different (older) to the one in the portrait under discussion but let's leave that to one side.

The Mirror of Literature reviewing the SBA in 1834, as cited by Kieran above, is uncomplimentary about the abilities of both Wildman and Hawkins in their depictions of the Rosses but it says no more than that.

So for the portrait under discussion what we have is a toss up between Hawkins or Brassington. On the Brassington portrait at the Royal Academy in May 1834 we have no reviews or other descriptions of what it might have looked like.

On Hawkins's portrait exhibited at the Society of British Artists from April 1834 we know that it:
shows him with his coat open, without his hat or gloves, amidst "thick-ribbed ice and eternal snows" (as I cited from the Morning Chronicle)
looking as if "he had walked into the frame" with "scenery of the regions of eternal snow and frost" "more deceptively depicted in the distance" than in the panorama.
And with "glowing brilliancy of the stars above the head of the great navigator" (Osmund's cunningly pieced together review from the Ladies Magazine)
and that the subject had "bluff, sailor-like features" and was "enshrouded in snow, with his ship in the distance" (Arnold's Magazine cited by James and Osmund).

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The Faulkner portrait(s) are a bit of a puzzle: the oil in the Scottish NPG is not as extensive as the print (i.e half-length and not showing the left hand) but the uniform looks the same with -in the oil - red in the epaulette and belt. That makes it the 1830s uniform introduced by William IV, so the print can't (reversing my earlier coment) be from the 1829 one by Faulkner: it it isn't then either the SNPG one was at some point cut down after the print was made or is itself a version.

The description of the Hawkins portrait is plausible in itself but can anyone produce comparable examples of Hawkins's work? Such few as I have found are female or children and suggest he was rather better: and, as already noted, he had a very long exhibition track record.

The Royal Geographical Society lent another portrait of 'Admiral Sir John Ross K.H'. to the Royal Naval Exhibition at Chelsea in 1891 (no 30, p. 7. in the 3rd ed of the catalogue, but omitted from its index): no artist given -nor is it obvious online now- but it is listed among other oils. K.H. may mean Knight of the Hanoverian Order though Franklin (who certainly was one of those) has 'K.C.H' after his name in a portrait by Jackson lent by the publisher John Murray (no. 31).

The RGS oil (c. 86 x 112 cm) is catalogued online without any attached artist name or image and the reference no. 'C.1866 T.4' which at least suggests the year it arrived in that collection.

James Fairhead,

There is a much better image of this painting at:
I wonder whether there is not some kind of signature near the chart that he is holding?
This was in the Ross family until 1917, but might the reverse still bear traces of earlier exhibitions? It would be useful to have a photo of it.

It is currently on display (glazed and backed) but close inspection shows no inscription of any sort, or any record of anything on the back (or as I recall from an earlier check, any image of that), or record of exhibition prior to 1917 in the old RN Museum at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Kieran Owens,

Captain Sir John Ross died on the 30th August 1856. That the painting at the Royal Geographical Society was donated in 1866 might have been tied in with the 10th anniversary of his death. Perhaps their records might show that the donation occurred in August.

The attached image from a commercial poster site on the web claims to be B.R. Faulkner's other portrait of John Ross. I have not found where it now is but it is presumably the RA canvas of 1829 (no. 87) of 'Captain Ross, K.S. [Knight of the Sword], R.N., now on the voyage of discovery to the Arctic regions' since it shows him in civilian dress appropriate to the Booth expedition. The Faulkner in the Scottish NPG shows him in 1830s naval uniform so is presumably the one shown at the RA in 1834, albeit apparently somewhat cut down from original size, as already mentioned.

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Osmund Bullock,

Pieter, 'KH' was the third class of the Hanoverian Order, 'KCH' was the second class. But actually John Ross was never a member of the order at any level, that is an error, though he was of course entitled to the initials of his CB, his Swedish KS, and also KSA (Knight of the Imperial Russian Order of St Anne).

Kieran Owens,

The Blouin Art Sales Index shows that a portrait, dated 1834, and in size 127cm x 99.06cm, of Captain John Ross, by Benjamin Faulkner (though indistinctly signed), was sold at auction in September 1996.

If the portrait (94cm x 72.40cm) from "about 1834" in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery was, as credited, purchased by them in 1884, and the the Blouin record shows a specifically dated portrait of 1834, could the SNPG work actually be the one from 1829? This seems unlikely, as the 1834 lithograph Richard Lane is obviously after Faulkner's portrait and it would seem odd that it should have been made using an 1829 portrait of Ross when an 1834 one was available. Did Faulkner, therefore, paint two portraits of Ross in 1834, one of which was exhibited at the RA and the other given or sold privately, which subsequently ended up in the 1996 auction?

Kieran Owens,

The Caledonian Mercury of Monday 15th June 1835 reported the following: "It is said from Berlin, June 6, that his Majesty has conferred on Captain Sir John Ross the order of the Red Eagle of the third class."

Kieran Owens,

In the light of one of Barbara's comments above, about the apparent age difference between our portrait and others of Ross, it might be worth considering the attached composite.

The second image, by Hariot Gouldsmith, was described by The Times in December 1833 as "the only portrait yet published for which Captain Ross has sat" and that the lithograph "conveys a pretty accurate representation of the gallant navigator's features."

It must be quite obvious that all of the known portraits of Ross from 1833 onwards, depicting his thinning and greying hair, clearly show a man of 56 years of age. Could the ravages of four years in the Artic have transformed him so dramatically from the much younger looking man as is to be seen in this discussion's portrait?

There are two possibilities here. Either Ross, out of vanity in c.1834, supervised or at least tacitly approved the painting of himself as a younger man, or, as an already well-known hero of Artic exploration from 1819 onwards, our painting was executed some years before Ross even set out on his 1829 expedition but the background was amended, after his return, to reflect his triumphant experiences during his 1829 - 1833 voyage. Evidence of over-painting the background might support this idea. It might also explain why Ross is so dominant in the scene, and the background details are so squeezed together, compared to his actual drawings and the subsequent engravings of the location.

If the latter suggestion is at all plausible, then the artist who painted the main image of Ross on this canvas is not one of those who have already been mentioned, although any possible over-painting might have been done in late 1833 or early 1834, before Ross received his various additional awards and Orders. A search for reports or evidence of a portrait of Ross, as executed between 1819 and 1829, might, therefore, be worthwhile.

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Kieran Owens,

In April 1868, a collection of National Portraits went on loan to the South Kensington Museum. One of the works, loaned by C. Pearson, was of "Admiral Sir John Ross, K.C.B. (1777 - 1856), as painted by "Faulkner, Senior". In the painting Ross was described as "half-length, standing; l(eft) hand resting on a table; dark cloak; wearing several decorations." The canvas measured 50" x 40".

Has anyone yet seen this portrait by Faulkner, with its "several decorations"?

Osmund Bullock,

That's a good find, Kieran. Although there's a small discrepancy in the width, I imagine that it could be the 50 x 39 in. one you found on Blouin, which was sold at Christie's Travel & Exploration sale of 27 Sept 1996 (Lot 139). The sale is pretty recent, so there may well be a photo in the catalogue (though there's no image in either Blouin or Invaluable's listing of the lot, and Christie's online sale archive doesn't go back that far). Or of course the Christie's one may the one Pieter found on the commercial poster website, and which he suggests may be Faulkner's c.1828/9 portrait. Unless anyone has done so already, I will email Christie's Archive to ask if there is/they have an image of the 1996 lot.

Pieter, even with maximum electronic tweaking I cannot make the SNPG's version of the Faulkner portrait show any hint of red in either belt or collar. Is the appearance of the uniform belt perhaps exclusive to the 1830 pattern uniform (even when uncoloured, as in the engraving by Robert Hart) - or were you thinking of James Green's one?

I don't think the SNPG's version can be the cut-down original of the one shown in the Hart print. If you look at the attached comparison (I have lightened the SNPG's for clarity), as well as many different details (arm, seagulls, angle of belt, etc, which might have been altered) you can see very significant basic compositional differences in the extent and shape of the rocky cliffs behind the sitter. So it's beginning to look as if Faulkner did at least *three* versions of his c.1834 portrait.

PS Although I have joined in myself, I am wondering whether this focus on Faulkner's portraits is leading us anywhere terribly useful re the central question.

Barbara Bryant,

Yes, while this is all good quality information on the iconography of Ross, perhaps more on Brassington and Hawkins would help the discussion forward.

Kieran Owens,

A consideration of the Ross iconography is, surely, vital to working out the possible age of this discussion's work. If, as I have suggested above, Ross, in this painting, is considerably younger than his 56-year-old self, as he believably appears to be in all of the so-far identified post-1833 works, then the portrait is unlikely to be by Brassington or Hawkins, and another artist's hand need to be identified.

Kieran Owens,

Attached is a composite showing what I hope is a reasonable guess at the relative ages of Ross in three know paintings of him. If these are plausible suggestions then this discussion's work might pre-date the start of the actual voyage in 1829. As J. Beech's portrait of "Captain Ross" was shown at the RA in 1830, he was presumably working off the memory of, or a pre-1829 sitting by, a younger looking Ross than Brassington, Hawkins, Gouldsmith, or Faulkner would have met on his return from the Artic at the end of 1833.

Osmund Bullock,

The third possibility you didn't address, Kieran – the one raised some time ago in a post beginning "One of the illustrations in the book...", and accompanied by another image comparison – is that our painting is just a very poor portrait, not taken from life, and probably by some other artist altogether. I still tend to believe (pace Pieter) that the source of the background details is likely to be the panorama (or possibly Ross's original sketches). I'm not worried by the circular key illustration, which is just a rough outline sketch – Ross's own description of the panorama itself talks in detail about all the relevant background features we see in the portrait:

Osmund Bullock,

I have been looking at dozens of newspaper reports of Ross & his exploits, and of various different public visual depictions of them that were displayed all over the country (some by Burford, some not) in 1834. I may or may not have time to put together a list of some of these, but it is hard to emphasize enough what a super-star Ross was during the first half of that year, and I have no difficulty believing that some lesser artist might have wanted to put together a portrait with some genuine background details extracted from panorama or sketches, but with Ross's figure dominant – in fact surely it would be the natural way to depict him? And unless the artist were to paint it in landscape format, those details would *have* to be compressed to fit on an upright canvas. I wonder, too, if Ross would have been depicted in sealskin coat and trousers before his return from the 1829-33 expedition (he actually wore the trousers when he arrived at Hull in Oct 1833) – or are we to assume that in the 'altered earlier portrait' hypothesis these were also added to an earlier work? This seems to me to be an awful lot of alterations – is there any evidence of it?

Osmund Bullock,

While our sitter's apparent youthfulness has been raised, in truth it is almost certainly a bad portrait of Ross at any age. Kieran's latest 'three ages' composite show the youngest image of the man as the NMM portrait Pieter has opened for discussion on another thread ( – for me this is problematic, as I am beginning to suspect that in fact it shows his nephew James Clark Ross! I will discuss that further in the proper place, but meanwhile we do have (though not, I think, mentioned before) an image of the younger Ross in two versions of a print: & He is wearing his Swedish order (which he was permitted to do from Dec 1813) and what I think is a captain's full-dress uniform of the 1812-25 pattern (but perhaps Pieter could confirm). The second version was actually published (or re-published) in Limbird's 'The Mirror of Literature...' in Dec 1833; but it is clear from the uniform that the image must be an earlier one. Other than the engraver's name (Roffe – a whole family), there is no clue to the origin of either version. If anyone can find anything else about the image or its date, it would be most helpful.

I feel the image in the print is consistent (allowing for the passage of years) with the later good ones we have, but to my mind only emphasizes the deficiencies of our portrait. For various reasons I actually believe ours is unlikely to be either the Brassington or the Hawkins portrait, and I will explain my reasoning in other posts in due course.

Kieran Owens,

Any artist who was painting Ross after 1833, especially if not from life, but from one of the other painter's works from the RA or the Society of British Artists exhibitions, or from one of the engravings after Faulkner, for instance, is likely to have been painting a man in his mid-50s. Our painting is of a relatively younger looking Ross and therefore I still feel there is some merit in suggesting that the main figurative portion of the work dates from before the end of 1833, possibly even before he set off in 1829, though with the post-1833 details from his own expedition drawings added in later.

At this point, only the 1830's RA portrait by J. Beech fits that proposal, it being a work that was probably commenced in or before 1829 (assuming, of course, that the "Captain Ross" referred to in the RA exhibition catalogue is our same man!).

One other thought did strike me. In the light of Ross's own reasonably competent drawings from his Artic adventures, and given the fact that the portrait remained in the family's possession until it came into the National Maritime Museum’s collection in 1917 from Ross’s great-great nephew, could it be a self-portrait? I have read nothing that suggests that Ross was a painter of any merit, but it could explain why the face is rendered as that of a younger man, with all the implications for vanity that are implicit in the proposition.

To address Osmund's queries: the Roffe print in the 'Mirror of Literature' for 1833 does show Ross (after 1818) in the 1812-25 captain's uniform. Both the Green oil in the NPG and the Faulkner in the Scottish NPG show him in the 1833-43 captain's uniform - the one with red in it. This shows tonally in the relevant bits of Faulkner at least to my eye, but the pattern is also distinctive in the braid and belt.

My colleague Gillian Hutchinson, as well as Osmund, has independently suggested that the other unattributed NMM portrait ( is perhaps more likely to be James Clark Ross: it seems astonishing that its received identity as John has not been queried before based on differences in eye and haircolour, nose profile, age and dress date, and the generally more handsome appearance. John is 'bluff' and strong featured but Lady Franklin called James 'the handsomest man in the Navy', and it compares rather better with other portraits of him, theough still TBC. If that's the case, however, then it may be JCR any time between 1820 and perhaps as late as 1835, though in the 1820s is perhaps more likely, after his first Arctic foray (1818) with his uncle as indicated by the fur he is wearing. He was promoted Commander in 1827, which is often rendered as 'Captain' as a courtesy title so being sure it isn't by either J. Beech (1830) or John Hayter (1834) are on the to-do list. None of this of course helps with present puzzle but I attach a shot at a John Ross oils iconography (plus two miniatures): the gaps in what is identified and located are obvious, though this is so far only a work in progress from what can be found online.

The Scottish NPG might usefully delete their refs to 'Admiral' Sir John Ross, since he wasn't, but it's a very old slip so easily copied.

Barbara Bryant,

Thank you Pieter for your word document which is a useful amplification of the entry in volume one of Richard Ormond's Early Victorian Portraits (National Portrait Gallery, 1973), combined with what we learned so far.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion about a portrait in the National Maritime Museum, “Is this John Brassington’s portrait of Arctic explorer Sir John Ross?” attracted 63 comments in March-April 2019. On 12 April Pieter attached a very useful iconography listing portraits of Sir John Ross. In this he gives a date of 1833-34 for our portrait for reasons made clear during the discussion. He also gives the artist as “Brassington, Hawkins or someone else?” It seems unlikely in view of the already lengthy discussion that we are going to be able to take the attribution of our portrait further forward. On this basis it seems that, unless further evidence is forthcoming, the discussion could now be closed as inconclusive if Pieter concurs.

This one has gone off the boil but in the light of us having fairly conclusively agreed that No. 1 on my list of 12/04/19 is James Clark rather than John Ross, I think a couple of lines might be worth pursuing, if practicable, before concluding.

Without scanning back above, and open to correction, I don't think we have found anything comparable to suggest the NMM portrait is that by Brassington, but contemporary description suggests it might be that by Hawkins:

'[My No.] 7. 1834 – by Henry Hawkins, exh. SBA 1834, no. 117. ‘Here he stands, with his coat open, and without his hat and gloves, amidst thick-ribbed ice and eternal snows.’ (Morning Chronicle, 7 April 1834); ... ‘bluff, sailor-like features’ [and a] ‘characteristic representation of him enshrouded in snow, with his ship in the distance.’ (Arnold’s Magazine of the Fine Arts, vol 4, 1834, p.65); ‘ …the scenery of the regions of eternal snow is much more deceptively depicted in the distance than in the panorama in Leicester-square;….The glowing brilliancy of the stars above the head of the great navigator has a very fine and appropriate effect.’ (The Lady’s Magazine…, May 1834, p. 299). '

Though not easily seen in the Art UK image the stars do shine in the picture (which is on display in the current Polar gallery at NMM).

That said, the only identified painting on Art UK by a Henry Hawkins (active 1820-81) is of Penrhyn Slate Quarry and very different. Hawkins is not an uncommon name so that might just be by someone else, but (whether it is or not) can any other Hawkins portraits be found to rule him in or out? In the latter case the odds then at least shorten on Brassington, whose involvement was the original question.

The other thing we have not seen is the so-far undated portrait by a so-far unidentified artist in the Royal Geographical Society, reference C.1866 T.4, (no. 10 on my list). An image of that might also help narrow possibilities if obtainable.

Jacob Simon,

Hawkins was recorded as an artist lodging in St Pancras in the 1881 census. He gave his age as 81 and his birthplace as Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. He died later the same year. He would appear to be the individual of this name born at Boxmore on 28 December 1796 and christened at Box Lane Chapel, Hemel Hempstead, a nonconformist chapel (National Archives, RG4/4775, available on Ancestry). This discrepancy may seem surprising but it is not uncommon to find individuals giving their age incorrectly in early census records. In the 1851 census Hawkins appears as a portrait painter, age 51, born Hemel Hempstead, lodging in St Marylebone and in the 1861 census as an artist, birthplace Bourne End [near Hemel Hempstead], a visitor in the Berkhamstead district, Hertfordshire. Given the christening record we can treat 1796 as Hawkins’ year of birth, thus with life dates of 1796-1881. If we wish to embrace Hawkins’ own recollection of his age in censuses we could give his dates as 1796/1800-1881.

Jacob Simon,

More on Hawkins. In the catalogues of the Society of British Artists, Hawkins was listed at a succession of London addresses. As has already been remarked he exhibited almost every year from 1824 until his death in 1881. He showed both portraits and landscapes, as well as some genre pictures. He also exhibited miniatures. In 1824 his exhibits included “Head of an Arctic Dog” and “Portrait of a Dog brought by Capt. Parry from the frozen Ocean” and in 1825 “Portrait of a Polar Dog”. Next step, which will take longer, is to seek out images of his portraits on NPG files.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion about a portrait in the National Maritime Museum, “Is this John Brassington’s portrait of Arctic explorer Sir John Ross?” attracted 63 comments in March-April 2019. And another five in October 2020, exploring the idea that it was Henry Hawkins, rather than Brassington, who was responsible for the portrait.

As Pieter said (21 October 2020), contemporary descriptions suggest it might be that by Hawkins, exhibited in 1834:
‘Here he stands, with his coat open, and without his hat and gloves, amidst thick-ribbed ice and eternal snows.’ (Morning Chronicle, 7 April 1834)
‘bluff, sailor-like features’ [and a] ‘characteristic representation of him enshrouded in snow, with his ship in the distance.’ (Arnold’s Magazine of the Fine Arts, vol 4, 1834, p.65)
‘the scenery of the regions of eternal snow is much more deceptively depicted in the distance than in the panorama in Leicester-square;….The glowing brilliancy of the stars above the head of the great navigator has a very fine and appropriate effect.’ (The Lady’s Magazine, May 1834, p. 299)’. Pieter adds, though not easily seen in the Art UK image, the stars do shine in the picture (on display in the Polar gallery at NMM).

Pieter mentions a portrait by an unidentified artist in the Royal Geographical Society, but from the image on NPG files this is quite another portrait and unrelated.

To sum up, there are far too few known portraits by Hawkins, or indeed by Brassington, to allow an attribution to be made or confirmed on stylistic grounds. Nevertheless I think we can make an attribution on documentary grounds. The above reviews of the portrait exhibited by Hawkins in 1834 are sufficiently precise to allow us to call this portrait, “Attributed to Henry Hawkins”. Unless Pieter or participants in this discussion have found further information, I think that we should close this discussion shortly, say in a week’s time.

Like some Arctic exploration ships, this one got iced in and was carried out of sight by the drifting pack. Nothing else has appeared on my horizon and - subject to formal NMM agreement of course (since I have not ventured the matter) - I think that is a justifiable conclusion based on the contemporary comments. With luck other examples by both Hawkins and Brassington may eventually resurface.