Completed Portraits: British 18th C 38 Is this John Sharp? Can you help us confirm the identity of the sitter?

John Sharp, Archdeacon of Durham
Topic: Subject or sitter

The portrait was accessioned as a portrait of Archdeacon Sharp and it was assumed initially that this was Thomas Sharp (1693–1758), DD. Thomas Sharp would have been 65 in 1757 and the sitter seems younger.

The identification of the sitter was changed to Thomas’s son, John Sharp (1723–1792), DD but it is not clear from gallery files when or why. John Sharp would have been in his 30s and would seem a better fit for the age of the man in the portrait. The biographical information we have about John Sharp is as follows:

'BA Trinity College, Cambridge in 174, MA in 1747 and STP in 1759. In 1752 he married Mary (1720–1798), daughter of Dr Heneage Dering, Dean of Ripon, and had one daughter. Sharp became Prebendary of Durham, Archdeacon of Northumberland 1762, Vicar of Harbourne and Senior Trustee of the Estates of the late Nathaniel Lord Crome, Bishop of Durham. He was appointed Curate of the Perpetual Curacy of Bamburgh on the death of his brother, Thomas in 1772.'

Any records that confirm that Hudson painted Thomas or John Sharp have yet to come to light. A researcher who contacted us more recently who is looking into the Sharp family has so far not come across anything in family papers. The identification of the sitter therefore remains unconfirmed. The portrait was presented to the gallery by Thomas Thornhill Shann Esq. in 1901. It is dated 'T. Hudson / Pinxit 1757' on the lower left hand side.

Manchester Art Gallery, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title has been changed to ‘Portrait of an Unknown Man, formerly identified as John Sharp (1723–1792)’.

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


Martin Hopkinson,

Is there an engraved portrait frontispiece to the 6 volumes 'The works of Thomas Sharp DD', published in 1763?

Martin Hopkinson,

Do we know Mr Shann acquired this painting? Did Hudson paint one of his ancestors? Sir Thomas Thornhill Shann [1846-1923], Lord Mayor of Manchester, was buried in south east Manchester in Withy Grove cemetery, but lived in Formby. However other members of this family were also Thomas Thornhill Shann

Martin Hopkinson,

Have either Ellen G Miles or Jacob Simon who organised the Hudson exhibition at Kenwood in 1979 expressed an opinion as to the sitter? Jacob Simon was a curator at the National Portrait Gallery and is now Editor of The Walpole Society. Ellen Miles is Curator Emerita at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington.

Françoise Deconinck-Brossard ,

Thank you, Martin Hopkinson, for these suggestions. As a scholar working on archdeacon John Sharp, I have long queried the identification of the sitter. The last time I contacted the Manchester gallery on the subject was about a year ago, but either my enquiry or the answer must have got lost in cyberspace.
The Manchester sitter does not wear clerical dress, unlike two known portraits of archdeacon John Sharp at Bamburgh Castle and in the famous Zoffany portrait. In 1757, John Sharp was not yet an archdeacon or a trustee of Lord Crewe's charity, but he had long been the vicar of Hartburn, Northumberland.
Besides, the Manchester portrait wears a signet ring, unlike John Sharp in the Zoffany portrait. Many years ago, before the age of digital cameras, I tried to photograph it, in order to check whether there was a visible coat of arms on the ring. I wonder whether modern photography would help.
I cannot remember that there is any clue in the book that appears in the Manchester portrait.
Furthermore, the sitter in the Manchester portrait does not seem to look like the archdeacon in two above-mentioned portraits. The bone structure does not seem to be the same.

Andrea Kollmann,

Are there clues (labels etc) on the back of the painting?

Jimaa Alaa,

There is another portrait painting of Edward Dyke (1688-1746) believes by Thomas Hudson it looks like it's for the same sitter, collection of Dunster Castle, Somerset (Accredited Museum)

Martin Hopkinson,

Can any one trace the 18th century maternal ancestors of Sir Thomas Thornhill Shann [in the maternal line] or those of his wife?

Martin Hopkinson,

Is it known else what Sir Thomas owned? Were there any sales from hi dwcollection?

Mark Wilson,

Sir Thomas also gave a pair of portraits from 1661 by Hendrick Cornelisz van Vliet to the Manchester gallery in 1909. That suggests he may have been a collector rather than someone with just family portraits (all three are well signed and dated).

The picture at Dunster that Jimmy Alaa refers to above (which is only attributed to Hudson) is here:

There's certainly a facial similarity (though you can se why it's only attributed) but of course the sitter died 11 years before this painting's date..

Martin Hopkinson,

is the earlier provenance of the Van Vliet pair known?

Mark Wilson,

I don't know about the van Vliet pair, but this obituary ( p 3 of pdf) suggests he came of fairly humble background. Not many family portraits in 19th century Ancoats.

Martin Hopkinson,

Shann was a commission agent for cloth. Did he have a partner from whom he inherited? He certainly amassed a fortune . Are Manchester/Stockport obituaries illuminating as to how he did this?

Martin Hopkinson,

Shann became a councillor in 1897. Can street directories, censuses and in particular Manchester newspapers throw more light on him and his associates?

Martin Hopkinson,

Known in particular for his Grey Cloth. He had an interest in Commercial Mills, Padiham in 1884-90 [Lancashire Archives DDKS 17/5/28 , 17/5/34, 17/5/36, 17/5/37 and 17/5/39] and in China Clay Co in 1898 -9 Cornwall Record Office CF/1 /3943/1.2 and MT/401
For Commercial Mill [singular], Padiham [near Burnley] which in 1891 had 778 looms etc see Grace's Guide

Martin Hopkinson,

see Faces and Places, 16, 1905 . 281 Shinn on Salford

Martin Hopkinson,

Treasurer of the Ship Canal Company 1885 Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Adviser 12 November 1885
Member of The Primrose League 1888 and of the Manchester Carlton Club 1880

Mark Wilson,

The obituary from the Bulletin of the Rylands Library ( p 3 of pdf), apart from reassuring us that "He started life at a very
early age" says that he started business on his own account at 22, so inheritance from business partners seems unlikely.

A posting on a family history site ( gives tombstone details of a wife, Hannah (nee Sutcliffe) who died in 1899, but there are clearly current descendants, including posting on the topic and some confusingly with the same name.

This website gives more about him ( and emphasises his poor upbringing. It says "He married Hannah in 1869 in Harpurhey" which suggests it was when he was still starting out (they would both have been about 23), possibly she was from a similar background.

So very much the self-made man and either a collector or, given the low number of paintings, possibly just a local benefactor purchasing pieces that the gallery wanted on their behalf.

Martin Hopkinson,

What I meant was acquisitions from contemporaries in business and from friends - as you say it is quite evident that it was not from family inheritance - but we know even less about his wife's family than about him. When he did become rich - which he quite clearly was.
He may well have owned more paintings than those in MCAG
Were there any sales from his own collection before or after his death? I have do not access to Lugt - which itself is far from complete over auctions in the North West

Martin Hopkinson,

if we could establish how and where he acquired his art, it might help us going back to the name of the sitter of this Hudson who may be a totally different Sharp - a fairly common surname.

Martin Hopkinson,

The younger man's will seems to be referred to in Gloucestershire Archives D3549/13/2/15
There also seems to be a Rev Sharpe [wih an e] in Cumberland in the 1770s, who may or may not be the Rev John Sharpe of Preston in Lancashire Archives 1760-73

Martin Hopkinson,

The Preston Sharpe's son [also John] attended Manchester Grammar School in 1770 see Manchester Grammar School's Preston Pupils 1730-1787 , Preston History see and Jeremiah Finch Smith , The Admission Register of Manchester School, I , Chetham Society, 1866

Martin Hopkinson,

Jacob Simon knows much more on Hudson's patrons and where else to look to further this discussion

Marcie Doran,

My guess is that this is not a work that was passed down through generations of Thomas Thornhill Shann’s family.

An art exhibition at Shepherd's Galleries in London was discussed (see attachment) in the 'Morning Post' of Wednesday, March 27, 1901. Hudson's 'The Ven. Archdeacon Sharp, Prebendary of Durham' was on display.

An article in the 'Manchester Courier' of Friday, May 24, 1901, discussed the donation by Shann of the Hudson portrait 'the Ven. Archdeacon Sharp' (see attachment).

Marcie Doran,

A Manchester City Art Gallery publication from 1910 provides some details about the work 'the Venerable Archdeacon Sharp, D.D.' (see no. 194, on pages 56 and 57, attached) as well as a photo of this work (on the page before page 47).

As shown in the attachment, in 1951 Manchester Art Gallery still recorded this work as Archdeacon Sharp.


A publication from 1899 indicated that portraits of Sharp family members were in the Court Room at Bamburgh Castle. Here is the reference book (see pages 33 and 34, attached):

I contacted Bamburgh Castle and the Collections and Conservation Manager was very interested in this discussion. She told me that she is "very sure the painting is not of Dr John Sharp ... we do not have the small sculpture of Dr Sharp unfortunately. There are some large sculptures in St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh." She kindly sent me an image (attached) of Dr John Sharp. I searched online for the larger work that it would have been taken from, and found it here:


Perhaps someone might review the Exhibition Catalogue for Shepherd's Galleries from the 1901 sale at the National Art Library, London.

Here is a link to information about Shepherd's Galleries.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion dates back to 2016 and has been driven by Martin Hopkinson and Marcie Doran. Marten has explored, with help from others, the donor of the portrait in 1901, Thomas Thornhill Shann, a self-made Manchester businessman. Marcie has examined 20th century published references to the portrait.

THE ARTIST. The portrait is signed and dated by Thomas Hudson, 1757. It is a fine and typical work by this artist.

THE SITTER. The portrait is currently identified as John Sharp (1723–1792). This discussion arose because Manchester Art Gallery noted that this identification was unconfirmed. A post by Marcie Doran (16/11/2022) very usefully includes a link to a reproduction of a portrait of Sharp at Bamburgh Castle, which apparently is reliably identified and very likely depicts a different man. The implication is that our portrait does not represent Sharp.

My sense is that it is not going to be possible to carry this discussion further forward. Subject to the collection, I recommend closure on the basis that the title of the portrait is amended along the following lines, “Portrait of an unknown man, formerly identified as John Sharp (1723–1792)”.

Manchester Art Gallery,

The collection accepts this conclusion. Thank you to all who contributed. We will amend our records accordingly.

Jacinto Regalado,

No, looks are not enough, especially when they do not match.