Completed Portraits: British 19th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects, Yorkshire, The Humber and North East England: Artists and Subjects 27 Is this not a typical portrait by Norman Macbeth (1821–1888)?

DUR_DDBC_512
Topic: Artist

Does anyone know that a portraitist of this quality called Murray Mcbeth existed?

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The attribution has been amended from ‘Murray McBeth’ to Norman Macbeth (1821–1888) and the portrait’s title updated to ‘Edmund Backhouse (1824–1906), MP for Darlington (1868–1880)’.

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.

26 comments

Mark Wilson,

It certainly looks like 1889 (and so not by McBeth who died in early 1888), but could it be a smudged 1869? This doesn't really look like a portrait of a man of 65 and by that age Backhouse had retired from Parliament (in 1880) and moved to Cornwall. He was first elected in 1867 though, so the presentation of a portrait of that date might be thought suitable.

Martin Hopkinson,

Well done.Mark. For Royal Academy 1870 no 145 was Norman Macbeth's presentation portrait of Edmund Backhouse Esq. MP!

Cliff Thornton,

The only fact remaining to be discovered was when the Backhouse portrait was acquired by Darlington Council. Darlington's local newspaper - The Northern Echo, reported in 1873, the proposed donation of a portrait of Edmund Backhouse, the first MP for the Darlington Constituency. The work had yet to be commissioned, and the donor had the artist Walter Ouless in mind. The Council enthusiastically accepted the proposed donation, which I do not think it would have done if Macbeth's portrait was already hanging in the Town Hall. But I cannot trace any subsequent donation of Backhouse's portrait, either by Macbeth or Ouless.
Then in 1875, the Council accepted another portrait, and it was commented that there was only one other portrait in the Town Hall (and that was not of Backhouse).

S. Elin Jones,

It appears that there was a portrait of Edmund Backhouse, painted by Norman McBeth and presented to him in November of 1869. This was on behalf of the members of the South Durham and North Yorkshire Chamber of Agriculture “to show their appreciation of the valuable assistance rendered by him during the late visitation of cattle plague”.

Att - Newcastle Daily Chronicle. 12th November 1969.

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Jacinto Regalado,

I think the dress is more in keeping with 1869 than 1889.

The portrait of Backhouse by Macbeth exhibited at the RA in 1870 (no.145) was 'Presented by subscription' according to a note in the catalogue (see 'Chronicle 250'). This was presumably the painting commissioned by the Chamber of Agriculture and completed by November 1869. If physically presented to the sitter then, this work could possibly have been presented by him in turn to Darlington Council in 1875.

Mark Wilson,

Martin - Nice to have a wild guess confirmed so quickly!

I doubt this was painted in the House of Commons. In 1869 Backhouse's main business would have been running his Bank in the North East, and it could have been painted there. This might explain the choice of Macbeth as an artist - Darlington to London is twice the distance of Darlington to Edinburgh, where Macbeth was then based. This is a rare example of a non-Scottish sitter for him, but if you think of travelling time you can see why he might have been chosen rather than a London-based painter.

It could have been given to the Council around 1880 when he moved to Cornwall to run the estate inherited by his wife, given it had been paid for locally.

Kieran Owens,

...that should be ""The Faeds: A Biography"....

Kieran Owens,

The portrait was also submitted to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1871, as catalogue number 700.

Jacinto Regalado,

Well, this amounts to an open-and-shut case, and it's been solved.

The letter of 20 November 1872 from Walter William Ouless to Frank F. Mewburn, solicitor and collector, of Larchfield, Darlington (noted above by Keiran), indicates that the proposal for a portrait of Backhouse by Ouless was made even though though Macbeth’s portrait of the same sitter was known to be in existence at that time. Mewburn was presumably the ‘donor’ of the proposed Ouless portrait referred to by the ‘Northern Echo’ in 1873. The portrait accepted by Darlington Council in 1875 could have been either the Ouless (if actually executed) or the Macbeth. No portrait of Backhouse by Ouless was exhibited at the RA in the 1870s.

Osmund Bullock,

Richard, the portrait accepted by Darlington Council in 1875 was not, I think, of Edmund Backhouse; it was another portrait altogether, a posthumous likeness of Joseph Pease, railway pioneer and the first Quaker MP, that was paid for with the unused portion of a public subscription to raise a statue to the same man. Both were formally accepted by the Borough on 27th Sep as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

Cliff mentioned it only because an earlier newspaper report (York Herald 6th Sep - attached) stated that at the time just one other portrait (of Henry King Spark) was on the walls of Darlington Town Hall; this of course meant that our portrait of Backhouse could not have entered the collection before then. Like Cliff I can find no press mention of when it *was* acquired, but I tend to think it was much later than the 1880 suggested above. In the late C19th heyday of both local papers and municipal pride, this sort of thing seldom went unreported. But as the 20th wore on, and regard for dead local worthies and the duller sort of Victorian art diminished, such gifts became less and less newsworthy.

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Osmund Bullock,

I doubt that the sitter (who died in 1906) would have let it go himself - on its presentation he had said that "he especially valued such a testimonial...because he felt that those who would principally enjoy it would be those dearly and closely connected with him", and that "he trusted that it would always be an incentive to his children to strive nobly to do their duty".

Nor probably did his son, Jonathan (created a baronet in 1901), who took over his father's house, and continued to live there (and in his other houses) in some style until his own death in 1918. But Sir Jonathan's eldest son and the second baronet, the notorious Sir Edmund Backhouse, lived abroad for most of his adult life and detested his family, his background and even his country. He had several siblings who were neither rebellious nor destitute...but it's a very big picture - a 'Bishop's half-length' well over five and perhaps six foot high with frame - and progressively fewer and fewer people would have been in a position to house it in the years after the First World War, even if they wanted to.

Osmund Bullock,

Ah, yes. Although our painting is not mentioned, there are signs that by 1921 Edmund Backhouse's grandchildren - there were quite a lot of them - were (a) in need of cash (suggesting smaller houses), and (b) feeling less sentimental than their forebears about family portraits. See attached.

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It is thus clear that our portrait was not the one presented to Darlington Council in 1875 (or the one then already hanging in the Town Hall). It could have been presented to the Council by Backhouse on his move to Trebah, Cornwall, in around 1880 or more probably by his family either after his own death in 1906 or on the death of his eldest son Sir Jonathan Backhouse, first baronet, in 1918.

The Gainsborough which was the subject of legal proceedings in 1921 arising from Sir Jonathan’s death depicted Miss Juliet [rather than Julia, as reported in the press] Mott and is no. 660 in Hugh Belsey’s magisterial catalogue raisonné of that artist’s portraits (2019). Along with the Trebah estate, it came into the possession of the Backhouse family through the marriage of our sitter to Juliet Mary Fox. Following the court hearing, the painting was sold by Edmund’s descendants at Christie’s, London, on 28 April 1922 (lot 47) for £4000, and is now in a private collection, USA.

It is interesting to note that the portrait of Joseph Pease which did go to the Town Hall in 1875 was painted by James Macbeth, one of the two artist sons of Norman Macbeth, the other being the painter and etcher Robert Walker Macbeth. Like Pease, Edmund Backhouse was a Quaker, and he married into an important Quaker family in Cornwall. At Trebah near Falmouth he continued work begun by his father-in-law Charles Fox in creating the now famous sub-tropical garden.

James Faed received £105 (100 guineas), then a considerable sum, for his engraving of our portrait (McKerrow, page 149).

The only mystery remaining concerns the whereabouts of the portrait of Edmund Backhouse by Walter William Ouless (if actually executed), a commission proposed on the basis of a donation by Frank F. Mewburn and alluded to in 1872 and 1873. However, this is not central to our discussion, which can now be closed as the original question has been clearly answered. With thanks for Martin’s instigation and the contributions of Mark, E. Jones, Cliff, Jacinto, Kieran and Osmund, I recommend that the name of painter of the portrait of Edmund Backhouse (banker, MP for Darlington 1868-1880 and subsequently garden creator) be recorded as Norman Macbeth (1821-1888). The work was presented to the sitter by members of the South Durham and North Yorkshire Chamber of Agriculture in 1869 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1870, no. 145.

It is thus clear that our portrait was not the one presented to Darlington Council in 1875 (or the one then already hanging in the Town Hall). It could have been presented to the Council by Backhouse on his move to Trebah, Cornwall, in around 1880 or more probably by his family either after his own death in 1906 or on the death of his eldest son Sir Jonathan Backhouse, first baronet, in 1918.

The Gainsborough which was the subject of legal proceedings in 1921 arising from Sir Jonathan’s death depicted Miss Juliet [rather than Julia, as reported in the press] Mott and is no. 660 in Hugh Belsey’s magisterial catalogue raisonné of that artist’s portraits (2019). Along with the Trebah estate, it came into the possession of the Backhouse family through the marriage of our sitter to Juliet Mary Fox. Following the court hearing, the painting was sold by Edmund’s descendants at Christie’s, London, on 28 April 1922 (lot 47) for £4000, and is now in a private collection, USA.

It is interesting to note that the portrait of Joseph Pease which did go to the Town Hall in 1875 was painted by James Macbeth, one of the two artist sons of Norman Macbeth, the other being the painter and etcher Robert Walker Macbeth. Like Pease, Edmund Backhouse was a Quaker, and he married into an important Quaker family in Cornwall. At Trebah near Falmouth he continued work begun by his father-in-law Charles Fox in creating the now famous sub-tropical garden.

James Faed received £105 (100 guineas), then a considerable sum, for his engraving of our portrait (McKerrow, page 149).

The only mystery remaining concerns the whereabouts of the portrait of Edmund Backhouse by Walter William Ouless (if actually executed), a commission proposed on the basis of a donation by Frank F. Mewburn and alluded to in 1872 and 1873. However, this is not central to our discussion, which can now be closed as the original question has been clearly answered. With thanks for Martin’s instigation and the contributions of Mark, E. Jones, Cliff, Jacinto, Kieran and Osmund, I recommend that the name of the painter of the portrait of Edmund Backhouse (banker, MP for Darlington 1868-1880 and subsequently garden creator) be recorded as Norman Macbeth (1821-1888). The work was presented to the sitter by members of the South Durham and North Yorkshire Chamber of Agriculture in 1869 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1870, no. 145.

Mark Wilson,

Osmund - if Sir Jonathan kept on the family house after his father's death, then it makes sense that the portrait only went to the Council after his own death in 1918 and the disposal of the property. The local family bank had been merged into Barclays, Sir Edmund went back to Peking in 1922 and the other children were scattered. And your guess about the size is correct. The excerpt from the Newcastle Daily Chronicle E Jones posted describes it as "a three-quarter length picture, the features being life-size, and the dimensions outside the handsome gilt frame are 6 feet by 5 feet".

The reason that the Council had so few pictures in 1875 was that it had only been founded in 1868. Darlington only had its own MP from about then and the prominent Quaker families such as the Backhouses and the Peases dominated local politics for the next 50 years with every MP being a Quaker with the exception for less than a year of Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Trebitsch-Lincoln

the fabulist, Sinophile, con-artist and Nazi sympathiser who died in Shanghai in 1943. As opposed to Sir Edmund, the fabulist, Sinophile, con-artist and Nazi sympathiser who died in Peking in 1944:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Edmund_Backhouse,_2nd_Baronet

who the rest of the family probably did their best to make sure got as little of the estate as possible. Odd that two figures with such similar history were associated with the same place at roughly the same time.

Mark, in 1907, a year after Edmund Backhouse's death, Trebah was bought by Charles Hawkins Hext and his wife Alice Hext, the latter of whom continued to develop the garden. I suggest it remains possible, therefore, that Edmund's demise led to the presentation of his portrait to Darlington in around 1906.

The portrait of Edmund Backhouse is mentioned in his obituary in 'The Times', 8 June 1906, as attached. This also confirms that he was the first MP for the newly created borough constituency of Darlington.

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I support Richard's post of 31 August that the discussion be closed on the basis that the original question has been clearly answered. I hope that the collection is pleased with this recommendation.