Completed Northern Ireland: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C 10 Is this portrait by Sarah Purser?

Charles Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, aged 10
Topic: Artist

The monogram is (I think) SP, and the artist could therefore be Sarah Purser, on Art UK here:

Her Wikipedia page, under the section 'Portraiture', says that she was commissioned by the Viceroy of Ireland to paint his children in 1888. The Viceroy at the time was the Marquess of Londonderry, and this present painting is of one of his children.

However, Wikipedia gives no source for the comment about that commission. Could anyone help to unearth that, please?

I also can't find an exact match for this monogram on other of her works online, although there are some prints and drawings that seem to have the SP intertwined. She seems to have signed in different ways and painted in different styles over her long career. Here are some of her works in the National Gallery of Ireland, for example:

There are more works on Wikimedia Commons too:

The brightness has been adjusted on the image of the monogram attached.

[Group leader: Ruth Brimacombe]

Andrew Shore, Entry reviewed by Art UK

1 attachment

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. Formerly recorded on Art UK as ‘Irish School’, this portrait has been attributed conclusively to Sarah Henrietta Purser (1848–1943).

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.


Kieran Owens,

In John O'Grady's 'The Life and Work of Sarah Purser' (Four Courts Press, 1996) he records Purser's portrait of Viscount Castlereagh thus:

Charles Vane Tempest-Stewart (Viscount Castlereagh)
Private Collection
Oil on canvas
813 x 664
Late 1888
Signed in monogram, dated and inscribed at top right "Charles Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, aged 10, 1888, SHP
Provenance: Family descent
Exhibited at the RHA (Royal Hibernian Academy) 1889, no. 145.

In its review of the 1889 RHA exhibition, The Nation reported, in its 16th February edition, that "Another good portrait by Miss Purser is that of "Viscount Castlereagh" (145). The boyish face is well painted and the costume, though not detailed, is well managed".

O'Grady's measurements of 813mm x 664mm (2.65 feet x 2.18 feet) do not seem to tally exactly with those as stated on the Collection's own site, which records them as 756mm x 622mm (2.48 feet x 2.04 feet), though they are not far off. That might be because the respective measurements might include the whole frame and not just the canvas. One way to another, the measurements on Art UK record (107cm x 93cm, or 1070mm x 930mm / 3.51 feet x 3.05 feet) seem at odds with both O'Grady's calculation and that of the Collection. Perhaps the work needs to be remeasured so as to arrive at an agreed size.

Additionally, although it is hard to decipher the letters of SHP in the monogram, and although the word Dublin is omitted from O'Grady's description, all of the other details in the latter's description would support an attribution to Purser.

Osmund Bullock,

The Art UK measurements (1070 x 930 mm, or 42⅛ x 36⅝ in.) are very likely those of the frame, probably rounded - the proportions (1.15 : 1) coincide closely with those of the frame's image on the NT website (1.14 : 1). The NT's measurements (756 x 622 mm, or 29¾ x 24½ in.) are very close to a standard three-quarters canvas (30 x 25 in., often a bit less, ratio 1.2 : 1), and likely the correct ones; but it's possible they couldn't get at the back, and only measured the 'sight' size (i.e. what's actually visible within the frame's inner edge). If O'Grady's 813 x 664 mm (32 x 26⅛ in.) is correct it's unusual, but C20th canvases are often of non-standard size. However, I wonder if he didn't think (rightly or wrongly) that the NT's size was just the 'sight', and add an inch or two in each direction to allow for what he thought was hidden in the rebate. He may have measured or estimated it as 32 x 26 in., and converted it later to mm - the *exact* equivalent is 812.8 x 660.4 mm, and it's easy to see how the second figure could have carelessly ended up as '664'.

These measurement doubts are not uncommon here; and though some are noted as estimated, it is a pity that the PCF did not ensure that *every* measurement given to them was accompanied by a note of exactly what it represented. Anyway, I agree that the painting's size should be checked; but actually so much else coincides perfectly, it seems virtually certain to me that this is the same portrait.

Kieran Owens,

An additional mention, in the Freeman's Journal of Friday 29th March 1889, states:

"Miss Purser's work shows a masterly treatment in the portrait of Lord Castlereagh in his page's dress."

The National Trust has commented: 'We have two sets of measurements on CMS: the whole, framed object 1070 x 930 x 50 mm (H x W x D) and ‘sight-size’ 29 3/4 x 24 1/2 inches (Sotheby’s measurement, 2010) which has been converted to 756 x 622 mm. Frances Bailey, Senior National Curator for Northern Ireland who knows Mount Stewart extremely well, already considered this portrait to be by Sarah Purser; I also support the attribution.'

Osmund Bullock,

NMNI, see the intro and attached image above.

I support the attribution of this work to Sarah Purser. In addition to the strong case presented above, looking at the records of her work sold on artnet, in 1875 she was evidently using an entwined S and P as a monogram (See Study of a Girl, 1875, artnet). There is also a self portrait drawing in a sketchbook dated 23/8 in John O'Grady's book that uses a similar monogram. Although they are not an exact match - they seem close enough to be a variation. Added to wealth of supporting evidence provided (he is wearing a page's outfit)- the work in terms of paint handling and tone is in keeping with her other portraits, such as that of Miss Maude Gonne and the children, Berkeley and Dorothy Sheffield.