Photo credit: : Manx National Heritage
We recently stayed in a room that contained a portrait by René Théodore Berthon. I spent many hours inspecting this work, which can be seen here. https://bit.ly/2RHAmyW
The Grove’s portrait of Janet Blake has many of the same signature elements. The fabric and shape of the dress (see puckering on top of sleeves), the hairstyle and long neck also remind me of other work by him. Many of Berthon's works seem to have these thick gold chains, either around the neck or in other positions on his sitters.
Art UK adds: Berthon, a former pupil of Jacques-Louis David, painted religious and history subjects, as well as portraits. His portrait of Lady Morgan, painted in Paris c.1818, is at the National Gallery of Ireland. https://bit.ly/2RuCXME
The collection owns eight portraits of this family, whose relationship to one another is explained in the attachments. These include the Gibb family tree and accession register entries for the portraits of Janet Blake and Mary Blake.
See also Mal H, ‘In Search of Duncan Gibb’, 1 August 2018. https://bit.ly/2MMRhz8
The collection adds that the three images from the Grove which are missing from Art UK’s website are not at Manx National Heritage. They were not photographed during the oil paintings project. The paintings were moved out of the Grove and into storage several years ago due to risk of water damage from a leak in the building.
The following is a link to the Manx National Heritage record of eighty pages of a transcript of a conversation with Miss Janet Ann Gibb of The Grove, from 1973, within the Scope & Content list of which are mentioned family portraits. This discussion's work and its creator might be mentioned therein.
Kieran, Thank you for the link to the transcript. I've followed this up with an email to the collection. That should be fascinating.
The place to start is Edward Morris and Roberts' 1998 'The Liverpool Academy ...', which includes an index of all the works exhibited there up the Academy's demise in 1867
Duncan Gibb was born in Greenock, Scotland, was baptised there on the 22nd April 1792 and died at The Grove on the 8th November 1867, aged 75. Janet Blake was born in Liverpool on the 16th October 1809 and died at The Grove on the 9th March 1897, aged 87. Duncan, aged 38, and Janet, aged 20 married on the 15th June 1830. Duncan was c.17 years older than his wife.
Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser of Thursday 17th June 1830 carried the following notice: "On Tuesday last (the 15th)....at St. Philip's Church, by the Rev. T. S. Bowstead, Mr. Duncan Gibb, merchant, to Janet, youngest daughter of James Blake, Esq."
The Lancaster Gazette of the 19th noticed that "On Tuesday last, Mr. Duncan Gibb, merchant, to Jannet (sic), youngest daughter of James Blake, Esq., both of Liverpool."
In this context, an artist working in Liverpool between 1820 and 1830 might be a good candidate for the painter of this portrait. However, as mentioned above, Janet was born on the 16th October 1809. She was baptised at the Oldham Street Presbyterian Church in Liverpool, the daughter of James Blake and his wife Elizabeth. Both the 1851 and the 1881 Census returns show Janet Gibb (as she then was), as having been born c. 1810. Our portrait does not show an 11-year-old girl (as she would have been at the end of 1820) as the Grove's records suggest, but more likely (without any rings on her fingers) a twenty year old (c.1829) in the year before her marriage.
It might be that the year of the execution of this portrait, and that of the accompanying one of her older sister Mary, need to be re-dated by The Grove to c.1829/1830.
Additionally, Berthon would have been 56 in 1829. Is there any record of his having visited Liverpool in or around that year?
The British Library's copies of the actual Liverpool Academy exhibition catalogues were destroyed in the war - but of course they can be consulted in Liverpool Public Library
Not by Berthon, I fear, nor I think any continental artist. The portraits of Janet and Mary (clearly a pair, the line of the curtain carrying through from one to the other - see attached composite) are very typically British of the period, in proportion, sedateness of pose and restrained mood - look at the rather dull, limp hands...nothing like Berthon's which are full of life and movement. The canvas sizes, too, are standard British kit-cat of c.36 x 28 in.
Kieran is spot on with the date - from the hairstyle and clothing (those big sleeves again, but less showy than Catherine Ann Douglas's) we are in the late 1820s or early 1830s, which fits well with the lack of wedding or even engagement ring on Janet. Kieran, do you know when and if Mary married? Although her ring finger is hidden, I feel she would have displayed it if married.
Whoops, forgot the attachment.
Regarding the transcript of a conversation with Miss Janet Ann Gibb of The Grove, from 1973, held in the Manx National Heritage archives - attached are the pages which relate to the family portraits.
A Liverpool-exhibiting artist seems a likely idea. There is a 1998 book, 'The Liverpool Academy and other exhibitions of contemporary art in Liverpool, 1774-1867 : a history and index of artists and works exhibited' that might be fruitful - Martin, do you know it? Copies held at many libraries in the UK & worldwide, including the NAL (https://bit.ly/2X1QeA9) - I could look tomorrow or Saturday, unless someone else is keen to get to get to it first.
Manx National Heritage, thank you very much for the three pages from the transcript. There's no reference to an artist, but what a fascinating personal record of the family relationships!
Yes, many thanks. The pair of portraits are mentioned at the end of the second file, but as Marion says no artist. There is, though, a useful confirmation that the identities of the two portraits ("very much alike") haven't subsequently got confused (it often happens) - Janet is indeed our one, "with a locket" - and also that she was "about 20, before she married", i.e. 1829-30.
To answer my own question above, the elder sister Mary married on 27th June 1825 (to the Rev Hugh Ralph, as the accession register records). So she *was* married when painted; how odd that she chose to hide her wedding ring - perhaps her father wanted the pair to represent his two daughters as they had been when the family was intact, so to speak...or maybe they weren't getting on. Anyway, this means that any search for her portrait should be for 'Mrs Hugh Ralph', or 'Mary Ralph' and variants.
Osmund, the relevant marriage register in the Liverpool Record Office shows that Mary Blake was married in St. Philip's Church, Liverpool, by licence on the 27th June 1825, to the Reverend Dr. Hugh Ralph (London, 6th October 1801 - Delgaty, 9th September 1854 ), of the Scotch Church, Liverpool.
The Rev. Hugh Ralph was the fifth son of James Ralph of Marylebone, London. He was educated at the University of Glasgow (MA, 1819; LL.D., 1827). Ralph was appointed minister at the Oldham Street Presbyterian Church, Liverpool, where he stayed from 1824 until 1841 and was transferred to Aberdour in Scotland in 1842, where he was until 1844 and about which he wrote a statistical account ( https://bit.ly/2IeruBz ). He was finally transferred to Delgaty, in Fife, in 1844 where he remained until his death on the 9th September 1854, aged 53.
Mary was born on the 26th October 1807 and was baptised on that day at the Oldham Street Presbyterian Church, Liverpool. She was 17 years old when she married Hugh Ralph. She died on the 24th October 1884, aged 76.
If you are correct about the display of rings, the two portraits must therefore date from before June 1825, at which time Mary was 17 and Janet was 15, which is not entirely implausible given the rather innocent look they seem to have on their faces in their respective paintings.
Sorry Osmund, our postings crossed in the ether.
Additionally, the 1851 Scotland census shows that Hugh and Mary were still living together by that year.
Osmund I have already ordered up Morris and Roberts, which I know well - it did not arrive today
The Liverpool portrait and genre painter, Alexander Mosses [1793-1837], is a possibility - although I am very far from sure - see his portraits of the late 1820s of Mrs Clare [The Grove] and of William Ewart (Walker Art Gallery]. I think that we should be able to find a closer match
A former colleague of mine has some photocopies of some of the Liverpool catalogues of this period
Of course Mrs Clare is also in the same collection as our unattributed picture. Does 'Mrs Clare' share its provenance?
The unattributed portrait of Janet Gibb in the Grove must surely be by the same artist as the two sisters - look at the very distinctive fingers
Mrs Clare does seem to be a relation - see the family tree at the start of this discussion
Their mother [ married James Blake in Liverpool,. 11 November 1805]
What we need to know are all these portraits including that of the unphotographed Duncan Gibb housed in the same style of frame and of the same measurements including thickness , and what inscriptions are on their backs. Mosses who painted a large number of portraits established a favourite style of framing - and very often painted pictures of the same size
The amount of chiaroscuro in the portraits of the two portraits of the sisters is not that usual in Mosses' work- but is very common in the works of William Daniels, another Liverpool painter, who began painting when quite young
However,we have a problem in that there were very many unfamiliar painters exhibiting portraits in Liverpool in the 1820s and 1830s, and rather few of the exhibited portraits had titles other than'portrait of a lady' or 'portrait of a gentleman' . So any inscriptions or labels , however, faint are vital to making progress
This - the view of Dr Timothy Stevens, who was longtime Director of the Walker Art Gallery. He says that the attribution of Mrs Clare's portrait may simply be an opinion expressed many years ago by a member of the Walker Art Gallery staff
I will compile a list of portraitists exhibiting in these Liverpool shows in the 1820s and 1830s
The Welsh painter William Jones [1775-1837] could also be a candidate - see the colour of his hand in his Self Portrait [National Library of Wales] - compare the hands of the sister at the left in Osmund's very helpful composite photo
Jones certainly exhibited in Liverpool
Kieran, I must have been wrong about the ring. By 1825 the waist had certainly come down to a more natural level (as here); but I don't think the sleeves were as big as this by then, though often puffed at the shoulder. I'm still supporting your 1829 or early 30 - here's a lovely Ingres of 1830 showing the same upper sleeve (if even more extravagant) billowing out from a dropped shoulder and overhanging the tighter-clad forearm: https://bit.ly/2Ec1ySV
I see Hugh and Mary were also together (at Liverpool) in 1841; I don't think they had any children, though.
Martin, let us know if the book arrives tomorrow. If not, the weather's so nice I rather fancy a bike ride to South Kensington...I'm sure there was something else I said I'd look up, too.
I should add that the best work to show works by some of these little known artists in Liverpool in the first half of the 19th century is Mary Bennett's fully illustrated 1978 Merseyside Painters, People and Places
For Jones one might find something in Peter Lord, The tradition, a new history of Welsh art 1400-1990, Cardigan, 2016
and in the files of the National Library of Wales' art collection
Jones was a land agent and presumably an amateur painter from Garthmyl Hall, Berriew between Welshpool and Newtown. It later passed into the ownership of John Naylor of Leighton Hall, who assembled a large collection of contemporary paintings , he had strong links with Liverpool, being a partner of Leyland Bullins Bank from 1844
Osmund, I will let you know about Morris and Roberts, when I return this evening
It appears to have arrived
Nothing very helpful in the book but quite a number of exhibiting portraitists at that period - I will post a list tomorrow
However Joseph Allen who painted a Peter Clare [Manchester City Art Gallery] might be considered in relation to Mrs Clare. Could Peter be a member of that family? We need a more extended family tree
Exhibitors of portraits at Liverpool whom we can rule out
William Gawin Herdman
T C Thompson
possibles who exhibited in Liverpool c. 1825-35 to follow
B B Baldwin
Miss M Bogie
William Brown of Kendal
Thomas Carlyle [not the writer!]
Mons Henry Chapin
Thomas Crane Chester
R M Giles
J Graham of Ormskirk
J R Isaac
V M Johnson
John Moir - The Grove has his portrait of Rev Dr Ralph ![unphotographed]
James H Morgan
John Turmeau - principally a miniaturist [ as several others on this list may well be]
John William Wright
and of course Mosses and Daniels
Lord is no help over Jones
I visited The Grove today to photograph and measure the oil paintings which are displayed in the dining room. The paintings are too large to be removed without our conservator and site curator present, so I was not able to look at the backs of the paintings, however I have been informed by the site curator that it is unlikely any information would be found on the paintings which hasn't already been documented in Manx National Heritage's collections management database. The paintings have been cleaned and re-lined on a couple of occasions since they were acquired.
The measurements of the frames are as follows:
1976-1424 (Janet Blake): H 119cm, W 99cm D 10cm
1976-1426 (Mary Blake): as above (same style of frame as the portrait of Mary's sister Janet)
1976-1421 (Mrs Clare, artist Alex Mosses, February 1829): H 97cm, W 85cm, D 8.5cm
1976-1422 (Miss Elizabeth Gibb with James Blake Esq, artist William Bowness, November 1840): H 160cm W 139cm D 12cm
I have attached reference shots so that the portraits can be seen in-situ. I was not able to get very close to the paintings due to their height and the position of various pieces of furniture in the room.
Hannah Murphy (Manx National Heritage)
Taken from 'Liverpool, Its Commerce, Statistics and Institutions etc...' by Henry Smithers (1825), attached is his list of artists living and working in Liverpool in 1825, the year (or soon thereafter) in which the portraits of the Blake sisters might have been painted. Four artists stand out as possible contenders, three of which are included in Martin's list above:
Thanks very much for those, Hannah. No sign, though, of the unattributed portrait of Janet Gibb (https://bit.ly/2SHx3gt), which Martin thinks might be by the same hand as the pair of Mary & Janet Blake (though it is inferior in execution).
The measurements given on Art UK for the large double portrait (by Bowness) of James Blake with his granddaughter Elizabeth Gibb seem to be out by a factor of 10 - "12.8 x 10.8 cm" instead of (presumably) 128 x 108 cm.
Thomas Hargreaves [1775-1846] was primarily a miniature painter.
The University of Manchester owns a Lovatt of Owen Owens [undated]
Mosses is much the best known and was very prolific.
Mrs Clare at The Grove is supposedly by Mosses, but is it signed or just attributed?
John Moir , a Scottish painter [c. 1776-1857] exhibited portraits of the Rev Dr Ralph and his wife at the Liverpool Academy. the former of which is probably the unphotographed portrait at The Grove.
Rev Hugh Ralph appears on the family tree as Duncan Gibb's brother in law and wife of Mary Blake
I shall find the details of the year of the exhibition tomorrow
The measurements of 'James Blake, Esq. and Elizabeth Gibb, Aged 9' have been corrected.
Osmund, the unattributed portrait of Janet Gibb (ref. 1976-1428) was originally on the upstairs landing and then moved into off-site storage several years ago due to risk of water damage - along with the portrait of Duncan Gibb ref. 1976-1425, a portrait of the Blake children Mary, Janet and James ref. 1976-1423 and a portrait of Rev Dr Ralph ref. 1976-1427. That'll be another site visit.
Regarding the portrait of Rev Dr Ralph we have the following note "Oil Portrait 'Rev Dr Ralph Scotch Church Liverpool J. Moir' i.e. John Moir. c 1825-35. [Artist at 9, Gardiner's Crescent, Edinburgh in 1837 Directory. 1775-1857, mainly worked in Aberdeen area.] 1 m x 1.27 m. Dr Ralph left Oldham Streetchurch in 1842 having been there since C.1824."
The portrait of Duncan Gibb is unattributed and undated. Also unattributed is the portrait of the Blake children, 'Mary Blake aged 9, Janet Blake aged 7, and James Blake aged 5' although the record does state "Children of James Blake M.D., originally a ship's surgeon. Lived at George Square, Liverpool after his marriage and he had a soapworks in Bristol with his brother." The painting is dated 1810-1820.
Thank you for highlighting the discrepancy with the measurements, I’ve corrected that. The measurements I provided earlier are the for the overall size of the frame.
Although Thomas Hargreaves worked for most of his adult life painting miniatures, the selection of these on ArtNet shows some striking similarities to the Blake sisters' portraits in compositional detail (formatting, drapes, hair styles and fashions), especially in the period around the 1820s and 1830s.
See in particular:
That he painted in a larger format, in oil on canvas, can be see on the ArtUK website at:
See also the attached composite of Janet Blake and Hargreaves' c.1833 miniature portrait of Jane Duthie.
A Liverpool-bred artist, Thomas Hargreaves was born in early 1775 and worked for Sir Thomas Lawrence as an articled assistant from May 1793 for two years at an annual salary of £52 and 10 shillings. As a miniature painter, he exhibited at the Royal Academy from an address in Liverpool between 1798 and 1809, and from an address in Woolwich in 1831 and 1843. He died on the 23rd December 1846. Joshua Foster, in his Chats on Old Miniatures (2018), says "His father (Henry Hargreaves) was a woollen draper, who articled his son as an assistant to Sir Thomas Lawrence. Hargreaves' work bears the impress of that master's style."
All of the above said, Thomas Hargreaves' obituary in The Art Journal ( https://bit.ly/2DVKuz4 ) in January 1847 does say that at an early age he found oil painting to be detrimental to his health, and that he applied himself to miniature painting for the rest of his life. However, it might well be that he did apply himself to oil painting in exceptional circumstances later in his life, as his oil on canvas painting of William Cole at the RIBA is said to date from 1822 and the portrait attributed to him of his son Francis Hargreaves at the Walker is dated c.1825 to 1830. Admittedly they are both of a different style and finish to those of the Blake sisters.
Hargreaves' obituary does say that he had three exceptionally talented sons who, in 1846, "are esteemed the best miniature-painters in Liverpool at the present time.". One of them was George Hargreaves (1797 - 1870), who was a member of the British Society of Artists. Another was Francis Hargreaves (1804 - 1877), the subject of the Walker portrait. Perhaps our Blake sisters' portraits are by one of them.
The Walker Art Gallery's 'Merseyside, Painters, People & Places' of 1978 contains more specific details on the Hargreaves' family.
Fascinating. I don't see the similarities you mention between Thomas Hargreaves and this work, although "A lady, called Mrs Mary Whitehouse née Lake..., 1865" almost looks like it could be Janet Blake! It's quite a resemblance..
Laura, the similarities that I see between the Janet Blake and the Jane Duthie portraits, setting aside their total difference in size and the different painting mediums used, are in the almost identical hair styling, the use of a distinctively yellow/gold jewellery, the almond shaped eyes with their well-defined eyebrows, the cheek blush, the small glimpse of the hanging drape, the exposed necklines, the puffed sleeves, and the near-identical formatting of the opening out into a garden environment. The Duthie miniature does not have the same shiny lustre of the Blake oil, but that is to be expected given the different paints used to render each of them. That Hargreaves was cable of painting large superb female oils can be seen by the portraits of Miss Freckleton and Mrs. Johnson at the Walker Art Gallery.
The portrait of Rev Dr Ralph was
no 90 at the Liverpool Academy in 1829. The Grove should be able to correct its date for the painting
no 103 was Mrs Ralph
Is that too in the Grove [although not on artuk.org]?
Keiran, we have corrected the date for the portrait of Rev Dr Ralph, thank you. We do not have a painting titled 'Mrs Ralph' in the MNH collections.
But do you have a painting of a woman of this period in which the sitter is still unidentified?
A search of MNH's collections management database tells me the following portraits with female sitters originate from The Grove - they are not all on display at the site. Date and artist provided where known:
1976-1419: Miniature in oval composition box, Unknown woman, in mourning but hatless. No painter's/sitter's name, patent registration on case:- 1856 & 1857. 8 cm x 7.5 cm (The Grove Drawing Room)
1976-1420: Watercolour, 3/4 portrait of Mrs Gatley (mother of Mrs Close) [N. original card says 'Mrs Clare'] whose granddaughter, Elizabeth married James Blake. Oval 14 cm x 11 cm. Framed, gilt and glazed, overall 22 cm x 20 cm (The Grove Drawing Room)
1976-1421: Mrs Clare, Mosses, Alexander, February 1829 (The Grove Dining Room)
1976-1424: Janet Blake (1809-1897) (The Grove Dining Room)
1976-1426: Mary Blake (1807-1884) (The Grove Dining Room)
1976-1428: Believed to be Janet Gibb nee Blake, wearing a dark dress and a light floral head dress, c.1835. (portrait currently in off-site storage)
1976-1429: Water Colour. Oval, said to be Mrs Janet Gibb (as 76-1424), in pencil 'Mrs William Musgrave Artista'. c 1850s. 49 cm x 40 cm, sight. [Artist exhibited at Royal Scottish Academy 1938-58 Mrs William Thomas Musgrave of Nelson Street, RoyalCircus and S. Charlotte Street, Edinburgh]. Framed, gilt and glazed - over fireplace in drawing room (The Grove Drawing Room)
1976-1431: Watercolour Portrait, said to be Mrs Lindsay, niece of Duncan Gibb, the donors' grandfather, signed beneath oval window mount 'E.E. Christian 1853', artist untraced. c1850., Framed, gilt, and glazed, left of drawing room fireplace. 41 x33 cm (The Grove Drawing Room)
Very many thanks
What a wonderful discussion. I have been looking at artists of that period in Britian and wonder is John Hayter may be a possibility. Something about the color of the skin and of course the aforementioned red drapery look similar to the discussed portrait of Janet Gibb.
We are looking for an artist who made some use of chiaroscuro - not much used by Liverpool portraitists of this period, except by William Daniels and these portraits might be too early for him. Perhaps we need to widen our search to Scotland and Manchester?
In view of the position of both Liverpool and the Isle of Man, Irish artists should be considered as well