Completed London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C, Portraits: British 20th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 42 Is this possibly suffragette Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, or Isabel Thorne of the Edinburgh Seven?

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (?)
Topic: Subject or sitter

As the Wellcome Library's description states:

'Bears printed label on back of stretcher identifying the subject as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: probably erroneous, but possibly correct in asserting some connection of the portrait with Anderson.

The sitter closely resembles a portrait of Isabel Thorne at a later age (Edythe Lutzker, 'Women gain a place in medicine', 1969, p.62). Isabel Jane Thorne (1833/1834–1910) was one of the 'Edinburgh Seven', a group of women who attempted to gain professional qualifications in medicine from the University of Edinburgh, led by Sophia Jex-Blake (1840–1912).'

Could the sitter (or artist) possibly be identified?

Jade Audrey King, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title has been amended to ‘Unknown Woman (formerly identified as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson or Isabel Thorne)’ and the acquisition details changed to ‘accessioned, 1933’.

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.

41 comments

Martin Hopkinson,

If the artist could be identified as Scottish it would obviously strengthen the idea was one of the Edinburgh Seven. Is there anything known of the provenance of the picture?

Justin Grant-Duff,

If you consider most portraits and images of sketches this could not possibly be Anderson: the shape of the nose and chin are quite different, as is the hairstyle. But if you look closely at a photo from 1910 with an aged E. Pankhurst, you can see a small resemblance to someone that is ascribed to Anderson. The shape of the nose and wider cheek bones looks alike. But a photo in old age and she again only has a passing resemblance to the portrait; of course this could be artistic licence. Her young face from 1860s is again mixed: the same blue eyes; but her nose and ears are almost totally different from the portrait. But most of all a famous portrait from 1900 really achieves a much more expressive maturity that the rather drab matronly figure here. The Eves portrait is realistic, tinged by pink cheeks, expressive eyes, pursed feminine lips; an aristocratic face looking down with character and wisdom. He gentle, elegant fingers boast a diamond ring covering a wedding band. Your portrait looks frumpy by comparison (did I say that?0)

Osmund Bullock,

Justin, you are right that this is not Anderson, whose notably protuberant lower lip is quite absent, apart from anything else...but drab, matronly, frumpy? If this is indeed Mrs Thorne - a good idea, though I can find no image of her online - then the artist has at least made a good job of depicting a calm, but determined woman in her (?)60s, one described by Jex-Blake's biographer, Shirley Roberts, as "...considerate, tactful, hard-working, industrious, and for 30 years the mainstay of the college." The college was the newly-founded London School of Medicine for Women, and she was appointed secretary in 1887 (in preference to the more combative Sophia Jex-Blake) "to win the goodwill and respect of the medical profession" (DNB). The pioneering American woman doctor Lucy Ellen Sewall apparently felt that Mrs Thorne was the one of the Edinburgh seven most likely to make the best doctor (though she never became one). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabel_Thorne

Anderson was a charismatic and impatient battler; Jex-Blake was perhaps even more militant, forthright and tempramental. It was Thorne who had the ability, when the right time came, to move things forward quietly, diplomatically and effectively - so modest was she that, though her husband was dead, she made no mention of her important, albeit honorary position under "Profession or Occupation" in the Census entries of 1891 & 1901.

By the way, in the 1910 photo you describe, Anderson is the aged one, not Pankhurst. And her 1900 portrait was by Singer Sargent, not Eves - Eves probably made all three of the copies that went to medical institutions, two of them on ArtUK (the third is at the BMA). The original was held by the family until recently, but is now on loan to the NPG, which has a very full catalogue entry for the work. Anderson, whose background was far from aristocratic, objected to the very thing you admire in her portrait: "She was annoyed to find Sargent had painted her with affected, tapering hands. ‘They are nothing like mine!’ She spread her scrubbed, capable, surgeon’s fingers. Sargent hid one hand under the black silk gown, which by common consent he painted superbly, but the remaining hand is still his and not hers."
See: http://bit.ly/2362FYn

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, Isabel's election to the post of Hon Sec of the LSMW was in 1877, not 1887.

Martin, though I find it difficult to date this portrait, if it is Thorne I think it must show her in the 1890s (when she was in 50s/60s) - her fairly brief connection with Edinburgh was in the 1870s, after which she returned south to London (and to Lewes). Interestingly her daughter was studying art in 1881, though there's no sign that she ever practised it. A high-res version of the work is available on the collection website, from which it is clear that it's really only a sketch, though by an adept and surprisingly modern hand: the roughness may have implications for the accuracy of the likeness. I also wonder if it could be a later, retrospective representation or loose copy of an earlier portrait.

Jann Haworth,

The hair looks like another 'achiever, Louisa Aldrich Blake [ 1st Brit to achieve a Master's in Surgery] and the features too seem similar. Note the eyebrows. Further Anderson and Thorn wore their hair tight to their heads.

Wellcome Collection,

Thanks for the interesting comments. Unfortunately the Wellcome Library has no provenance for the painting. It was accessioned on 22 May 1933 as having been received from a collection store on 13 May 1933, and the cataloguer's only source of information was the painting itself. There is a stamp on the back of the canvas, "Young & Marten, artists' materials, Stratford". There are also chalk marks on the back of the canvas suggesting an exhibition or auction lot number, but they do not include a recognizable date.

William Schupbach, Wellcome Library

Osmund Bullock,

Jann, that's an interesting suggestion, but I don't think she's quite right - in all the images I can see, Aldrich-Blake's face is noticeably fuller, more jowly, and has a more protuberant chin than our sitter. Ours also seems to have rather bigger cheekbones and perhaps a more pointed nose. As well as Orpen's 1923 portrait on ArtUK ( http://bit.ly/260Blwc ), see http://1.usa.gov/1YpeNmu and http://bit.ly/1sER6uu

I am interested that you seem to know how Mrs Thorne wore her hair: do you have an image - or can you scan one - that you can share with us? It would be immensely helpful.

Judith Martin,

With apologies if I'm only setting hares running - I'm not an art historian - but this rings a few bells and is intriguing enough to pursue a bit. About 5 years ago I researched Dr Annie McCall in order to submit the buildings of the hospital she founded, for listing. There is a photo of Dr McCall (1859-1949) which shows very similar clothing; perhaps it was what women doctors wore. Aware that she was challenging medical convention, she never wanted to step far out of line in other ways that might impact adversely on her work, so the design of the hospital was conventional in front and radical - and expressive of her pioneering ideas - at the back. She appears in a blog:
http://thevictorianist.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/we-have-trained-30-to-40-women-of.html The photo here shows a similar collar to the one in the Wellcome portrait. The Victorianist says this one shows Dr McCall in 1945 but I think that's unlikely - she's too young. There's another photo knocking around the web that is much more likely to have been taken then, showing her in collar and tie. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_McCall
Another resonance is with John Singer Sargent's portrait of Octavia Hill from 1989, which is mightily flattering, although the Wellcome portrait is more coarse. The point of this is that the Wellcome portrait may be much kinder to the sitter than a photograph.
So, I looked at sites about pioneering women doctors - and found Ethel Bentham. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethel_Bentham Remove the glasses (flattering again) and the mouth, chin and hair are very reminiscent. She was born in 1861 so if the Wellcome portrait is of her, she was dressed in an old-fashioned way, as she looks to be about 60, which would date the portrait to about 1920. But it may be that like Annie McCall she was unwilling to break with sartorial tradition.
This is only a suggestion - I may be entirely wrong. I'd like to know what the final answer is. (Aldrich-Blake's mouth is too full - it's unlikely a portraitist would make a mouth thinner.)

Osmund Bullock,

Re the stamp on the rear of the canvas, contemporary directory listings confirm that the business was not called 'Young & Marten' until 1883/84, that it was listed as just 'Young & Marten' up to 1899/1900, but that from 1900/1901 it is found as 'Young & Marten Ltd (or Ld)'.

The NPG’s Artists’ Suppliers Directory ( http://bit.ly/1sLwmRR ) describes a dated work of 1897 with a ‘Young & Marten’ (no ‘Ltd’) canvas stamp; but without identifying a similar post-1900 one that *does* bear the ‘Ltd’, we cannot be sure that it was not omitted even after 1900. The 1897 stamp is also wordier than ours, and bears an ‘E’ (for East London postal district) after ‘Stratford’. Stratford was technically part of postal London from at least the early 1880s, but in practice its businesses seem to be listed in Essex postal directories, not London ones, until at least 1890. This may mean that our picture is somewhat earlier (mid-80s/early-90s), but this evidence is rather uncertain. I am emailing Jacob Simon to see if he has a note of any later pictures with the Y&M stamp.

Osmund Bullock,

Judith – once again, two very interesting suggestions. As you say, if this were Ethel Bentham the portrait must date from towards 1920. Dr Annie McCall was born only two years before Bentham, in 1859, and did not qualify until 1885 - so again we would be looking at a work of probably the second decade of the C20th. Old-fashioned or not, I just don’t think that fits with the clothing style – though there are confusing and contradictory elements, I feel it must be pre-1910, and more probably late C19th. I think we are dealing with a woman of essentially the previous generation to them (as Mrs Thorne, born 1833, was).

The photo of Dr McCall you mention may be a bit earlier than 1945; one source ( http://bit.ly/1WS6rEy ) clearly shows it is scanned from a printed photo, which may have been published then, but taken earlier. It’s nevertheless useful, and I am attaching a composite image of it with a photo of her as a young woman (prob 1880s), together with a detail of our portrait (attachment 1). Again, I am not convinced they show the same woman.

The style of clothing is indeed confusing – in some ways it seems to hark back to the 1860s, but the hairstyle is impossible for then (see attachment 2). Our one has, I think, a brooch fastened at the neck of a small stiff collar, which is a very different matter to the male-style soft collar and (bow) tie worn by Dr McCall in later years. It’s possible that part of what we see is academic dress, as in Eliz Garrett Anderson’s 1900 portrait by Sargent – also comparable are the big black sleeves in the 1898 Sargent of Octavia Hill you mention. See http://bit.ly/1UhhqqT and http://bit.ly/1OvJDYE . But my feeling is still that we are looking at an old-fashioned woman of the 1880s or 90s...except that her hairstyle if anything looks post-1900 (though it’s a bit odd even for then)!

Some more expert input on dress and hair is badly needed – but even more helpful would be an image of Mrs Thorne, without which we are really flailing.

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Judith Martin,

Osmund - I slightly regret introducing Annie McCall; I certainly wasn't suggesting the portrait was of her. I was simply using her as an example of the position of a pioneering woman in medicine, who tended perhaps to prefer to restrict their radicalism to their work. But before I leave her I suggest the photo of her in late middle age is from about 1920, while the one in Wikipedia (attached) is much more likely to come from 1945, when she would have been 85.

I'm intrigued that you say the hair in the Wellcome portrait would have been impossible for the 1860s. The two very young women in your attachment are in day dress, with one style of hair - there were many others, and those would have varied with the age of the woman. The photo is almost a calling card to find eligible suitors, designed to show a certain level of education and seriousness of mind, plus an adequate parental income. A qualified professional woman would very probably not have the time or inclination for the long plaits worn by the young women. (Now someone will find a picture of an older woman academic or similar with plaits wound round her head.....)

Presumably someone here has interrogated the Scottish NPG for Mrs Thorne?

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Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, Judith, I see that now. And I also see that I've been even more unclear about the 1860s photo I posted. I phrased it badly, but it was only intended to illustrate the similarities in dress - especially the collar, the brooch, and the volume of fabric. The hair, as you say, is just one style, though I don't think any others from the '60s look anything like ours.

I doubt anyone has contacted the SNPG, and it might be worth doing so - perhaps the 'Edinburgh Seven' (or five, originally) were photographed, though 1869/70 is too early for press or publicity-type photos. It's possible, too, that the NPG/Heinz Archive's sitter boxes may have something a bit later, when Mrs Thorne was in London - but I doubt it, given her apparent preference for working quietly in the background.

The obvious thing we need to see is the image that first triggered the suggestion that Mrs Thorne might be the sitter - the illustration in Edythe Lutzker's 'Women gain a place in medicine'. There are copies of the book in both the BL and the Wellcome Library - I don't know if it was Wellcome who initiated this discussion, but is there any chance of seeing a scan?

Wellcome Collection,

Here (attached) is the portrait of Isabel Thorne which led to the tentative suggestion that she is the subject of this oil painting.

William Schupbach

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Osmund Bullock,

Thanks very much for that, William.

I'm afraid, though, I don't feel that the resemblance is close (even the right way up!). Even allowing for artistic interpretation, there seem to be substantial differences in the the length of chin below the mouth (and the distance from mouth to nose), the shape and thickness of the eyebrows, the shape of the nose, and (most markedly) practically everything about the eyes - Mrs Thorne's seem to be much darker, probably brown (though one can't be sure from a monochrome image), and noticeably wider and less hooded. I could add concerns about the very different hairstyles, but without knowing the dates involved that's a less certain area. I suppose she can't be ruled out completely, but personally I wouldn't put it more strongly than (at best)"possibly".

See attached for face comparison composite image.

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LF N,

It doesn't much look like Elizabeth, but it does look a little bit like her sister Millicent, or even Millicent's daughter Philippa. (Google has quite a few pictures, of Millicent in particular)

L Young,

I was recently researching Dr Mary Murdoch, a Scottish Doctor who was the first female GP in Hull. The resemblance of this painting to a known photo of Dr Murdoch, which appeared in the newspapers at time of her death in 1916 is uncanny, comparing the pose, the chin, mouth, nose, ear, hair etc. Dr Murdoch was a suffragist and suffragette and significantly she was Millicent Fawcett's proxy on overseas visits. She knew Elizabeth and Millicent extremely well. There is a record of a portrait of Dr Murdoch being placed in the children's ward of Hull hospital, but I haven't found what happened to it, but it proves a portrait of her was painted. Perhaps more than one? When she died her personal items were left to her various female medical friends and female relations. It's perhaps a long shot - but I wondered could the portrait have been of Dr Mary Murdoch and perhaps Elizabeth's name was written on the back as she was to be the recipient of the painting after Mary's untimely death? Mary was 52 when she died in 1916. I have attached the photo from the newspaper obituary. Something to consider perhaps.

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Barbara Bryant,

L. Young makes a very convincing proposal that the portrait shows Mary Murdoch. What happened to the portrait in Hull hospital? Who painted it? Could this be the same picture?

Barbara - the Hull newspaper photo could be from an oil painting rather than Murdoch from the life (or at least that crossed my mind too on first sight) but surely not the one above.

Barbara Bryant,

Sure, Pieter, it might well be. This is all worth investigating from various angles.

L Young,

Incidentally - the only newspaper clipping that mentioned the portrait is dated 26 Dec 1917 - one week after the death of EGA. It states that the Feren's Ward at the Victoria Children's Hospital was decorated with evergreens for Christmas, in memory of Dr Murdoch and that her portrait hung on one wall. Millicent Fawcett was one of the committee members of the Mary Murdoch Memorial Fund which was very successful at the time, in raising funds to reopen and keep open the baby's ward at the hospital and provide bursaries for women studying medicine.

L Young,

Andrew - that carnegiehull article is wrong about Mary's death. She definitely died 20 March 1916. and not in 1920. The newspaper clipping mentioning the portrait is now attached.

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Dr Katharine Cocking has kindly contributed the following:

"I've just found the biography by Hope Malleson entitled A Woman Doctor: Mary Murdoch of Hull, London: Sidgwick & Jackson 1919. There are two illustrations, both photographs. One is from 1901 and the other is 'latest'. The book was written after her death in 1916.

The painting may not be entirely accurate, so in comparing the painting with the photographs this needs to be taken into consideration. The photographs have various distinctive features: thin lips; quite full and curved eyebrows; long nose with visible nostrils; slightly asymmetrical eyes. She wore her hair up in both portraits and the 'latest' portrait shows her in a high necked blouse which is gathered at the shoulders.

My doubts about the painting would be that it doesn't show the same thick, curved eyebrows and has a slightly more angular face shape whereas Murdoch's photos show a broader brow and slightly rounder face.

However, the artist may not have captured these features of the subject."

Barbara Bryant,

Using the source referred to above by Katharine Cockin, I am attaching the photograph of the image of Murdoch called "the latest". There are a lot of similarities between this photograph of Murdoch and the picture at the Wellcome. I wonder if the differences might be due to an inexperienced artist or one not professionally trained whose limitations mean the likeness to the sitter is not complete. Granted that she appears older in the painting than in "the latest" photograph taken of her when she was in her early 50s.

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Osmund Bullock,

As Neil Jeffares observes in the Rubens discussion, attempting to identify portraits solely by looking for similar-looking people is fraught with difficulty at the best of times, and generally unproductive without supporting provenance or documentary evidence. That ours "possibly" has some connection with Anderson is a long way off that, I'm afraid. Where the resemblance is moreover slight (or at least inconsistent), and we have to assume a deficient likeness by the artist, we are on even shakier ground.

Apart from the incorrect (or misconstrued) rear label, the only evidence of anything we have (and it's a bit uncertain) relates to period. The clothing style points (in my opinion) to a date well before that of the "latest" photo of Dr Murdoch - c.1900 at latest versus c.1910. The rear canvas stamp tends to indicate the same thing - pre-1900, or a little later if old stock was being used. This is clearly problematic if we feel that the portrait sitter is older than the photo's subject. Personally I am also unconvinced by the resemblance - Dr Murdoch is a much slimmer woman, her eyes are far wider and less hooded, her visible ear seems more prominent, and (most markedly) her eyebrows are completely different in shape and thickness. They both have their hair up (hardly surprising), but even that is done in a markedly different way. See side-by-side comparison attached.

Even if we had other evidence suggesting that the portrait might be of Dr Murdoch I would be reluctant to agree that it is; without it I am pretty sure that it isn't.

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Barbara Bryant,

Osmund, my sole intention was to introduce material that might be relevant to our discussion. Since the previous post referred to this image without showing it, I actually thought it would be better to know what it looks like. I was not proposing a cast iron identification. Therefore your helpful suggestion that "attempting to identify portraits solely by looking for similar looking people is fraught with difficulty" is not needed. This image was cited and I attached it so that the discussion could on.

Osmund Bullock,

Barbara, I'm sorry - re-reading what I wrote I can see that my comment looked like it was addressed at you, which it certainly wasn't. You are far too wise and experienced (a great deal more than I am) to take what Neil calls the "looks-like" route without great caution. But since I was about to sound very negative on a potential portrait match (as I often am in Art Detective discussions), I felt it was the moment to introduce a general caveat for those less experienced about getting excited at finding someone with a roughly similar appearance, and perhaps reading too much into it.

I fear my habit of picking apart so many identification ideas makes me sound like a grumpy old killjoy who enjoys slapping people down; on reflection I should probably just let them hang in the air for the Collection to assess in due course.

This discussion, “Is this possibly suffragette Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, or Isabel Thorne of the Edinburgh Seven?”, ranges across four different Groups and has attracted 30 comments, dating to June 2016 and August to October 2017. It concerns a portrait which was transferred from the Wellcome store without a provenance in 1933, less than 30, 40 or 50 years since it was painted. It bears a printed label on the stretcher identifying the subject as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, probably erroneously, according to the Wellcome website, which as of October 2020 describes the sitter as closely resembling a portrait of Isabel Thorne.

This discussion faces the difficulty of so many portrait discussions that an identification based on likeness is problematic without some sort of supporting documentation as Osmund explains (post, 10 October 2017). It is clear that the portrait does not represent Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Various alternative identifications have been proposed and dismissed in the course of the discussion, with useful side-by-side comparisons posted by Osmund: Dr McCall (18 June 2016), Isabel Thorne (22 June 2016) and Dr Murdoch (10 October 2017, faulty link).

Other than the evidence of the portrait itself, which appears to date to the years around 1900, the only information comes from the canvas stamp on the reverse, “Young & Marten, artists’ materials, Stratford”. This would suggest at the very least that the canvas comes from London. As it happens, since this discussion began, I have produced an illustrated guide to canvas stamps, available on the National Portrait Gallery website. If William at the Wellcome has an image of the stamp, I would add it to the guide when it is next updated. Over time, I would hope to gather sufficient examples to enable a stamp like this to be dated. However, this is not currently relevant to this discussion.

Subject to the agreement of the other three Group Leaders and of the Wellcome, I propose that this discussion dating back four years should shortly be closed unless further evidence can be produced. A minor correction can be made to the Art UK website, which gives the acquisition details as “purchased by Henry S. Wellcome, c.1900–1936” since the portrait was accessioned by the Wellcome in 1933. As to the identity, while the description on the Wellcome website associating this portrait with Isabel Thorne(?) could be retained, it would probably be more accurate to describe this as an Unknown Woman, formerly identified as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson or Isabel Thorne. On this basis the subject of the discussion has been answered.

Osmund Bullock,

The Dr Murdoch side-by-side comparison image that I posted in Oct 2017, and which Art UK's server has mysteriously swapped with a quite different one, is herewith attached again.

William, looking at the rear image, the '8349 PH' number at the top looks similar in format to a Christie's consignment number...I don't think it is, actually, but I assume you've checked with their Archives? In any case, as it's on the frame not the stretcher, it may or may not relate to the painting now in it.

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Wellcome Collection,

Thanks for that Osmund. The 8349 stencil is a collection accession number. The early Wellcome curators adopted (from Christie's?) the stencilling of a number on the back, and then also later (from the Prado?) the painting of the number on the bottom left corner of the front.
Wm Schupbach

James Fairhead,

One should not sign off this before at least considering Elizabeth Blackwell, who was Garrett- Anderson’s mentor (and the first woman doctor in the US) who also helped found the London School of Medicine for Women with Garret-Anderson and others. Blackwell lived her later life in the UK (in Hastings where she was close to feminist artist and activist Barbara Bodichon who had visited her in the US and attracted over to the UK to support the women’s medical cause here linked to the Langham Place Group and the Edinburgh Seven). The face is similar (excepting eyes and hair). https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/elizabeth-blackwell

Jacinto Regalado,

If the picture is c. 1900, the sitter is too young to be Elizabeth Blackwell, who was born in 1821.

Jacinto Regalado,

However, there could be some degree of flattery involved, but I think Blackwell had fairer colouring.

My summary post of 14 October proposing to close this discussion has brought two useful responses from the collection.

A minor correction can be made to the Art UK website, which gives the acquisition details as “purchased by Henry S. Wellcome, c.1900–1936” since the portrait was accessioned by the Wellcome in 1933. As to the identity, it would probably be more accurate to describe this as an Unknown Woman, formerly identified as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson or Isabel Thorne. The collection has already embraced this description on its website. On this basis the subject of the discussion has been answered and the discussion can be closed.

Thomas Ardill, Curator,

Agreed that this can now be closed. Thanks for the useful additions to the record everyone.

Louis Musgrove,

Could this be Gwendolin Syrie Maud Wellcome ? I attach small photo.

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