Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 19th C, Wales: Artists and Subjects 22 Is this the Reverend William Seaton (1781–1851)? Who painted him?

Topic: Subject or sitter

Is this the Reverend William Seaton (1781–1851) who was a Free Church minister in England before becoming Rector of Lampeter Velfrey, Pembrokeshire, in 1830? Or is this his eldest son and namesake, born in 1802, an apothecary and later ordained? A photograph of the latter in old age survives. I am keen to know because Seaton senior was a predecessor of mine as Rector, and founded the local primary school in 1845.

Art UK adds: New Zealander Denise Watson, another descendant of Reverend William Seaton (born London 1781, died Sunbury-on-Thames 1851), contacted us recently in the hope of finding out whether this might be a portrait of him. The Reverend Seaton had two wives, Ann Irons and secondly Mary Anne Lord, sister of Sir John Owen of Orielton.

The collection has previously been unable to confirm whether the sitter is Reverend William Seaton Senior or William Seaton Junior.

Geoffrey Morris, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Christopher Foley,

Can we clarify what is meant by "Free Church", please ? The Free Church of England was not established until the 1840's but continues in a small way until the present. If Smeaton was a Methodist, it would be worth looking through the Methodist Magazine, which published hundreds of portraits of "Preachers of the Gospel" over many years from its inception in 1744 to its closure in 1960. They seem to have been little studied. My own set (of the portraits only, in several volumes) are presently inaccessible in store, but this portrait looks like the sort of picture which was the prototype of the published engravings.

Justin Grant-Duff,

The Free Church or Wee Frees is usually the name given in 19th century to the United Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, now just called the Church of Scotland. At the end of that century the Presbyterian kirk merged with other nonconformist dissenting churches to form a united front distinguishing it from Episcopalian (Scotland) and Roman Catholic. In England the English Presbyterians centred on Norwich in 18th century became the Unitarians. One of the them was the famous Chamberlain family of Birmingham. But in the 1880s the Unitarians decided to merge with the Church of England (Anglican church). Largely because of political Unionism (of all three nations as United Kingdom ) the churches also became united in alignment at the same time as: 1. rise of Trade Unions in the Socialist movement, 2. United professional football clubs 3. unitarian beliefs of Christology which denounced the Trinitarian beliefs in favour of Christ as the Son of Man. One of the free churches was the Mormons or Latter Day Saints, who were a branch of the Presbyterians. One of the heretical free beliefs was doctrine of Original Sin which said that Adam and Eve were born sinners, and the Fall of Man meant mankind was free to sin, because they could only seek salvation through God's forgiveness and redemption, reform and renewal of the doctrine of justification by faith. In Scotland, the Scots paid the heriot or tax on land, but the Church went 'scot-free'. In 1890s the leading Scots lawyer, Liberal MP and Cabinet minister, Lord Haldane, a socialist, later Lord Chancellor for the first Labour Government, fought a court case as a barrister against the Wee Frees, who lost. The church was then obliged to pay tax into the future. This was really damaging to the church, who lost considerable revenues. The decline of Wee Frees was really the end of Methodism or nonconformity in Scotland which was at the time that Haldane published his book in 1893, "The Socialist Movement". The rise of atheism was hastened by the carnage of the First World War, and social revolution that followed. I recommend you buy a book on the "Wee Frees".

Jacinto Regalado,

This appears to be a man at least in his fifties. If it were to be the son, that would put the date c. 1860, as opposed to c. 1830s for the father. I would favor the latter.

Jacinto Regalado,

As for the painter, unless the picture itself has more to reveal than it has thus far, that may be very difficult to address, for this is obviously a provincial work and appears hardly distinctive.

Betty Elzea,

A good clean might help matters?

It may be helpful to clarify that in the original topic wording William Seaton was described as a former 'Free Church minister in England', that is a Free Churchman or Nonconformist, as opposed to a member of the Free Church of England.

Barbara Bryant,

This discussion has not progressed in the past year and it is hard to see how it can. What exactly is the factual evidence to say this portrait shows Rev. William Seaton (never mind whether it is the elder or the younger). How and when did the picture get to Rochdale? This information is needed before the discussion goes any further.

One might locate various biographical facts about the Rev. William Seaton (and it is the elder who is more famous as a published writer, etc.) but without firm evidence on the picture itself (labels, marks of any kind, etc.), we are at something of a dead end. Another image of Seaton would help, but there do not seem to be any.

If anyone has any further thoughts, then the discussion can stay open for another short while before closure.

Geoffrey Morris,

I have a note that a photo of William Seaton (father or son?) is with http://www.Leigh.Life.com. I have e-mailed the website to ask whether I am right and if so what they can tell me about it. William junior, born in 1802, became Vicar of Pennington, a suburb of Leigh, in 1853, so I imagine the photo is of him, not his father. It may help identify the portrait at Rochdale.
Geoffrey Morris

Barbara Bryant,

Nothing more has come forward so this discussion can be closed for all the reasons cited above. It can of course be reopened if there is new material to add.

Is this the Reverend William Seaton (1781–1851)? Who painted him?

I support Barbara Bryant's recommendation to close this discussion as unlikely to reach a reliable conclusion for the reasons set out in her post of 15 July 2020.

Although aware of this and several other Art Detective enquiries, collection staff are only now slowly returning from furlough and still working on a skeleton basis until, hopefully, the start of next month. The Art Gallery Coordinator was on maternity leave until May 2020, followed by the virus closure. She will be able to start to address the backlog when she returns to work in November. Art UK might be able to obtain the acquisition details for the record, even if the discussion closes because they have no further information on the sitter.

Osmund Bullock,

It looks like we're going to get a pause on this one anyway, but (as with the Reuben Hallam thread) I do have a couple of pertinent things to add. In this case they may at least help us decide if this is the father or the son.

Osmund: the collection still needs to comment but I'm sure could be interested in the couple of pertinent things that you promised on 12 October last year. Or do we move on?

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, mea maxima culpa...oh, dear, why do I inflict this on myself? I am fairly certain this is the father, not the son; I will see what I've written already, and if there's enough to work up into something useful quickly will do it - I'll let you know when I've finished Hallam/Lindsey.

[Pieter, if you see this, I'm sorry about Douglas, Stuart and Thirlwall, not to mention Desseignet. And Mary Morton's Will...et alia. None are forgotten, but none are completed either. One day...]

Is this the Reverend William Seaton (1781–1851)? Who painted him?

I repeat Barbara Bryant's recommendation to close this discussion as unlikely to reach a reliable conclusion for the reasons she set out in her post of 15 July 2020.

I think that we should close this discussion in a week's time, unless new evidence is forthcoming. Osmund: anything straightforward to add? The collection staff member apparently returned in November 2020 but has been unable to add information in all the circumstances.

Geoffrey Morris, email, 11/07/21
'The portrait of William Seaton is more likely to be in Rochdale because William junior was incumbent at Pennington. But it occurs to me that as the eldest son he may have owned a portrait of his father and namesake, my predecessor as Rector of Lampeter Velfrey. Do we know the provenance of the portrait?'

Subject to any input from other group leaders and from the collection, I recommend that we should now close this discussion. Barbara Bryant, my predecessor as group leader, in her recommendation to close this discussion, recognised that it was unlikely to reach a reliable conclusion (her post, 15 July 2020).

Questions around the provenance have been asked before. As Marion put it (12 October 2020), "Art UK might be able to obtain the acquisition details for the record, even if the discussion closes because they have no further information on the sitter."

Thank you for all the comments.

It's been very hard to involve the collection, because the Gallery Coordinator was on maternity leave in addition to the usual problems caused by the pandemic. Another member of staff did say that the collection would look for us, so I've sent a reminder.

The collection staff member who deals with Art Detective enquiries has been working one day per week since returning from furlough. She will try to help with the requests for information.

Hello all and thank you for your research and patience. Yes, as you can imagine I didn't return to work in November due to the further restrictions placed on us all. Now back, it is most interesting to read your threads.
Regarding a date created, the information we have is noted as 1850-1900, which doesn’t match up with the dates for Rev William Seaton. Perhaps the son…
The picture measures at 61cmx53cm and the simple gilt frame is has is very worn and flaking.
I’m sorry that we have very little information on this picture not least the attribution, its object history and how it came to Rochdale. Prior to being in this collection received ill care and now sits within the social history part of our collection. I work with the art gallery collection so I shall enquire with another member of staff to see in more detail how it may have been acquired.
Best wishes,

Anna Bates Patel
Collections Coordinator, Art Gallery

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

jpg, png, pdf, doc, xls (max 6MB)
Drop your files here
Attach a file Start uploading

Sign in

By signing in you agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes our use of cookies.