Military History, Portraits: British 20th C, Sculpture 58 Is this Viscount Allenby? Is the sculptor Sydney March (1876–1968)?

LSE_BMS_LDBMP_97_55-001
Topic: Subject or sitter

Viscount Allenby had crisp, sharp features and a greater degree of balding by the time he was this age. This bust does not really look like him, unless it is a poor likeness. Compare below:

https://bit.ly/3qGVhUb
https://bit.ly/3qKMl06
https://bit.ly/3l7nXok

The side images of this bust (#2,3, 5 and 6) showing the cheeks do not match any photos I have seen of Allenby, whose cheeks were quite smooth, as in this 1931 photo, when he was 70: https://bit.ly/3zw0nY6

I personally do not believe this bust is of Allenby, though it must be of a military man of some note.

The March family of artists included three sculptors who were siblings, Sydney (1876–1968), Elsie (1884–1974) and Vernon (1891–1930). Based on other works by Vernon, Elsie and Sydney March, this bust is most likely to be by Sydney.

Jacinto Regalado, Entry reviewed by Art UK

58 comments

Curator Jane Cameron replied:

'The painted plaster bust (maquette) was purchased as part of a group of March family sculptures from Ted Few https://www.bada.org/dealer/ted-few in 1995. Information on the sculptures, including identification, was provided by Ted Few … A box of correspondence, photos and news clippings came with this accession and was transferred to Bromley Archives. I had a quick look through this and there were no photos of the bust or sitter but there may be hints in the correspondence. A lot of it relates to the larger monuments and sculptures that the March family produced but there could be something there. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to go through this but if someone is interested then I am sure it would be possible to make these boxes accessible.'

Jacinto Regalado,

The sitter wears many medals, but the ones on the chest seem too indistinct to be of much help, although the one at the neck may be recognizable. I, however, am no expert on such things, but no doubt others here can do better.

Jacinto Regalado,

Basically, Allenby had a more distinctive, less ordinary face.

Jacinto Regalado,

Sydney March sculpted both the 1st Earl Roberts and the 1st Earl Kitchener, but this bust does not appear to be either of them.

Jacinto Regalado,

Sidney March exhibited at the Royal Academy 1901-1932, but this work does not appear in the relevant RA exhibition catalogues. The Mapping Sculpture database has him as active 1891-1932, which would suggest this bust (if by him) is no later than early 1930s.

Jacinto Regalado,

I do not have access to the DNB online, but Allenby's entry therein may list sculpted portraits of him, and it would be of interest to know if any of the March siblings is mentioned as artist.

Jacinto Regalado,

I assume our sitter's rank can be deduced from his uniform--not by me, but surely someone else can do so.

Jacinto Regalado,

I suppose a suitable person at the Imperial War Museums may recognize the sitter on sight, since the question is now who this sitter is, as it is surely not Allenby.

Osmund Bullock,

I agree that this cannot be Allenby, Jacinto, and was about to post profile comparisons to prove the point myself! Our sitter also has too much hair on top, and his moustache is wider with a slight up-kick towards the ends. See attached 1.

The rank is tricky because the modelling is so loose. His left (our right) shoulder tab seems a bit clearer than the other, and I think what we see is the crossed baton and sword at the bottom/outer end indicating general officer rank (so he's defintely not a Field-Marshal). There appears to be a blob - either a crown or 'pip' (star) - above it, but only one; that rules out both a full General (who had both crown and pip) and Brigadier-General (who had neither). The conclusion is therefore that he's either a Lieutenant-General (crossed baton/sword plus crown) or a Major-General (CBS plus pip). See https://bit.ly/41e5Y40.

Whether crown or pip is intended is unclear, at least at this resolution. Either way it's going to be hard identifying him from the rank angle - there were an awful lot of British Maj-Generals & Lt-Generals just after WWI, not to mention Canadians / S. Africans / Australians, etc.

I've made the clearest images I can of the rank insignia from two Art UK pictures (attached 2), but higher-res details of both might possibly help. The relevant AUK images are nos. 2 & 3. Marion?

Jacinto Regalado,

Osmund, can the decoration worn at the neck be identified?

S. Elin Jones,

Could the medal hanging from his neck be the badge of a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order & GCVO?

I realise that the crown is slightly higher than would be expected, but I have doubts, given his loose style, that the sculptor would have been able to successfully place the crown on the cartouche in the middle of the medal.

The GCVO was awarded to Allenby in 1934, and the medal is in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30007563

Jacinto Regalado,

If it is the RVO, it would be MVO, LVO or CVO but no higher, certainly not the GCVO. See https://bit.ly/3xGbkrd

However, the placement of the crown (if such it be) strikes me as much too high, meaning it is clearly wrong visually.

Jacinto Regalado,

I suppose the order at the neck may not be British but continental, such as Belgian.

Osmund Bullock,

The Royal Victorian Order is a good suggestion, but as Jacinto mentions, not I think of the highest grade. I need to check the details for Service Dress in Full Ceremonial order (which is what the sitter is wearing), but I've a feeling that Knights Grand Cross of the various orders did/do not wear the neck decoration with it, while the lower Knights Commander and Commanders did (but not any lower grades than that). The position is a bit puzzling, too: I've never seen a British neck badge/cross worn so high - it normally hangs from a visible 'v' of suspending riband about an inch *below* the tie knot, not over it. A foreign order is conceivable, but there are very strict rules for when and how you can wear them, which I also need to check.

In any case, since Allenby was made a Field-Marshall in 1919, post-1934 his shoulder rank insignia would not have been those of a general (though it's possible he'd received a lower grade of the RVO previously). But I still think the physiognomy points firmly away from him.

Jacinto Regalado,

This is clearly not Allenby, as nothing about the physiognomy or hair matches various clear images of him. I suppose it could be listed as "Portrait of a General" if the sitter cannot be identified, but there is still work to be done before settling for that.

According to Mapping Sculpture https://bit.ly/3xOqH0N , a sale of 168 lots comprising pictures, watercolours, drawings and sculpture by six members of the March family (including Sydney, Elsie and Vernon) was held at Sotheby's, Belgravia, on 2 August 1982. I wonder if the unsold lots comprise what Ted Few sold the collection in 1995, and if there is a catalogue of the 1982 sale (potentially with our bust in it).

Jacinto Regalado,

There are 9 March items in this collection, four busts and 5 statuettes. Three, including our bust, are not attributed to a specific March sibling. One bust (by Elsie) was the subject of a prior AD discussion https://bit.ly/3EPPJkr , which identified the sitter.

Jacinto Regalado,

Vernon March does not appear to have been a sculptor of portrait busts but rather of figures (statuettes and monuments). I can find no such bust by him, including his RA exhibits.

Elsie March did both statuettes and some portrait busts, but her sitters were not major figures of the day, as they often were for Sydney (whose sitters included royalty, important military men and people like Cecil Rhodes). Also, unlike the conventional bust format typically used by Sydney (as in our bust), Elsie's busts tended to be more variable and less standard in format (they often did not include the shoulders and full chest).

Thus, I strongly favor that our bust is by Sydney March.

Jacinto Regalado,

Does someone have a way to get the catalogue to the 1982 Sotheby's sale mentioned above? If our bust was included in it, that could prove very helpful.

Also, there was a retrospective exhibition (presumably for the March family of artists) held in the Grosvenor Hotel in autumn 1981. Maybe there is a catalogue for that as well.

Louis Musgrove,

The award is ,I suggest, the Companion of the Bath- and the sitter is Douglas Haig- who was appointed the youngest Major General in the Army ,in 1904. He wore his CB high. Companions also have a special PIP for the shoulder.

S. Elin Jones,

The order of Bath was also an award that Allenby received on Nov. 5th 1919, for his role in the first world war. It is also a part of the collection of his medals in the IWM. I wasn’t too sure about the sharpness of the angles, but perhaps a close-up of the neck area of the bust may help.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30007810

Jacinto Regalado,

Interesting thoughts, Louis, but the physiognomy doesn't match.

Marcie, I think Gough was very probably too old to be our man, and he certainly played no role in WWI.

Marcie Doran,

Thanks, Louis. I’m sorry that I didn’t solve this one.

***

I realize that there’s strong evidence to suggest that this isn't Allenby but the sitter looks a lot like the second image of Allenby in the attachment.

Jacinto Regalado,

I disagree, Marcie. For one thing, our sitter has too much hair, and his physiognomy is completely wrong for Allenby.

Jacinto Regalado,

For what it's worth, the two other March works in this collection which were not assigned to a specific March sibling have now been identified as by (or attributed to) Sydney March.

Jacinto Regalado,

Interesting, but I do not think so, Louis. Our man has too much hair on top, and Athlone had a smoother and fuller face.

Jacinto Regalado,

Is it feasible to consult a suitable person at the Imperial War Museum for assistance in identifying this sitter?

Jenny Spencer-Smith stepped aside from her role as Group Leader for Military History last month, having been with Art Detective from the start in 2014. I have written to thank Jenny on behalf of Art UK for her long and generous contribution to Art Detective.

Jacinto Regalado,

That is the most plausible suggestion yet, Marcie, certainly far more plausible than Allenby. Monash rose to Lieutenant General (after being a Major General)), which fits our bust. He was a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath https://tinyurl.com/2trsm3jp , which may correspond to the decoration at his neck (possibly somewhat simplified by the sculptor). He was a a highly prominent Australian figure, of the sort Sydney March often portrayed.

His Oxford DNB entry should be checked by someone who has access to it in case this bust might be mentioned among his likenesses, which include the 1928 bust https://tinyurl.com/3n9tc2yn by Pauk Montford (in which he looks older than in ours, which might date to 1919, which he spent mostly in London).

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, well done, Marcie. I also decided it was likely to be Monash a year ago, and did a lot of work (never finished!) researching his career and movements, and preparing numerous comparison images from all angles. I was going to upload them a little while ago, but that was when the AD software first began stopping us posting attachments...and now it's doing it again.

Marion, you don't seem to have reacted as yet (on here, anyway) to the re-emergence of that problem a week or more ago - perhaps you're away? Is there any chance of it being fixed, or have the powers-that-be decided to stop technical support for AD, and abandoned you and us and the forum to a slow and even more frustrating death?

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks, David.

Amongst other things, I attempted to follow up the rest of the March papers, etc, at Bromley; but after talking at length to the very helpful Ted Few - the dealer who had bought the collection at auction, and donated what he didn't want to Bromley, including our bust) - I concluded it was unlikely there was anything relevant there. Ted also gave some March-originating photos to the Conway Library at the same time, which I did go and see six months ago (at the Courtauld); but there was nothing there that helped.

I didn't find, either, any other evidence to connect Monash with the March sculptors, though he certainly sat for several portraitists during 1919. This was the period of his greatest fame in England; he was based in London, and in charge of the repatriation of Australian troops. He returned to Melbourne in Nov 1919. Perhaps the redoubtable Marcie can dig something out of the BNA, where I have failed! He was a truly remarkable man, the first Jewish general in the British army, and one of its first truly modern commanders. A very full biography here: https://tinyurl.com/mkmfnyb9

Osmund Bullock,

Monash's appearance varied greatly during his army career, which slightly confuses the issue - he was always prone to considerable excess weight, but in 1916 "by an extraordinary feat of will-power" slimmed down dramatically to 12½ stone (79.5 kg), which "considerably added to his authority". After the war, feted (and doubtless wined and dined) in both England and later at home in Australia, he gradually put it back on again.

Although the only real evidence so far that it's him is physical similarity - and we often say on here that that is seldom enough - there is one very distinctive feature that supports the identification. That is (as I mentioned at 21/02/2023 17:34) the exceptionally high position of the order/cross our sitter is wearing at his neck. This, though a very rough representation, I take to be his (military) KCB neck badge. Several photos of him (and of other busts) show this (or at least its suspension ring) lying over the knot of the tie he is wearing with his service dress, and that is very irregular - indeed I can at the moment find no other example of it. In fact *at this period* I cannot even see many, perhaps any instances of senior British army offficers wearing full medals with their service dress at all, though I did spot another Australian doing so a bit later (and nowadays it is quite normal). This could possibly mean the bust is a good bit later than we have hitherto thought, and perhaps less likely to be Monash...but the position it is being worn at remains apparently unique to him.

I'll try putting up a couple of small photos with this, but hold out little hope...

EDIT: nope, still not working. I'll try and find the sources of some of the many images I saved a year ago, and link to them. Or perhaps better to wait and see if the bug can be fixed, as I think the comparison composites make the case much more clearly and convincingly.

Jacinto Regalado,

Since the bust is practically certainly by Sydney March, it would not be later than the early 1930s. Monash died in 1931, and the most likely date remains c. 1919, as far as I can tell, unless the bust was not made from life but after photographs.

Marcie Doran,

Thank you both for your support. I have many composites and bits of research squirreled away with respect to these discussions and other Art UK works but I haven't undertaken your level of research, Osmund. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any relevant information in the BNA either. However, Monash's papers, including his diaries, are in Australia. If only we had an art travel allowance!

https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-229738465/findingaid

Jacinto Regalado,

An AD art travel allowance, Marcie? You must be mad. Well, I suppose Marion will get a laugh out of that.

Jacinto Regalado,

Here is a replica of Monash's uniform and decorations:

https://tinyurl.com/2bpzubnv

And by the way, Osmund, what led you to him? He can hardly be well known now outside Australia; I'd certainly never heard of him (though that's neither here nor there).

Jacinto Regalado,

I wonder if this bust was an aborted commission that went no further than an initial trial version. Perhaps Monash did not like it. It is probably not mentioned in his ODNB entry (though that should still be looked into), just as it does not appear in the NPG iconography.

Correct - it is not in the ODNB 'Likenesses', herewith:

W. Stoneman, photograph, 1918, NPG [see illus.]
I. M. Cohen, oils, 1919, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
J. Longstaff, oils, 1919, Australian War Memorial, Canberra
J. Quinn, oils, 1919, Australian War Memorial, Canberra
J. S. Sargent, group portrait, oils, 1922 (General officers of World War I), NPG
P. Mountford, bronze bust, 1928, Australian War Memorial, Canberra
P. White, oils, 1928, State Electricity Commission, Melbourne, Monash House
W. L. Bowles, bust, 1934, Australian War Memorial, Canberra
W. L. Bowles, equestrian statue, The Domain, Melbourne

Jacinto Regalado,

Thanks, Pieter. I hope we will soon see some composites from Osmund and/or Marcie, but Monash seems quite plausible.

Kieran Owens,

If this is the extraordinary Jewish war hero, Sir John Monash, it is interesting that the sculptor appears to depict the sitter as wearing, albeit as mentioned above very loosely modelled, around his neck the cross of the Order of the Bath, with which knighthood he had been honoured on the 12th August 1918, at Château de Bertangles, but he did not take enough care to show the very distinctive circular element in the medal row of the Belgian Ordre de la Couronne (Order of the Crown) which he received in April 1919. This might suggest that, if this is Monash, the bust dates from after August 1918 but before April 1919.

Having suggested that, it could of course be the case that March, or whoever the sculptor actually is, simply did not render the medal row too accurately, so it could date from after 1919.

It has been recorded that Monash was the first professing Jew in the British Empire to attain army rank higher than that of colonel.

Jacinto Regalado,

Osmund, did you discuss the authorship of the bust with Ted Few? I'm confident that it's by Sydney March, but his opinion is of interest.

This bust's arrival at Bromley appears to have been by the same route as that by Elsie March of Alfred Ward Carter (1872-1954) former art teacher at St Dunstan's College, Catford, which we identified in 2022.

The last paragraph of the filed Art UK sitter biography of Carter reads:

'In autumn 1981 there was an exhibition of March family works at the Grosvenor Hotel in Park Lane, London, and on 2 August 1982 a studio sale (182 lots) at Sotheby’s Belgravia of the remaining sculpture and paintings by the late Elsie March and five of her deceased siblings. This, or an unsold portion, may be the source of at least some of the March material at Bromley but remains to be confirmed or not.'

It now appears to have been confirmed (as a residue purchase from Ted Few occurring in 1995) by the note that Marion posted from Jame Cameron at Bromley that started this discussion stream, including that TF suggested some sitter identities of pieces included. If he mooted Allenby as the sitter here (reasonably enough as a first shot albeit we don't now think so) then we know his view - which looks like it will have to do, since the suggestion that he be asked again does not seen to have been taken up.

The recent and more convincing proposal of Sir John Monash, and the likelihood of it being by Sydney March, need concluding -even if only provisonally - before we run out time later this month.

Jacinto Regalado,

I think "attributed to" Sydney March is perfectly reasonable as well as plausible. Monash may not be certain but seems quite likely; I suppose "(probably)" could be placed after his name.

Osmund Bullock,

It's very much on my list, Pieter. Unfortunately I am simultaneously dealing - for the fourth time in 12 months - with a planning application by my new next-door neighbour for a large extension that will severely affect me, and that has been refused three times already. I have just a few days left to get my objection in, and it is necessarily long and complex, so I'm rather under the cosh.

Since my contribution to this discussion should (I hope) be simpler than what I have to write on (for example) the Cholmley one, I will make it first priority once I can re-start my final push of work for the dying AD.

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