Portraits: British 20th C, Yorkshire and the Humber: Artists and Subjects 14 More information sought about Alderman Horace Robert Walker's portrait

WYR_BMGH_1975_159
Topic: Artist

William Charles Evans (1911–1978) was my grandfather. I am very doubtful that this was painted by him. It's not in his style and certainly earlier works didn't have this more photographic finish. The other images on Art UK of my grandfather's work are certainly his; I have seen them all before.

The signature on the Alderman Horace Robert Walker portrait is also nothing like Will's who always painted his signature starting with a very square angular 'E', as seen in the few other portraits listed.

Aimee Andrew, Entry reviewed by Art UK

14 comments

Gregory Burgess,

There have been requests for a photograph of your grandfather to be made available . Are you able to oblige?

Seeyam Brijmohun,

Could it be a work by David Pugh Evans, which was created whilst he was a student?

Martin Hopkinson,

David Pugh Evans studied at Newport College of Art and at the Royal College of Art. He taught at Edinburgh College of Art from 1965 to 1998, and had a large exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery in 1982
He could probably reached through Edinburgh's Open Eye Gallery, which represents him. I never saw a painting by him in anything like this style when I was in Scotland between 1977 and 1997, but I do not know his early work. He will certainly be able to answer Seeyam's question.

The conclusion of the earlier discussion (with the resulting qualification to the artist heading) was that the existing attribution to W.C. Evans while not totally convincing was nevertheless not entirely impossible. I suggest that the welcome contribution, now, from a member of W.C. Evans's family at the very least tips the balance of judgement towards doubt.

However, I think David Pugh Evans is an unlikely candidate. He was born in 1942, so would have been no more than 15 in 1957, the date of the portrait. In other words, he would have been a schoolboy, not even an art student (he entered Newport College of Art in 1959). I don't see this as the work of someone that age.

Aimee, would you mind looking at the painting signed 'Evans' and titled as 'Lesley Witts' (sic) which is held by Oxford University Hospitals? The link is below: http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/lesley-witts-43063/search/works:lesley-witts/page/1/view_as/grid
As both Andrew and Osmund pointed out over a year ago, it seems highly probable that that painting is by your grandfather, who painted the portraits of several notables at Oxford. The sitter for that portrait is in fact Professor Leslie John Witts (1898-1982) who was the first Nuffield Professor of Clinical Medicine at Oxford and he set up the full time medical unit in the Radcliffe Infirmary. As for the painting of Alderman Horace Robert Walker it seems to me highly unlikely that it was painted by your grandfather. In addition, as Martin mentions above, it is nothing like the work of David Pugh Evans (born 1942) either who would have been fifteen in the year it was executed.

Osmund Bullock,

Aimee, I completely agree. When we discussed this portrait (of Alderman Walker) before, several of us felt it was extremely unlikely that it could be by your grandfather – as you say, the style of painting and signing are completely different. I was not a little puzzled that the discussion ended with a recommendation to attribute it to him, however uncertainly. Of course we cannot be 100% sure without detailed research of a kind beyond the scope of this forum (and even then far from certain to produce a result); but I am uneasy at leaving the attribution as it currently stands.

Gregory, the originator of the previous discussion (Terence Williams) was interested in seeing a photo of the artist for purely personal reasons, but I don't think it is really relevant to the discussion. I am sure ArtUK would pass on a private message from Mr Williams to Aimee Andrew if he still wants to pursue that.

The welcome contribution of a member of W.C. Evans's family does indeed cast further doubt on the existing attribution. I also agree that the portrait is not the work of David Pugh Evans, who would have been a mere schoolboy in 1957 (he entered Newport College of Art in 1959).

The simple and confident form of the signature 'Evans' (if, indeed, that is how it should be read) suggests that the artist was established and well-known in the field of formal portraiture at the time. In that case he/she is likely to have exhibited with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. I'll check the catalogues of the Society's exhibitions of 1957 and thereabouts, when the Courtauld and V&A libraries have re-opened after their August break. It would be too much to hope of finding this particular portrait listed, but perhaps there's a chance of finding other artists named Evans (or similar) painting portraits of this kind then.

Jade King,

Art UK also received an email from a relative of the sitter, Alderman Horace Robert Walker (they do not wish to be involved in the discussion, however I can relay messages or questions). The current birth date is incorrect:

'Horace Robert Walker is my ‘Uncle Bob’ (my great uncle really), as the family called him. He was my grandfather Charles Fredrick Walker’s brother and I met him and his wife Silvia, my (great) aunty, many times when I was a young child. My father attended his funeral, and I have one of his original ‘Lord Mayor’ elect invites. I see the painting was donated by Joan Walker who was once married to Horace Robert’s son, Peter Walker.

The thing is, you have got his date of birth wrong: he was born in 1892 not 1862. I don’t think he’s be happy to be thought of as 30 years older than he actually was!

More about Horace Robert Walker:

Horace Robert Walker (‘Bob’) was the brother of Norman (b.1887); Charles (1889–1982, my grandfather and manager of Lister’s Mill Dyehouse); Nellie (still alive in 1982); and an elder sister called Alice who lived at Boston Spa. Their parents died when they were young (their father Frederik Walker died in 1898 and their mother Elizabeth Mary Walker, née Hornshaw, died in 1990). They were left orphans so were brought up by a branch of the Hornshaw family (Hornshaws of Thorpe Arch and Listers Mill Director fame) at 7 Athol Road in Manningham Bradford.

They are distantly related to Sir Harrison Birtwistle – the composer – via their Makepeace relatives: their grandmother was a Makepeace and they were also related to the mid-twentieth-century writer Stanley Makepeace Lott. Horace Robert Walker’s maternal great-grandfather was a man called William Makepeace: he was a footman to Lady Olivia Barnard Sparrow at Brampton Park in Huntingdon. Sir Harrison Birtwistle is also descended from William Makepeace’s family.

Horace Robert, was, I believe, a quartermaster in the First World War and I think he was in Bradford Pals. I believe he was an office clerk when he was young. Horace Robert had two sons: one was called Peter and the other I think was called Geoffrey. I have met Horace Robert, my great uncle, and his wife Silvia used to come up to Heaton Bradford to see my grandpa Charlie and my grandmother. I think Horace Robert lived in the Frizinghall area.’

Osmund Bullock,

Hah, you've stolen my thunder, Jade! I was preparing an extensive post mentioning the date error (which was given correctly in the previous discussion), and also saying that I had managed, after some Herculean labours, to identify the portrait's donor as the Bradford GP Dr Joan Lyall Walker who in 1949 married Alderman Walker's elder son Peter at Glasgow (where she trained). Joan's maiden name was also Walker, which confused me for a while! The younger son was I think called Alec Robert rather than Geoffrey (he died in 1979). Bob Walker was indeed a Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant during WWI - but although he signed up in 1914 with the 1st Bradford Pals (16th Battalion W Yorkshire Regt), he was later transferred to the 21st Bn (The Wool Textile Pioneers), and was RQMS of that unit in 1916 when he married.

Having heard most helpfully and fully from the family, it seems unlikely we will discover more about the portrait from the sitter's side...which leaves us pretty much where we were as far as artist identification is concerned, alas.

I have checked the catalogues of the annual exhibitions of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters held in 1957 and 1958. The only name appearing in these which is remotely like the signature on the Bradford picture is Elwes, that is the well-known Simon Elwes -- whose style is completely different. For good measure I have also checked the post-Graves volumes of Royal Academy exhibitors (not yet, as far as I know, online) without finding any suitable match.

That said, I am beginning to wonder whether I am alone in finding the work so photographic in appearance that it might actually have a photographic basis -- what we see being paint applied over a photographic enlargement on paper or over a photographic image somehow otherwise transferred to canvas.

No, Richard, you are not alone. I too detect a photographic feel here and wonder if it is the product of a photographic studio specialising in such painted versions of photographs. The very slick signature is also suggestive of this practice. A search of photographic sudios in Bradford or West Yorkshire in the period might uncover something.

I note that Art UK has not yet updated the birth date of Alderman Walker.

B Dale,

This is my Great-granduncle! My mother is more the genealogist so I'm not really a contact point for such enquiries, though I'm happy to relay any messages. My mother knew him as a child - he was known as Uncle Bob to the family.

I understand the nature of this website is to attribute works to specific artists, though I'm personally curious as to why the legitimacy of this image as a signed painting is being questioned and what evidence is being used to make this deduction without the original piece being inspected by an expert.

I personally work in photography, mainly as a product photographer and am fully conversant in web imaging technologies so I do hope any assumption is not based on the image displayed above, which may lend itself to any theory of manipulation or deception.

I cannot comment on individual artists as it is not an area of personal interest, though I’d very much like to determine the authenticity of the painting for the benefit Alderman Walker

I’d also like to pose a question as to the purpose of producing a mock oil-on-canvas from a photograph of the Lord Mayor of Bradford in 1956/57?

If we are to branch out from its authenticity as a genuine painting, then surely the reasons for doing so should be considered by those proposing such a theory.

Any further information relevant to this would be warmly welcomed.

B Dale is of course right to suggest that inspecting the picture first-hand would be better, but Art Detective, by its very nature, has to rely in the first instance on digital images and work from there.

Several of Detective's successful outcomes have derived from hunches and opinions by experienced individuals, followed up by documentary evidence and further photographs and information from the collections concerned.

Speaking for myself, and I hope other ex- and current art curators who contribute to Art Detective, we have spent our careers looking at paintings and learning how to distinguish the look of different schools, periods and techniques.

Richard Green and I were 'wondering' and 'suggesting' based on the fact that no portrait painter named Evans has been found whose work convincingly fits the style and date of the painting, and on the opinion that the smooth finish, the hard edges, such as the dark left hand edge of the arm, and the slick signature, are reminiscent to us of what was a well-known common practice, certainly earlier in the century. Rather than making an 'assumption' or 'deduction', we were merely intending to open up a potential new avenue for investigation.

The purpose of such practice included economy and the ability to create replicas, rather than deception. The fact that this painting came from the family might perhaps be evidence of it being such a replica, maybe of a civic portrait.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

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