Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 32 What more can we establish about the painter of this greyhound?

Susan' Whitehead (Winner of the Biggar St Leger, 1856)
Topic: Artist

This painting is signed lower right (slightly below and to the left of the tablet on the low mound). The other greyhound portrait, of 'Sunshine' in the same collection might be by the same artist and the signature on it looks clearer. A stab at a guess is that the name is McKersow, which is a rare but legitimate Scottish surname. The attached is a composite of the two portraits' signatures. It might also be that the name is McKerrow, which is more frequently to be found in Scotland.

Kieran Owens, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist record has been updated from ‘unknown’ to ‘attributed to Alexander McKerrow (1835–1909)’.

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.


James Brown,

McKerrow / MacKerrow is common in Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway (Ronald F. Black 'The Surnames of Scotland') Possibly an artist active in Kirkcudbright (pron. Kirr-koo-bray) at the end of 19th/early 20th c. Check with National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House (pron. Brochton).

Martin Hopkinson,

For a youthful Alexander McKerrow artist see Family Tree Forum 1851 Scotland - 15 in the 1851 census whose son James Dickson McKerroch became an art master, and exhibited in Glasgow. Alexander was born in Douglas in June 1835

Martin Hopkinson,

does the Museum know anything about the painting's previous ownership?

Martin Hopkinson,

This greyhound was the winner of the Biggar St Leger in 1856, and owned by Susan Whitehead
The Greyhound Stud Book is on the internet, but the National Coursing Club was only founded in 1858

Marcie Doran,

I have attached part of an article in the ‘Cork Constitution’ (known at that time as the ‘The Constitution, or, Cork advertiser’) of May 16, 1857, that mentions both ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Susan Whitehead’. It states that the dogs were being auctioned (in Dublin on May 23, 1857) because the owners, Mr. Paterson and Mr. Swann, were “reliquishing Coursing”.

Marcie Doran,

I’ve attached the birth record for James Dickson McKerrow from the Scotlandspeople website (see Martin’s comment 29/10/2021 15:06). It contains information about his parents Alexander McKerrow (23 July 1835 - 26 February 1909) and Isabella McKerrow (née Lawcock)(m. 28 April 1865), who lived in Douglas, Lanarkshire.

Alexander's father was John McKerrow, a well-known draughts player in his day, and his mother was Jean McKerrow (née Sloan).

Osmund Bullock,

James McKerrow died in June 1941, and his gravestone records he was Art Master of Morrison's Academy in Crieff from 1895-1931. See Johnson & Greutzner records that in 1901/2 he exhibited at the RSA as well as the Glasgow Institute.

All of which sounds circumstantially promising...but I looked into all this in 2021, and could find no sign whatever that his father Alexander, a colliery joiner, was ever a painter, or that he had the middle initial 'B' (or indeed any other). I tend not to report negative results.

There was also an Ann Balfour McKerrow, born c.1830, who in July 1857 married at Glasgow John Cullen or Callan, a hammer-man (both were from the city). However, their marriage record shows she was an illiterate factory worker, so I thought it unlikely she could be an artist who signed and inscribed works in such detail.

Marcie Doran,

I agree with you, Osmund. I thought that perhaps what looks like a ‘B’ might be an ‘S’ (for Sloan) running into the first stroke of the ‘M’. The signature of the informant on that birth record isn’t of help.

The greyhound called Sunshine was also owned (or co-owned) by Robert Paterson. According to ‘Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle’ of 14 October 1855 (attached), Sunshine was “by Clemitson’s Eden out of Swan’s Nip”. At the 1855 Biggar St Leger, “Zigzag and Sunshine ran an undecided course and divided, Sunshine taking £110 and Zigzag £100”.

Martin has already asked but I will ask again - is it possible to find out the name of the donor of these two works? I’m assuming that they were once owned by either Robert Paterson or James Swann.

Marcie Doran,

Good find, Andrew. I located that 1861 census record on FindMyPast (by searching for "Margaret McKerrow", age 73, in Milton, Lanark) and on Ancestry. I've attached the Ancestry version - his name was mistranscribed ("McKenow").

Osmund Bullock,

Actually I see that Martin drew our attention to that exchange on the Family Tree Forum over two years ago [29/10/2021 15:06]. However, without a link to help I couldn't immediately find it (and there seemed to be some confusion with the name 'McKerroch'), and so passed straight on to trying to uncover primary sources for the man's genealogy...and none of the records I could see - BMDs and censuses - seemed to support the identification.

In the event it appears that the elusive 1861 Census was the only one that mentioned his seemingly brief artistic life - well done, Marcie, for tracking that down. On reflection you may have been right to suggest that the apparent middle initial 'B' in the signature might actually be an 'S' for Sloan, his mother's maiden surname - it looks as if it could have been inserted it rather clumsily as an afterthought. See attached tweaked image.

Original images of both his 1835 birth/baptism record and of the 1861 Census entry also attached.

Marcie Doran,

That's very helpful, Osmund.

I've just discovered a family tree for Alexander McKerrow on Ancestry. It includes all of his census records except for 1861. He became a "colliery wright" (1871) and then a "colliery joiner" (1881, 1891, 1901). His address was always "Easter Tofts", Douglas.

The tree owner has kindly agreed to let me post the attached photo of his gravestone, which shows that he was born on the 14th of June 1835 and that he was from "Easter Tofts". His death certificate, attached, confirms that he passed away on the 26th of February 1909.

I have asked Biggar Museum Trust to tell us if they know how and when the pictures were acquired and whether there is anything of interest on the back of either of them.

The connection with the McKerrows we have been discussing seems somewhat fragile to me, only that the son of an Alexander McKerrow was an artist, This is quite a sophisticated painting to be by the father, who if an artist at all was presumably an amateur at best. It may have to be left unresolved.

Osmund Bullock,

I'm afraid I disagree, Andrew.

(1) One of the works is fairly clearly signed 'A. B.(or S.) McKerrow'. No other 'A. B/S. McKerrow' has been found, artist or not, bar the illiterate Glasgow factory worker Anne Balfour McKerrow (b. 1830).

(2) Alexander McKerrow's mother's maiden name was 'Sloan'; I have seen numerous instances over the years of (specifically) Scots women in the 19th & 20th centuries using their mother's surname as a quasi-official middle name, and a few of men apparently doing so too. It is, of course, much commoner nowadays everywhere.

(3) Only two paintings by the artist are known, so whatever his name, he cannot have had a career of much length or significance. I have come across many untrained and indeed amateur artists of quite decent accomplishment; and to my eye the degree of sophistication shown in these two (small) works is not really that great, and well within the capabilities of a naturally talented artist.

(4) Alexander McKerrow clearly did try his hand as a professional for a while - in my view it's most unlikely such a claim would have been made to the 1861 census enumerator without some truth to it. It is also significant that 1861 is so close to the dates of our two paintings...and the description 'Artist Painting' almost certainly does mean a painter in oils, not a watercolourist.

(5) No other artistic candidate of the same or similar-looking name has been proposed, and the lack of any known exhibiting for McKerrow is perfectly consistent with an amateur who only briefly flirted with art as a profession.

(6) Yes, his son became a professional artist and art teacher of some substance, despite an essentially working-class background. This was and remains a rare journey, and in the C19th exceptionally so. Artists, actors, musicians and the like often run in families - partly, perhaps, there's a genetic element; partly because the parent can help the child to acquire the necessary skills...but partly also because seeing it done by a family member can turn what otherwise seems impossible (or even crazy) into the possible. It's like university education - it was until recently just completely off the radar for most families not from the middle/upper classes.

Osmund Bullock,

(7) Finally – and this is new evidence, albeit circumstantial – although the family seem to have lived briefly in Glasgow around the time of the 1861 Census, in 1841, 1851 & 1865 Alexander McKerrow lived at 'Craigburn, Douglas' - it was not until later that he moved his family to his wife Isabella's own family home at Easter Tofts (aka Laigh Tofts).

It's taken a while to pin down exactly where the hamlet of Craigburn – actually just a row of houses – was, as it no longer exists. It was less than half a mile north of Uddington on what is now the A70, adjacent to a bridge over the Craig Burn. There’s still a bridge today, but the houses have gone. And the distance from there to Crawfordjohn, where the Biggar St Leger coursing competition took place, is only 8 miles, and downhill all the way. There’s a motorway between now, but in the 1850s you could take a pony and trap and be there in an hour or so – or 2-3 if you were on foot. So the event (and the greyhounds) would have been absolutely part of local knowledge for McKerrow – indeed probably a high-point of the community’s year – and within very easy travelling reach for him.

None of this is absolute proof, of course, but I think it deserves an ‘Attributed to Alexander McKerrow (1835-1909)’ at the very least.

Marcie Doran,

That’s an impressive summary, Osmund, and I agree wholeheartedly.

I suspect that Alexander McKerrow abandoned his art career and went back to Douglas when James Dickson of Craigburn passed away in April 1863. Recall that Alexander was residing with the Dickson family in 1851 and shown as a "son" on the Census form. Walter Dickson became a sawyer like his father James and he was a witness at Alexander's marriage to Isabella in 1865. That marriage record shows that Alexander was a "sawyer".

Jacinto Regalado,

That all sounds very plausible, Osmund, but your diligence and effectiveness, even on behalf of decidedly minor work by a negligible artist, sadden me. That will soon be dispensed with, not to say wasted, along with the contributions of others here. I doubt such dogged (no pun intended) dedication will be met with by collections otherwise, certainly not for free. It is rather regrettable, to be sure.

Marcie Doran,

Alexander McKerrow’s will dated 1 September 1906 is on the Scotlandspeople website but filed incorrectly under the name “Alexander MacKerrow”.

The will does not mention any specific items. He bequeathed his estate to his daughter Janet McKerrow, who was also appointed his sole executor. “Considering that my daughter Janet McKerrow has lived in family with me, and taken charge of me and her mother and our affairs for many years, and has in my opinion well earned the right to my whole means and estate, and that my son is already in a sufficiently comfortable position and independent of any share of my Estate, which can be of little or no object to him …”

1912 MacKerrow, Alexander (Wills and testaments Reference SC38/44/1, Lanark Sheriff Court Wills)

The inventory of his personal estate dated 27 September 1912 was also filed under the same incorrect name.

Signed by his son James McKerrow and registered by the solicitor William Stodart, it reports::
“Household furniture and other effects in the deceased’s house, old and formerly belonged to wife’s father and almost valueless, including silver watch - all valued at £10.”

1912 MacKerrow, Alexander (Wills and testaments Reference SC38/42/17, Lanark Sheriff Court)

Osmund Bullock,

No-one is sadder about it than me, Jacinto; but thank you for your kind words. I will miss you all.

I'll try and attach a map detail I prepared some weeks ago showing the relative locations of Craigburn, Easter/Laigh Tofts and Crawfordjohn. We don't really need it, but it will serve as an experiment for uploading attachments.

EDIT: No, still not working – getting on for a month, now, and counting.

Last time we had the problem in February, finding a solution was said to be "top priority"; now...who knows? The last 'solution' has failed, and a new one will need a lot more work - and since then we've become, in essence, 'dead (wo)men walking'. To be honest, if I were a senior decision-maker at Art UK, deeply committed to a progressive agenda for the website that seldom has any overlap with what we do on AD, I'd be thinking, "Why waste limited resources on trying to prop up an expensive, backward-looking and minor part of our operation that we've already decided to discontinue, and that will be dead and gone in two months’ time?"

I sincerely hope my cynicism is unfounded, but I’m not holding my breath.

Jacinto Regalado,

Alas, Osmund, our "problem" is that we are focused on the art object as such, in and of itself, as opposed to using it as a means to other ends. Such purity, to call it that, is now beside the point--even though, ultimately, the art experience comes down to the interaction between an individual object and an individual viewer, which should be a matter between the two, quite apart from external factors.

Jacob Simon,

To pick up on the latte part of Osmund's post from yesterday, my sense is that we should treat the current situation in an orderly and professional manner. The more discussions that can be productively resolved the better.

That way, a revised and possibly slimmed down offer becomes more feasable as collections, supporters and potential funders see that Art Detective has an important part to play.

Bill Ellson,

Given the uncertainties regarding the future of Art Detective, I think we should be facing up to the danger that not only will the site become inactive, but that existing work will simply disappear from the internet in the not too distant future. (I have seen far too many local newspapers and local authorities simply ditch 'old' content.)
We can save / preserve in a number of ways:
Firstly 'print to pdf' is a simple method of saving any webpage, but not attachments, without printing it out.
Secondly the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine
which if you tick the 'Save Outlinks' box, will save the attachments and pages linked to as well as the discussion page. You do not have to register to save pages, but if you do then you can have your own archive of saved content.

Thank you, Osmund, for convincing me that the elder Alexander McKerrow (1835-1909) is a possibility, and I would be prepared to recommend an attribution to him. To me they are by a quite talented local artist and that is principally why I was sceptical.

I am not convinced however that there is in fact a second initial in the inscriptions, but that is besides the point.

In the absence of any other paintings (by father or son), or documentary evidence, I think that is the best we can do.

Bill, there is no danger of research being deleted, at least for the foreseeable future. Art UK's plan is to 'pause' Art Detective until a new source of funding can be found. As the Art Detective homepage now indicates, all 887 discussions and more than 22,000 individual submissions will remain accessible, but no new comments will be accepted after 28 June.