Portraits: British 18th C, South East England: Artists and Subjects 30 Which James Best of Boxley is depicted here?

Topic: Subject or sitter

This does not appear to be the same sitter as 'James Best of Boxley, Aged 77’.

The collection notes: ‘We have a number of portraits from the Best family; based on the costume, it may be possible that they are different members/generations of the family.

Though the later work is dated 1826 (James Best aged 77), the work above (James Best aged 62) is dated as 18th century, so probably an earlier generation - such as father and son? We do not have the family tree unfortunately.’

Sylvia Chubbs, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Martin Hopkinson,

Yes - but can the artist be identified and can an approximate date be suggested? Best senior [1720-1782] . So it likely to be later than 1755, but may be a decade later?

Martin Hopkinson,

Maidstone also has a similar sized unattributed portrait of a man possibly painted a little earlier than this -very dirty and not in good condition.
Is James Best senior by a London artist or a Kentish artist? It does seem likely that is by either William or James Jefferys

Martin Hopkinson,

James Best, originally of Chatham, succeeded his father Mauditsley Best died 1740 or 1744 as owner of Park House, Boxley and was High Sheriff of Kent in 1751. Hasted's monumental The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, IV, 1798 provides the later date [pp.324-353 are devoted to Boxley]

Martin Hopkinson,

The Best Family papers are in Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre U480 [32 Bryant Road, Strood] and might include inventories

Martin Hopkinson,

According to Viscount Hardinge [ descendant] , Best was a family of Chatham brewers. The success of this business on the High Street , enabled the family to buy a country house at Boxley.
Publications on 18th century Kentish brewing might well throw up further information.
Lesley Richmond and Alison Turton ed , The Brewing History . A guide to historical records , Manchester University Press, 1990 might be a good place to start.

Kieran Owens,

If Maidstone's portrait of James Best, of Boxley, aged 77, was painted in 1826, as attributed on the ArtUK entry, then he was, by subtraction, born in 1749, a birth year that does not fit in with any of the James Bests that are shown on Neil Jeffares' supplied family tree.

However, if this discussion's work is actually a portrait of the above-suggested James Best's father, and is in fact 'James Best of Boxley, Aged 62', as titled, then the work was executed in 1782, when that older James (1720 - 1782), in the year of his death, was 62.

As Martin has mentioned above, Medway Archives & Local Studies Centre in Strood, Rochester, hold the family and estate papers for the Best family for the years 1598 to 1905. The various headings of these holdings can be seen through the link below. On the basis of the exacting details supplied in Rosemary A Keen's work on "Messrs. Best, Brewers of Chatham', in Essays in Kentish History', edited by Margaret Roake and John Wyman' (1973), a thorough trawl of these papers might indeed reveal some pertinent information.



Burke's family history of 'Best of Park House' can be seen here:


Neil's above-attached family tree shows that James Best, the husband of Harriet Gaussen, died in 1849. However, Burke's 1852 history (linked to above) shows him as being alive in 1852. As no James Best on the family tree seems to have survived to the age of 77, could it be that Maidstone's portrait is this latter 77-year old James, and that he is our discussion's grandson and not actually his son? Also, does the other James' clothing suggest some naval connection (ship's captain perhaps) as it appears to have that sort of cut to its cloths. And can anyone identify what is the golden object hanging from his right side?

Christopher Foley,

The main object hanging from his waist of the later sitter is doubtless a seal, which at this date were often quite opulent and made of gold, with the carved seal itself carnelian or agate. The small box on the table is a so-called "Miser" snuff box, which is hinged on the top and when opened reveals a small compartment for offering a small pinch to an acquaintance; it is also hinged at the end, to reveal a much larger compartment - for the use of the owner. Perhaps the artist is having a sly dig at a less than generous patron !

Kieran is quite correct to doubt the ID as James Best II on the grounds of incompatibility of age: prima facie James husband of Harriet looks a better bet.

Kieran Owens,

Regarding my last question above, the following link to McClean Museum's portrait of Captain John Elder ( - 1843) shows a similar style of clothing, and, importantly, a similar golden device hanging from his right side. Are the seals?


The Ulster Museum's portrait of Captain Holland Lecky (1794–1854) by John Linnell (1792–1882) also shows the same cut of clothes and, possible the subject holding the same device.


Finally, Torrington Town Hall Office's portrait of Captain Thomas Colby (1782–1864) echoes these details.


Kieran Owens,

Apologies, I meant to ask if the other James Best could be this discussion's grandnephew, not grandson!

Kieran Owens,

AAAGGGGG, forget the above. the first proposition. Here it is again, could this discussion's James Best be the grandfather (through his son Thomas) of the other James Best? Whew!

Kieran Owens,

Forgive me one and all. I have since read several documents, all of which state that James Best did indeed die in 1849. The Kentish Gazette, of Tuesday 26th June 1849 reports in its Deaths column:

Best - June 20, Lieut-Colonel Best, of Park House, Boxley, near Maidstone.

James Best was Lieut-Colonel of the West Kent Militia. On his death he was aged 67, thus born in 1782. He was buried in the family vault at Boxley, on the 28th June 1849. Being 67 at the time of his death excludes him from being the James Best of Boxley aged 77.

Over three generations of James Bests, none died aged 77. James (1720 - 7th February 1782) was 62. His son James (1755 - 10th December 1828) of Chatham, who married Hannah Middleton) was 73, and his grandson, James, of Boxley, (1782 - 20th June 1849), who married Harriet Gaussen, was, as stated above, 67.

Could Maidstone Museum please explain where the age of 77 came from on their portrait of James?

Osmund Bullock,

James Best III (nephew of James II, grandson of James I) did indeed die in 1849 - Burke's Land Gentry 1852 was just out of date, which it often was. BLG relied on information provided by the families, and if they did not respond to letters from the editor then things didn't get updated. It wasn't in fact corrected till the 1879 edition, where James III's death is given as 20 June 1849 (see https://bit.ly/2AeF8Av ) - this concurs with his burial at Boxley on 28 June (aged 67). Although the 1841 Census given age doesn't tally, the info at burial seems right - a James Best, son of Thomas, was baptised at Winchester (his mother Elizabeth's home town) on 26 Dec 1781. Oh, and beware even the 1879 BLG Best entry - I can see several glaring errors.

Osmund Bullock,

So to dispense with the other, later portrait first: if it really is dated 1826 (it's fine for that date fashion-wise), then James III would only have been 44/45, which I rule out from the appearance of the sitter. (There is nothing naval in the cut of his clothes, incidentally, and a hip-hanging seal or seals is absolutely standard for a gentleman of the period.) If it is indeed one of the James Bests, then it must be James III's uncle James II...but he was baptised at Boxley on 10 Jan 1755, and would have been 71, not 77. Of course a '1' might easily be misread as a '7', and and in fact, as Kieran observes, none of them made it to 77.

Osmund Bullock,

All of which is rather a digression from the portrait under discussion. I may have more to say tomorrow, but a quick word off the top of my head: if (again) it really is a 'James Best' then it can only be James I (1720-1782). However I'd be most surprised if this is as late as the 1780s - his dress and wig really belong to the 1740s-60s. It's not impossible for an elderly and old-fashioned provincial, but unusual for someone wealthy and well-connected. I would think James I's father Mawdistly (?1688-1744) is as least as likely, though he died when he was about 55 - here he is in the 1720s or earlier (with his name misspelled): https://bit.ly/2uU4T3Z

Martin Hopkinson,

Timothy Stevens wonders if this portrait could be by Highmore who retired to Canterbury in 1762. He also says that the Best family accounts are in Maidstone Record Office

Martin Hopkinson,

Timothy Stevens wonders if this portrait could be by Highmore who retired to Canterbury in 1762. He also says that the Best family accounts are in Maidstone Record Office

Kieran Owens,

As suggested before, if this discussion's work is a portrait of 'James Best of Boxley, Aged 62', as titled, then the work was executed in 1782, when that elder James (1720 - 1782) was, in the year of his death, aged 62. As Joseph Highmore died in Canterbury on the 3rd March 1780, aged 88, two years before James Best's death, this work, unless started by Highmore some years earlier and finished by another hand some years later, could not be by him.

However, if, as Osmond has suggested above, this could be James I's father Mawdistly (?1688-1744), is it likely to be by a middle-aged Highmore, who was still 22 years away from retiring to Canterbury at the time of Mawdistly's death in 1744?

See the attached for an interesting poetic tribute to Highmore, which appeared in the Kentish Gazette on Saturday 1st April 1780.

Martin Hopkinson,

Can a costume expert suggest a rough date for such a full wig? What evidence is there on the painting or its reverse for the age of the sitter? I agree with Osmund's doubt that the portrait could date as late as 1782. Could the 62 simply be a reference to Best's age at death and have been applied to the picture quite some years later?

Kieran Owens,

If this is a portrait from the 1740s- 1760s, James Best senior would have been aged between 20 and 40 years old, well below the apparent age of this portrait's sitter, whose would surely be closer to mid-to-late fifties, if not older.

Martin Hopkinson,

Could this be a portrait, not of James Best, but of his father Mawdistley [died 1744]? The wig and style might suggest that it could date from the 1740s when John Wollaston [died 1775] was painting portraits in Rochester before he emigrated to America in 1749. There is an engraving and a mezzotint in the British Museum after Wollaston of sitters connected with Rochester and Chatham which should be compared with this portrait - of the antiquarian Dr John Thorpe FRS [1872, 1012. 4608] and of Admiral Hon Richard Lestock [1868, 0808.1749]

Martin Hopkinson,

Mawdistley Best's features as a younger man can be seen in a much earlier group portrait attributed to Dahl [ but perhaps not by him] showing him, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Dorothy in the grounds of a country house, perhaps in Boxley, which is owned by Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery . Is this our sitter 20 years or so before?

Kieran Owens,

If this portrait is of Mawdistly Best (who was buried at Boxley on the 10th January 1744), could it be by Thomas Gibson (1680 - 1751)? A search for Gibson's works on the internet reveals a number of portraits that bear a resemblance to that of this discussion:


In particular, see this one, which is attributed to Gibson:


In about 1730, Thomas Gibson painted Mawdistly Best (c1722 - 1736) of Chilston Park, who was the younger brother of Thomas Best (1713 - 1795) of Chilston Park:


Both these latter boys were the sons of Mawdistly above. See Neil Jeffares' Best family tree above for clarity on these relationships, as well as Burke's entry for the family:


Please note that the ascribed death date of 1795 on some of the auction records for Gibson's painting of Mawdistly Best is, I believe, incorrect, as this was the year of the death of his eldest brother Thomas Best ( https://bit.ly/2n4T7iZ ).

This young Mawdistly, the son of Mawdistly and Elizabeth Fearne, was buried at Boxley on the 20th January 1736. No other person of this name appears on the family tree who fits into the time period under discussion.


Osmund Bullock,

The child portrait identified by Christies in May 2000 as 'Mawdistly Best' is actually inscribed recto "Thomas Best Esq. of Chilston Park Kent Obit 1795". See https://bit.ly/2v9DmeP . I can see no logical reason why they decided the inscription was wrong, other than a thorough confusion about the family members and their generations (click on the '+'sign below for their hopelessly mixed-up 'Lot essay'). Moreover it is more likely that a single child portrait like this would have been of the eldest son - Mawdistly Senr had married Eliz Fearne in Aug 1710 (not 1742 as given by Burke's), and their first child Thomas was apparently born in 1713. James was not baptised (nor probably born) until early 1720, and Mawdistly Junr at some point thereafter (a daughter Dorothy Sarah was baptised in 1726**). It is unclear whether the burial of Mawdistly Junr was in January 1736 old-style or new (i.e. 1737).

There is therefore a chance that the portrait under discussion - if 1760ish rather 1740ish - could also show Thomas Best (1713-95), who was far and away the most publicly distinguished Best male, and head of the family between 1744 and his death in 1795. In 1763 Thomas would have been 50; and while I still think his father Mawdistly in the early 1740s (and aged mid-50s) is more likely, he is certainly possible. The droopy eyes, large nose and fleshy lips are similar to those Mawdistly displays as a younger man in the group portrait I linked to some days ago, and that Martin has since also referenced: https://bit.ly/2uU4T3Z . But of course they might equally apply to a son.

[**Dorothy's marriage to the future 7th Lord Fairfax was in 1749, not 1740 as given by Burke's.]

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, I had considered the case for Thomas Gibson, given his (?attributed) authorship of another Best family portrait in either c.1718-20 if I'm right about the sitter being Thomas, or 1720s/30s if Mawdistly Junr. I was interested to see you mention a birth year of c.1722 for Mawdistly, Kieran - where does that come from? I'm not saying it's wrong, but I couldn't find evidence of it anywhere, nor his age at death.

Circumstantially Gibson thus seems plausible, at least for the c.1730 group portrait with Dorothy (assuming she's correctly identified). However, I don't really see much similarity between the styles, in truth. There seems even less reason to associate him with a portrait which is probably at least 20 years later, and around the time Gibson seems to have retired (his last known work dates from 1742). In any case, the colouring and technique of our portrait is to my eye a long way from the work of Gibson - and I'm not sure how useful it is to make comparisons with a fuzzy black and white image of a portrait described only as 'Circle of...', a phrase that usually means very little.

Highmore is closer, though the colouring again seems wrong for him; but with the Kentish connection he is plausible if it's in fact Thomas Best and early 1760s.

Martin Hopkinson,

Gibson's style in paintings securely by his hand seems to me to belong to that common in the previous generation than that exhibited in the portrait under discussion. He is much more in the Charles Philips vein.
Unfortunately the paintings under Wollsaston's name on artuk.org dating from the 1740s are rather various in style
Only the painting of Professor John Colson of 1741 in the University of Cambridge's Old [Examination] Schools is in the style which can be discerned in the engraving and mezzotint after portraits of him in the British Museum cited above
We should remember too that many of the portraits on artuk.org apparently of the period in which we are looking are attributions without any serious exploration as to whether they are accurate.

Martin Hopkinson,

Christine Riding, whose address is known to artuk.org, should be asked about Highmore, of course.

Kieran Owens,

Osmund, the estimate of c.1722 for the birth of Mawdistly is based on simple maths. As you have stated, Mawdistly Senr had married Eliz Fearne in Aug 1710. Thomas was apparently born in 1713 and James was born/baptised in 1720 (as detailed on the above-attached family tree, and assuming that the birth order is correct). Their younger sister Dorothy Sarah was baptised on the 27th October 1726/1727, and her younger sister Frances was born in 1730. It seems logical that their brother Mawdistly, as the third child depicted on that tree (albeit in male-dominated order above the girls), would have been born between James in 1720 and Dorothy Sarah in 1726/1727, which gives c.1722. I could, of course, have said c.1721, c.1723, c.1724 etc.., but it is in that rough age range.

As attached, engraved portraits of Thomas Best (1713 - 1795) and his wife Caroline Scott (1717 - 1782), both of Chilston Park, can be found in 'Memorials of the family of Scott' ( https://bit.ly/2LUJgdI ). Thomas married Caroline in the 3rd January 1743. Both portraits are stated therein to be by Allan Ramsey (1713 - 1784), though the oil of Thomas has also been attributed to Enoch Seeman the Younger (c1694 - March 1744/1745). Perhaps that of Caroline is also by Seeman, and not Ramsey. If these are post-marriage portraits, and the oil of Thomas is by Seeman, it must have been one of his very later works, given that Seeman died just over a year (or two) after the couple were married. See https://artnt.cm/2Kl1Tm2 and https://artnt.cm/2LVByzH

Enoch Seeman is also credited as having painted Dorothy Best, who married Robert, 7th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, on the 15th July 1749. The painting must have been executed some time before the marriage, as Seeman died, as stated above, in 1744.


Perhaps this discussion's portrait is also by Enoch Seeman.

Attached for readers' consideration is a composite of Mawdistly (by Dahl) and his eldest son Thomas (by Seeman).

Also, the point, though maybe not the usefulness, of making comparisons with, for example, a fuzzy black and white image of a portrait described only as 'Circle of...', is to prompt those with a better knowledge of these matters into thinking of potential or alternative candidates for artists and sitters, which sometimes, though maybe not often, leads to satisfactory resolutions when attempting to make an identification. As seen many times in Art Detective discussions, dismissing some possibilities can be vital while on the path to confirming others. I thought that having this interaction was the whole point of the Art Detective scheme.

Jacinto Regalado,

I doubt this picture is good enough for Highmore, though it could fit Enoch Seeman stylistically.

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