Completed Portraits: British 19th C, South West England: Artists and Subjects 37 Which 'Mr Phillips' might have painted John Swayne?

Topic: Artist

The attached newspaper article from the 'Swindon Advertiser and North Wilts Chronicle' dated 25th Oct 1858 suggests that the artist may have been Mr Phillips.

The collection has no further information.

Paul Kettlewell, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The attribution for this portrait has been changed to ‘after Henry Wyndham Phillips (1820–1868)' and it has been dated to between 1858 and 1894.

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.


Jacinto Regalado,

If the picture is c. 1858, it cannot be by Thomas Phillips (d. 1845), the father of Henry Wyndham Phillips.

The cutting implies that 'Phillips' was a familiar public name to readers, which -if this was painted in the 1850s - must mean either Henry Wyndham Phillips (1820-68) or someone only locally well known at Swindon: since the latter is not now readily apparent, logic suggests the former, who is variable. Neither style nor an 1850s date allow Thomas Phillips RA (d. 1845)

Marcie Doran,

The ‘Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette’ of Thursday, October 21, 1858, has a very long (and very moving) article about the presentation of this portrait to Mr. Swayne. Once again, the artist is referred to as “Phillips”. I have attached three short extracts of the article as well as Mr. Swayne’s obituary from the ‘Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette’ of Thursday, May 4, 1865.

I have also ordered Mr. Swayne’s probate records.

Marcie Doran,

Some information about the planning process for this portrait is shown in one of the items under the heading “Wilts Quarter Sessions" in the ‘Salisbury and Winchester Journal’ of Saturday, April 10, 1858.


The 'Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette' of Thursday, September 3, 1857, refers to a portrait commission by a "Mr. Phillips'. I suspect that the commission went to the Scottish artist John Phillip (1817–1867). He reportedly worked in London.

Could he be the mystery artist? My composite is based on his work 'Sir John Bent (1793–1857)', dated 1855. The hands of both men seem to be very similar.

Marcie Doran,

My link seems to have failed on this site. That painting is WAG 7506.

Thank you for the contextual detail Marcie. That's very helpful. However, I think the similarity you see between the portraits is explained by portrait conventions - to me, stylistically they seem by a different hand. I still feel that Henry Wyndham Phillips is likely to be the more fruitful line of enquiry. As he exhibited at the British Institute and Royal Academy it is worth checking the Art Journal and Athenaeum for reviews of the exhibitions that year (1858) to see if the portraits mentioned and also perhaps using TinEye to see if there are any matches as his portraits were often replicated as engravings or mezzotints. He was 'a very popular artist', which would explain why just the use of his surname would prompt instant recognition at that time.

Jacinto Regalado,

John Phillip was best known as a painter of Spanish genre scenes. His portraits are generally less dry than that of Swayne.

Osmund Bullock,

Confusion between Phillip and Phillips is unsurprising and could be an issue - in fact John Phillip's name was given as 'Phillips' in the catalogue when he first showed at the RA in 1838. The Sep 1857 reference in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette is certainly another example: Princess Victoria's wedding was indeed painted by him, and the painting is in the Royal Collection ( with a preliminary study at Aberdeen ( But when I considered the possibility of Phillip last night I felt that made him *less* likely, not more, and concluded it was circumstantially all but impossible, let alone most unlikely on stylistic grounds.

In 1858 John Phillip's star was very much in the ascendant: recommended to Queen Victoria by Landseer, he had painted royal portraits from 1852, and the Queen thought him 'our greatest painter' and second only to Winterhalter in his colouring - she was apparently "much grieved by his early death in 1867". He had painted a massive full-length of Prince Albert for the City of Aberdeen in 1857 or earlier (exhibited RA 1858), and that royal wedding commission was a highly important one, involving individual sittings with the many principal participants between 1858 & 1860 (when it was finished and exhibited).

It is inconceivable to me he would or could during precisely the same period have accepted a commission to paint a portrait of a man of no national consequence whetever, however worthy.

Jacinto Regalado,

The portrait of Swayne was paid for by subscription, but I agree it is quite unlikely that the painter was John Phillip, even apart from considerations related to monetary cost.

Jacinto Regalado,

H. W. Phillips did not exhibit this portrait at the British Institution.

Jacinto Regalado,

H. W. Phillips did not exhibit this portrait at the Royal Academy.

Marcie Doran,

This portrait was mentioned in the ‘Newbury Weekly News and General Advertiser’ of Thursday, June 14, 1894, and the 'Wiltshire Times [and Trowbridge Advertiser]' of Saturday, October 6, 1934.


I have ordered the probate records of John Montague Swayne (1865–1944). He was the son of Henry James Fowle Swayne (1818–1892) and the grandson of the sitter. Henry's probate entry states: "administration London 24 March to John Montague Swayne gentleman".

Osmund Bullock,

As you note, Marcie, the document for Henry JF Swayne is an administration, not a probate; this almost certainly means he died intestate, i.e. there is no Will. Occasionally administrations have a Will attached that cannot be granted probate for some reason (e.g. all named executors have died), but in my experience this is always mentioned in the index - and his son (usually an executor) being the person granted administration makes it even less likely there is one.

I also can't really see the point in ordering the Will of the son, John M Swayne - as one of the cuttings you've posted tells us, he offered the presentation portrait of his grandfather back to the County in 1934, ten years before he died, and the offer was accepted...which makes it even less likely than normal it'll be mentioned in his Will!

Re the portrait not being exhibited at the British Institution, I think I'm right in saying that portraits were almost never included in the BI's annual exhibitions of work by living artists - indeed, I think that was official policy.

Marcie Doran,

In fact, I was about to order the will of Henry JF Swayne yesterday when I recalled a comment that Osmund had made on another discussion.

I received the probate records of John Swayne today. In his will dated March 14, 1862, he stated that his portrait was “painted by Mr. Phillips”.

I don't think a general subscription was launched for this portrait – the will and newspaper articles indicate that it was from "the Magistrates".

Unless someone can come up with a hitherto unsuspected and probably local Wiltshire 'Phillips', Swayne's will must reasonably identify Henry Wyndham Phillips as the artist. It might be conceivable that at least initial local press report confused Philip with Phillips, but not the sitter, and good circumstantial reasons against John Philip have already been given. At the least, 'attributed to' is certainly justifiable.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, I'm not surprised there is no first name in the Will. Victorians were generally not keen on their use in public contexts, as anyone who's done work on C19th newspapers will know (to their frustration!) - Mr/Mrs/Capt/Alderman or whatever followed just by the surname is by and large the rule for those of some social status, however slight, and the surname alone for those with none. An initial is sometimes added where it's clear there may be confusion.

Artists hover betwixt the two, status-wise, depending on their degree of success/wealth and perhaps the attitude of the speaker towards the arts. To make things worse, the latter overlaps with a fashionable philistinism that pervaded upper class attitudes until quite recently, and which was mimicked by those further down the social scale - a sense that to be too interested in and knowledgeable about art (especially art that one owned) was 'bad form', despite many exceptions. And in fact I wouldn't overdo the assumption suggested a couple of times here that the artist must have been well-known for him to be referred to as just 'Phillips': this was quite normal for *any* artist, and I have often found it even in detailed contemporary inventories when the name is so common one can only guess at the artist - recent examples include Walker, Ward, Brown and even Smith.

Osmund Bullock,

Which is not to say that I necessarily disagree with the attribution to Henry Wyndham Phillips, to whom there seems little alternative, and whose variability (and popularity) could perhaps encompass such a work. I do worry, though, about its slightly 'photographic' appearance, and its flaking, apparently thin paint layer, and did wonder if it might be either a copy of the presentation portrait...or another work altogether not by 'Phillips'. Marcie's discovery that the original was accepted back in 1934 has allayed that concern somewhat, but I'm still a little uneasy that Wilton Town Council is hardly synonymous with the Wiltshire Assizes Court at Devizes. Where did the other family portrait given at the same time end up?

Osmund Bullock,

One has to ask the usual, and often vital question: has anyone looked at the back for clues, and if not, is there any chance they could do so now (and preferably take a digital snap)?

Marcie Doran,

I’ve been trying to figure out if the artist might have been the solicitor Jacob Phillips (1809–1884) of Chippenham. He seems to have held a position much like that of Mr. Swayne. He collected art and he exhibited (in 1879). If someone could humour me and check the reference guides for his name, I would appreciate it.

That's probably a false trail Marcie: as the 24.10.1884 Obituary shows by calling him 'Mr Phillips' -in line 7 and at the end (and as Osmund has explained) - that is how he would have been generally known inWiltshire, not as 'Phillips'. The latter style also suggests the artist was not local but distant, since if one as respectable as H.W Phillips had been local I am sure he too would have also been courteously called 'Mr' in the Wiltshire press reports of the portrait presentation. That the artist was not can therefore also be read as implying he was elsewhere, in the same way as one would find local references to other London contemporaries, like (for example) 'Landseer', 'Frith', 'Watts' etc.

The 1879 fine arts exhibition is also an example (common enough) of notable local people lending paintings they owned for the purpose, not ones they had painted, of which there is no suggestion as an activity of Jacob Phillips in the references you have produced.

Jacinto Regalado,

Well, Osmund, if philistinism, not to say ignorance about art, was the proper posture, I'm afraid Art Detective contributors would have been taken for very odd people indeed--though I assume some allowance was made for people somehow connected to the arts.

Kieran Owens,

While I totally accept that comparisons can be odious, and that they might also just be an outward manifestation of an internal and subjective wish-fulfillment desire, contributors to this discussion might like to consider the attached composite, which juxtaposes this discussion's portrait with two engravings after Henry Wyndham Phillips - of Nassau William Senior and Sir Henry Holland - which can be found online in the NPG's collection.

To my own eye, there are strong similarities between the compositional arrangements of the three images. The two-banded table covering in this portrait and the one in the Holland print are, perhaps, most telling alike, and could point to their possibly being Phillips' studio props. The tilt of each sitter's head, the presence of the stack of books, and the appearance of the strong vertical beam in the background of each painting, also suggests to me a single same artist's compositional vision. While it this is not proposed as proof, it is, hopefully, an observation worth making.

Jacinto Regalado,

An attribution to H. W. Phillips is quite plausible and thus reasonable.

Jacob Simon,

I can't help feeling that this portrait is a bit wooden compared to Henry Wyndham Phillips' known works.

Yes, it is rather 'hard' compared to others but I don't see a likely alternative - and the Redgrave 'Dictionary', which is pretty good on naming known 'pros' of the day doesn't either. It says that H.W.P 'acquired some repute' - a phrase it tends to use for 'middling sorts' - and he didn't match his father, but he only painted portraits and a large number, so to find some rather mechanical is no great surprise.
The references produced all imply a generally known 'Phillips' and he's the only one apparent.

Osmund Bullock,

That is quite persuasive, Kieran, especially as those comparisons date from exactly the right time – Nassau Senior’s portrait was exhibited at the RA in 1855, Henry Holland’s in 1857. There is actually an image of the original oil of Senior available online - but there’s something odd about the reproduction (scanned from a book, perhaps?), and no source is given that might help us find a better image:

However, we still have the problem that what must surely be our portrait of John Swayne (1778-1865) was already hanging in Wilton Town Hall early in June 1894 (Marcie 29/09/2022 02:02 1st attachment), while if the newspaper got it right, the presentation portrait by Phillips (left by the sitter in his Will to his son Henry J F Swayne in 1865) was clearly still in the family in 1934 when Henry’s son John Montague Swayne (1865-1944) offered it to the County Council, along with another of his grandfather’s uncle James Swayne (1753-1827), both to be hung in the Assizes Court in Devizes (Marcie same post 2nd attachment).

The Nov 1906 newspaper article (Marcie 30/09/2022 14:57) is not problematic in itself. It confirms that Wilton Town Council at the time still held a picture of John Swayne – presumably our portrait again – along with one of his grandson John M Swayne, and that the latter had just given them one of his father Henry (1818-92). The ‘pictures’ [sic] of the last two were, I suspect, mounted photographs rather than painted portraits, which would explain why they don’t appear on Art UK.

Osmund Bullock,

Taking an Ockham’s Razor approach, I think our portrait is most likely to be a later copy of Henry Wyndham Phillips’ presentation portrait – I accept he was the original artist – and was painted for Wilton at some unknown point between 1858 & 1894. It’s just possible it was a duplicate by the original artist, but I think it unlikely. This is partly because Wilton Town Council were quite unconnected with the County magistrates who planned, paid for and presented the portrait, and I can’t see how they could have got in on the act; and partly because of the reservations about its appearance and quality previously expressed - unless it’s been badly restored, that is.

What happened to the two portraits hung (assuming they were) at the Assizes Court building in Devizes remains a puzzle, at least for the moment. The fine neoclassical building survives, but as far as I can see ceased to be a court in either the 1970s or 80s – certainly it was empty from the latter decade, and became progressively more derelict thereafter. It has now been saved, is being slowly restored, and will eventually (it is planned) be the new home for the Wiltshire Museum. Perhaps the paintings will re-emerge somewhere along the line.

Good point Osmund - unidentified copyist after HWP would square the circle: a somewhet parallel case to the Jane Hawkins copy portrait of Laura (Lady Arthur) Russell in Tavistock town hall, which we now know is after G.F. Watts albeit the original has not apparently been publicly seen since 1874.

Marcie Doran,

I have just received the probate records for John Montague Swayne. Here are extracts from his will dated January 16, 1942. Note that he also had codicils dated August 25, 1942, and August 8, 1944. In the schedule to his will, he mentioned "pictures, portraits, photographs", lending credence to Osmund's theory.

An electronic search on Hathi for Swayne in the Athenaeum and Art Journal for 1858 drew a blank - sometimes this can reveal information in the 'Scraps' columns for portrait commissions of lower standing that are not exhibited.

Although, we are yet to find conclusive proof, I think the balance of circumstantial evidence presented by the group would support a new attribution for this portrait of 'after Henry Wyndham Phillips'.


but the original press clip, describing the portrait presentation to the sitter, says it was 'by Phillips' and paid for by Swayne's fellow justices, who presumably believed it was 'by' and not 'after' Phillips ??