Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, South West England: Artists and Subjects, Yorkshire, The Humber and North East England: Artists and Subjects 33 Who is the artist of this painting of the Sailing Brig 'Studley' in three positions?

Topic: Artist

We would be interested to know whether anyone could identify the artist of this seascape.

The painting depicts the merchant ship ‘Studley’ in three positions, sailing through the Bristol Downs. The Sailing Brig ‘Studley’ was built in 1820 and owned by Mr William Leetham of Skeldergate, York. Merchant ships at this time would have sailed the world’s oceans trading in items such as spices, wine, cloth and lead.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Alice Read,

This discussion has now been closed. No conclusion was reached. If any contributors have new information about this painting, we encourage them to propose a new discussion by following the Art Detective link on the Your Paintings page:

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.


Toby Campbell,

A colleague has suggested it might be by the Liverpool painter William Gay Yorke. Is there a possibility of a better photo?

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

Hello Toby, yes that's possible. I have attached a slightly higher resolution image to this message. We also have it in a TIFF format but it is too big to attach here!

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Yorke was born in 1817, in St John, New Brunswick, married in Liverpool in 1841 before going back there as a shipwright until 1850, then returned to L'pool, and is only known (or was when Teddy Archibald wrote his 'Dictionary of Sea Painters') as a practising artist from 1853. While not impossible, that's late for a vessel built in 1820.

Paul Kettlewell,

The last mention of the brig Studley that I can find in the Shipping News columns of the old papers is in 1849 - it did go ashore near Karlskrona, Sweden in August 1848 where it was damaged.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

We do have more information on the Leetham family but less on the ship itself. We do know that it was looked at in the late 1970's by EHH Archibald from the National Maritime Museum but unfortunately due to some confusion over the name of the vessel, no further identification of the artist or a more accurate date to when it was painted could be provided.

Paul Kettlewell,

Between 1826 and 1848, the Studley appears regularly in the shipping news, usually back and forwards to the continent, often between Hull and Riga. The name is always followed by Leetham - however in 1849, it appears followed by the name Wright, so possibly it was sold or had a change of captain, and then perhaps a change of name.

Michael Charles,

A treatise on William G. Yorke (and his son William Howard Yorke) more recent and appreciably more extensive than Archibald's entries for these artists in his 'Dictionary of Sea Painters' is to be found in the first publication by that pre-eminent scholar of ship-portrait painting, A.S. (Sam) Davidson, namely 'Marine Art & Liverpool' ( publ. Waine Research, Wolverhampton; 1986). But might I suggest as possibly the artist of this portrait of the STUDLEY either Joseph Walter (1783-1856) of Bristol or James Harris, Snr. (1810-1887) of Swansea?

Martin Hopkinson,

Could this date from the 1820s and commemorate this vessel's first voyage? It shares some of the characteristics of Henry Moses' few maritime paintings - but the likeness may simply a matter of formula in maritime painting of this period - a subject in which I am not all well versed

Martin Hopkinson,

Moses' A frigate sailing with the wind was sold at Sothebys 14 June 1989 lot 8

I have not seen enough Yorke (senior) to be sure about him, though my reservation about the picture's suggested date and when he became active as a painter stands. I regularly see both Harris and Walter and am not convinced it is by either of them, or Moses at this point - a London-based painter and (in oil) a rarer bird. An explanation of the 'Bristol Downs' would be enlightening since there are chalk cliffs across the back , not Lundy, Steepholm or Flatholm, which are customary Bristol Channel markers, and that location would anyway be curious for a vessel with predominating East Coast history. Leetham and Wright in press reports after the ship's name will be that of the master (or master/owner in the first case, at least from what we have been told). The name pennant with a union flag in the upper corner is also unusual and that on the foremast with the initials 'SG' too. Usual practice would suggest it is a marker of ownership ('house flag') but so far there has been no mention of an ownership that would fit. The comment suggesting the painting was done when the ship was new would match a common pattern: many ship portraits do mark the start of their careers, but not always.

Jamie Rountree,

I am the colleague of Toby's who suggested Yorke - as I thought the slightly naive way the sea was painted looked a bit like him. However the dates do not match as Pieter van der Merwe says. I wonder also if this location is actually near Walmer Castle and Dover - it was a typical point for merchant ships coming up the Channel in order to tack towards the entrance to the Thames. As she appears to be an East coast ship - I would suggest one of the painters along that coastline. Artists such as Robert Willoughby of Hull (see attached image) tended to be the somewhat cheaper alternatives to the more famous ships portraitists (such as William Huggins) of the time and this painting is definitely by a second string artist rather than the premier league. Could someone take an image of the back of the canvas as that may well give us a better idea of age and condition.

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Martin Hopkinson,

Moses worked in Deal for a short time. Deal Museum acquired a group of drawings by him of Deal with the help of the Art Fund c. 1999.
The cliffs could well be between Folkestone and Kingsdown. I know the area very well as I lived in Deal for 10 years

I broadly agree with Jamie R. Its a good strong image by a second-string ship portraitist and the cliffs make the Kent coast likely (N. Foreland to right?). The two NMM oils by Moses are more tonally muted and although a small sample don't convince me, much as I admire his drawings which are another story entirely.

Martin Hopkinson,

Has the prominent red buoy in the foreground been examined closely to check if there is a trace of a signature?

Michael Charles,

Pieter van der Merwe is of course quite correct in suggesting that one of the principal keys to this painting lies in the pennant at STUDLEY's foremast; all the more important, therefore, to point out that what are inscribed thereon are not in fact the letters 'SG' but the numerals '36'. These I would imagine to represent the 'tontine', or providential society, membership number of the ship's Master and in my extremely limited knowledge of such matters point yet further towards STUDLEY's being registered in, or certainly closely associated with, a port in the north east. Which being so, it is surely worth mentioning that the eventually substantial steamship company of Bailey & Leetham was formed in 1854 in Hull as the product of a partnership between two former shipmasters, William Bailey and William Leetham, both of whom had sailed extensively in the North Sea and the Baltic. This in turn brings us back to Paul Kettlewell's second contribution, for Captain Leetham's final command before 'coming ashore' was not the STUDLEY but a schooner-rigged steamship named SARAH SEALE - which may indicate that if indeed Leetham had previously had command of the STUDLEY he relinquished it in 1849, quite possibly to take over that successor. None of which, however, brings us very much nearer to identifying the artist of this painting.

Paul Kettlewell,

The following is a list of vessels, that appeared in the shipping news, owned by the Leethams between around 1800 & 1850. Is there a known painting of any of them that could possibly be by the same artist?

"York Merchant", "Ripon", "York", "John", "Helmsley", "The Arrow", "The Cork", "Star", "The Carrier"

Michael Charles,

I have now discussed this painting at length with my long-standing friend and mentor, Sam Davidson, and he authorises me to make the following comments on his behalf:
. Although he can offer no specific suggestion as to who is the artist, he feels as certain as his advanced years allow that it is not either William G. Yorke or any other of the several 19th century ship-portrait painters in Liverpool.
. The entry for the brig STUDLEY in his Lloyd's Register for 1836, the only edition that he has immediately to hand, reads simply: 'J. Leatham (sic) (Master?), 114 (g.r.t?), Goole (port of registration?)' and her owner is said to be one W. Leatham, described as being a merchant of York.
. He therefore suggests that, York being only about 20 miles north-west of Goole, the locality of the painting is probably Bridlington Bay, the white cliffs in the distance on the right being those of Flamborough Head.
. From all of which he believes that the artist too is likely to hail from the east/north-east coast.
. He endorses my view that the number displayed on the pennant at STUDLEY's foremast is that of her Master's membership in his local professional mutual benefit society.
In all the circumstances, perhaps an opinion should now be sought from whomsoever has succeeded the recently retired (I believe?) Arthur Credland as Keeper of Maritime History for the Museums and Art Galleries in Hull?

I think that brings us rather neatly to the strong possibility that the artist is John Ward of Hull (1798-1849; represented, as far as public collections are concerned, only in Hull and therefore not well-known elsewhere). See, for example:

The above are all works of the 1840s.

I shall try to contact Arthur Credland, the authority on this painter.

All interesting re location and the number (clearly time for new glasses since I read as SG): looks rather over-coloured for Ward but I await events.
Delighted to hear the distant signal from Sam Davidson, to whom my best wishes: would be grateful for update contact point: the phone no. here (National Maritime Museum) is still 0208 858 4422.....

Jamie Rountree,

I don't think the draughtmanship is good enough to be by Ward of Hull - would go for a secondary Hull artist. Agreed that Arthur Credland will know best.

Martin Hopkinson,

Not good enough for Walters to judge by his paintings in Merseyside collections

Michael Charles,

Both father and son Miles and Samuel Walters are among those Liverpool artists whom Sam Davidson specifically rules out and, in any event, the manner in which Miles rendered the sea was particularly, somewhat naively, distinctive while, as Martin H. points out, Samuel invariably depicted it rather more realistically than this.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

We have as suggested removed the painting so that we could examine the back of it but unfortunately it has been relined so there is no further information on the artist.

Thanks for the last two contributions, though the latter is no surprise I'm afraid. It certainly looks as though it had an inscription (and the suggestion of a possibly 1840s date is something) , even if not now clear, so perhaps more concentration on that and keeping a weather eye lifting for other examples by the hand - however rare as survivals they now are- may crack this one in the end.

Michael Charles,

Since this discussion appears to have petered out inconclusively, it may just be worth my mentioning that, in the course of a detailed study that I have lately carried out (for purposes unrelated to this particular painting in isolation) of all the ship portraits surveyed and listed by the PCF, I came across none which suggested itself as being by the same hand as this one. Of course this by no means implies that no such picture exists - it would indeed be surprising if whoever painted one picture of the relative sophistication of this one had never painted another - but merely that either no such picture was submitted to the PCF's survey or that, if it was, it is one of those which regrettably are too dirty or too distressed to admit of thorough scrutiny. As Pieter van der Merwe suggests, the Merchant Adventurers may have to hope for some chance encounter in quite another quarter to resolve their query.

I agree: this one will only resolve more satisfactorily when (or if) something turns up that is convincingly by the same hand and with a name attached.

Having recently seen the painting in the flesh, I can add that it is not nearly as bright as the PCF image might suggest. In particular, it does not have the two areas of acidic blue-green in the sky, top left and right (as displayed on my computer screen at least). Unless this prompts further suggestions as to an attribution (unlikely, I think!), I agree that it is time to draw the discussion to a close.