London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 20th C, Sculpture, South East England: Artists and Subjects 50 Who is the sitter in this bronze by or attributed to Elsie March?

LSE_BMS_LDBMP_97_60-001
Topic: Subject or sitter

The Bromley collection has some good sculpture by or attributed to Elsie March, who had local connections, see the Wiki entry https://bit.ly/3kOF5ky. This sitter's monogram on the plinth looks 'artistic' or perhaps literary: does it, or his looks, suggest an identity?

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

50 comments

Elsie March and her artist siblings lived for many years at 'Goddendene' in Locksbottom, Farnborough, about four miles south-east of Bromley. This bust is signed and dated 1931 and is described by the collection as a plaster. It appears to me to be a commission from either an institution, or perhaps by the sitter's family, to commemorate a man who may well have died a year or two prior to 1931. Hence the presence of the monogrammed initials on the plinth which could be WAC or some variation in order of those letters. On checking Elsie March's exhibits at various venues I couldn't locate a title which had a reasonable match to this piece. So perhaps an unexhibited commission and the finished bronze is sitting in another collection, possibly a family collection?

Peter Nahum,

That is the monogram of Alfred W Cooper (died 1901). It cannot be anything to do with him as it is a later date. just for information

Kieran Owens,

Peter, could you point to an illustrated example of Cooper's monogram?

Jacinto Regalado,

Why is this "attributed to " Elsie March when it is signed by her (image #7)?

British Artists 1880-1940, Antique Collectors' Club by J. Johnson and A. Greutzner indicates that March exhibited 97 works at the Royal Society of British Artists and became an RBA in 1932. I can't see these catalogues online from a cursory look around, but maybe others might know more. I have returned to the Curator at Bromley to reaffirm that they have nothing within their records where the letters 'A', 'C' and 'W' appear together in a potentially encouraging way.

Mark Wilson,

Not only is this clearly signed by Elsie March as Jacinto pointed out, it also appears to dated to 1951, though the final digit might be a little uncertain due to other markings.

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Could be entire coincidence, but an Alfred William Carter on Ancestry [attached] was married in Bromley 1900, born 1879. Is this a man in his early 50s though? Fairly common name too. No connection to March except Bromley at first sight.

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The Alfred Ward Carter referred to above was born in 1872 and was described as a 'retired art teacher'. We know from the RBA records that an 'Alfred Carter' and 'A W Carter' sat for Elsie March in the early to mid 1930s. The Alfred Ward Carter of Somerleyton, Keston, moved to Yorkshire in the late 1930s and died in 1954. In the 1901 Census he was recorded as living in Sculcoates in Yorkshire and his occupation was given as 'artist sculptor'. In the 1911 census he was living at Somerleyton, Keston, and was described as an art teacher. He moved to Yorkshire in the late 1930s and died in 1954.

Given the RBA entries of 1932 and 1935, and a probable date for the piece of 1931 (so it might be that shown in 1932) Alfred Ward Carter, sculptor and art teacher (1872-1954) sounds a circumstantially practical possibility. Keston and Bromley are not far apart: I assume 'Somerleyton' was a house name (the place is in Suffolk and Somerleyton Hall quite well known for various reasons). Better some possibility than 'unknown'.

I have been looking for a connection between Elsie March and Alfred Ward Carter and I now realise that they were both from Kingston-Upon-Hull (Sculcoates is a suburb) and that the Carter and March families both moved to the Farnborough area of Kent prior to 1911. As Mr Carter was a sculptor too I wonder whether he worked with them at Goddendene, Locksbottom. It appears he lived less than a mile away. Does the collection have any information on the March family associates?

Marcie Doran,

Please see this article from the Newsroom at the Pocklington Post on A.W. Carter, dated May 13, 2021: “The history column with The High Wolds Heritage Group member Keith Holtby: The search for A.W. Carter paintings to complete a comprehensive record”: https://tinyurl.com/ynssy668

Note that it states: “Acklam was very fortunate in having a man of Mr Carter’s calibre, originally from Little Horton, Bradford, he was for 30 years Art Master at St Dunstan’s in London.”

I have attached the 1911 England Census record and the 1939 England and Wales Register record for Alfred Ward Carter, as per the comments of Grant Waters. Mr. Carter’s wife was Lucy Thornton Carter (née Smurthwaite) (1877-1965). The 1911 record indicates that Mr. Carter was “Art Master of St. Dunstan’s College”.

Kieran Owens,

According to the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of Saturday 29th December 1951, Alfred Ward Carter, son of Mr. & Mrs. Bennett Carter, of Bradford and Heysham, married Lucy Thornton Smurthwaite at Holy Trinity Church, Hull, on the 30th December 1901. On the 30th December 1951, from their address at Beck House, Acklam, Malton, they celebrated their Golden (50th) Wedding anniversary. A. W. Carter died at Beck House on the 27th February 1954.

St Dunstan's College is London SE6 (Catford), slightly closer to Lewisham than Bromley but all closely connected by rail. It might have old school/ staff photos/ school mags and certainly an old boys association. I'm in easy striking distance and will ask.

Thank you to Marcie, Kieran and Pieter for your contributions. The link to St Dunstan's College may well prove to be very useful. In the meantime I have been reviewing Elsie March's exhibits at the Royal Society of British Artists in more detail. Some of her exhibits have added information (e.g. 'bronze', 'terracotta', or simply 'sculpture') but most works are not so described. Her Autumn 1932 exhibit number 468 'A. W. Carter, Esq' is described simply as 'sculpture' and perhaps significantly, it has no price against it. A review of her RBA exhibits over 15 years reveals that about 75% of her works are priced for sale and the sizeable majority of those unpriced appear to be portrait commissions. The inference I take from this is that the sculpture 'A. W. Carter, Esq' from Autumn 1932 was most probably a commission, which if so could possibly be either the work with the probable 'AWC' monogram held by Bromley Historic Collections or, more likely, another version of it in bronze. It is also worth noting that Elsie's March's RBA exhibit number 226 in Winter 1935 titled 'Alfred Carter, Esq' has no further description but was listed for sale at £25. This begs the question was this a bronze sculpture of Mr Carter, or a plaster, or did the artist re-enter the 1932 work again? Although not currently supported by hard evidence, my feeling is, on the balance of probabilities, that the RBA 1932 exhibit is likely to be a commissioned bronze, possibly commissioned either by the sitter or St Dunstan's College (possibly on Mr Carter's retirement). More work on this is going to be required before we can reach any firm conclusions, including the necessary confirmation that I have identified the sitter, Alfred Carter of Keston, Kent, accurately.

The Alumni Officer of the old Dunstonians, has answered my enquiry by instantly producing the attached three digitised 'thumbnails' of A.W. Carter from their database - a photograph, a painted image, and a drawn caricature. The photo certainly looks encouraging, but probably younger than when the bbust was done.

He has kindly said he will try and dig out the originals of the first two in the College next week and supply larger images (I don't think the last helps) but - if Art UK also have a more left- or right- profile image of the bust- seeing thant might also be useful.

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Marcie Doran,

Keith Holtby has very kindly provided me with the attached photo of Alfred Ward Carter. He wrote today: “This photo was taken at St. Dunstan’s College, Catford in July 1930. He moved to Acklam around 1932 on retirement to live with his son Oliver. He died in 1954 and is buried in our Churchyard.”

Thank you Marcie, Osmund and Pieter. I think the man in 'our' sculpture is the same age as the man in the 1930 photograph. The nose and lips are very similar, my only reservation is the hairline which in 1930 appears fuller than in 1931. However, the photograph is a little indistinct in that particular area of it. As Pieter says the match is a 'fair probability' and I think we should proceed on the basis that the work held by Bromley Historic Collections is a bust of Alfred Ward Carter (1872-1954) and that the monogram on the plinth should be read as 'AWC'.

Jacinto Regalado,

I am not sure it is the same person, unless the bust is of a clearly older man. The thumbnails from Pieter did not open properly for me, as they were compressed or distorted; perhaps better versions will help when he gets them.

Jacinto Regalado,

The chin and lips are different, the nose is not quite the same, and the bust shows a thinner, more gaunt or more drawn face. I am not convinced, though one would like to be.

Kieran Owens,

Taking out the mouths out of Marcie's excellent composite, there are strong similarities, especially in the hair line, the shape of the right ear and the fullness of the nose to its tip. If Marsh knew Carter well, she could have been working from a variety of photos and especially, as already noted, from real life, and used some artistic leeway to render his image, whereas the Dustan's photo captures him at a moment in time that allows for no variations in his representation. The fact that the plinth has an AWC monogram incised on it and Marsh exhibited a bust of Carter surely pushes the decision into the "most likely" rather than "not likely" end of the span of choices.

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Kieran Owens,

I also believe that the highlighted points of similarity, especially the indenting line of left side of the sitter's chin, compared to Carter's as depicted in the photograph, also tip the balance in favour of this being a bust of Carter.

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Kieran Owens,

Also, and I am aware that I might be stretching credibility, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Marsh has actually sculpted in the detail of the indentation that might be found on the face of a sitter who continuously wears small glasses that rest right on the skin.

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Kieran Owens,

The link below, to a piece on the artist William Evan Charles Morgan, refers to Alfred Carter, who was Morgan's art teacher when he was at St. Dustan's c. 1919. It mentions that Carter had been trained at the Slade.:

https://robertmeyrick.co.uk/2018/02/02/project-1/

Carter was also an early teacher of the painter Colin Unwin Gill, who had attended St. Dustan's c.1910 and went on to study at the Slade in 1911, 1912 and 1913:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_Gill

https://bit.ly/3nOoajM

Kieran Owens,

The artist might might not have successfully rendered them, though might have been more familiar with them than the photograph shows them, but so much else of the face is the same.

Kieran Owens,

And please excuse me as I realise that I incorrectly spelled the artist's name as Marsh above and not as March.

Marcie Doran,

Strangely, that link to the St. Dunstan’s war memorial on the website of the Imperial War Museum has failed. Another option is to search for St. Dunstan’s from the main page for the War Memorials Register by clicking the red box for “Search memorials” and then entering “12302” in the search field under “SEARCH MEMORIAL RECORDS”. https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials. I have attached a screenprint of part of the entry in case that fails, too.

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Jacinto Regalado,

While one wants this to be Alfred Ward Carter, I advise caution. The "feel" I get from the bust is simply not what I get from the photos.

I think it would be helpful to step back a moment and to consider the two central issues raised by this discussion, which I believe to be as follows:

Q1. Who is the sitter (an unidentified man) for this bust by or attributed to Elsie March?

A. The main clue to this is the presence of initials on the plinth, which are WAC, AWC, or a variation of that but restricted to those initials in whatever order may be appropriate to aid identification.

The work is signed by the artist and dated 1931. An examination of the titles of Elsie's March's exhibited works reveals only one piece which matches these initials, namely her exhibit number 468 at the RBA in autumn 1932 titled 'A. W. Carter, Esq' (sculpture). The artist's later exhibit number 226 at the RBA winter show 1935 is titled 'Alfred Carter'. I suggest that this is very strong evidence that the sitter for both pieces is a Mr Alfred W. Carter as the initials match and the first exhibit was the year following the creation of the bust. So we move on to the second key issue.

Q2. Is the sitter Mr Alfred W Carter the Mr Alfred Ward Carter (1872-1954) who lived at 'Somerleyton', Keston, near Bromley in Kent?

A. Research into Alfred Ward Carter revealed the following:

He is recorded in Censuses as describing himself as an 'artist/sculptor' and 'art teacher'.

He had strong connections with the city of Hull as did the March siblings.

For more than twenty years he lived less than a mile away from the March family home at Goddendene, Locksbottom, and taught art at St Dunstan's College, which is relatively local.

As a sculptor he would have needed a foundry to cast his own or his pupils' pieces and the March family had a foundry at Goddendene. Although there is no proof yet that he commissioned work at the March foundry it is, I think, inconceivable that he would not be aware of the three March sculptor siblings and their foundry.

A photograph of Mr Carter taken in 1930 bears a good but not an identical resemblance to the portrait bust. Given the artistic expression used in the sculpture I do not find that surprising.

A review of Kelly's Directory 1930 for the Bromley area revealed more than one person with the name Alfred Carter but only one with the name Alfred W Carter (stated in full as Alfred Ward Carter) who was living at 'Somerleyton', Keston.

In summary I think we can safely identify the sitter for the bust as Mr Alfred W. Carter (excluding his full middle name as that identification relies on the information in Q2 above). Personally I am satisfied that there is enough detail to identify the sitter as Alfred Ward Carter but to reach a conclusion perhaps we could conclude as follows:

'The sitter for the portrait bust signed and dated 1931 held by Bromley Historic Collections has been identified as a Mr Alfred W. Carter. The probability is that this gentleman is Alfred Ward Carter (1872-1954) then of Keston, Kent, who was an artist sculptor and art teacher, but that identification has not been confirmed beyond doubt.'

Can we leave this open for while? The larger images of Mr Carter from the St Dunstan's will only appear tomorrow at the earliest. There's also a long shot (albeit the odds are against easily finding an example) that its archive holds something signed by him in initial monogram form - which may be what the base inscription on the bust is replicating. I have suggested that possibility, though only if the Alumni Officer is inclined/ able to look.

Here are larger images from the St Dunstan's archive, with thanks to Iain Macdowall, their Alumni Officer. The photo (damaged) appears to show him relatively younger than the painted image and the bust -if that is also of him - which I agree with Grant seems a high probability. Perhaps the more pertinent question is could the bust be c. 1932 as the one exhibited at the RSA, since we are told that the photo produced by Marcie above (Marcie Doran, 19/09/2021 13:31) is 1930, and it looks rather more lined/older than that.

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The additional photograph does help. I am happier with the match to the jawline, the ears, and the hairline. The nose compares very well. As Pieter has said previously, there must be a fair probability that the sitter is Alfred Ward Carter. The caption to the photograph, reading 1901-1932, would support the possibility that the bust was commissioned to mark Mr Carter's retirement from St Dunstan's in 1932. The 'A. W. Carter, Esq' sculpture was exhibited in 1932. The combination of circumstantial evidence is, in my opinion, strong.

Mark Wilson,

I wonder if we are missing the obvious here in comparing the photos with the bust. No matter how hard I look at that inscription, I can't see a '3' there. At most it might be an 'S' with it reading '19SA' but in context a date seems more likely. So maybe this really does date from 1951 and shows Alfred Carter at the age of 79 rather than young-looking 59 he appears in the photos.

There's no reason that the Carters wouldn't have stayed in touch with Elsie March and her brothers after the former retired back to Yorkshire. Visits back to London might well have happened, particularly after the War, and Alfred could well have sat again for Elsie as he had twice previously. Perhaps this was a gift intended for the Golden Wedding that never got given due to his death three years later.

Mark, thank you very much for your comments.

I agree that the date on the bust isn't as clear as one would wish. Rightly or wrongly my reading of it is 1931 (I find the final digit in particular to be unclear). The collection also states 1931 but of course we should be open to all possibilities including the potential scenario you have outlined. I think the first point we need to clarify now, assuming that is possible, is to verify the date of the portrait photograph of Alfred Carter. There is a sticker reading 1901-1932, being the dates of Mr Carter's service with St Dunstan's, but the image may predate 1932 by one or more years. It doesn't appear that the photograph was taken to mark his impending retirement. Pieter also pointed out 21/09/2021 (20:29) that the photograph appears to show him (Carter) relatively younger than the painted image and the bust.

I am sure you are right in suggesting that Alfred Carter may well have maintained contact with the March family after his return to Yorkshire. However, I cannot find a record of an exhibited sculpture of him later than 1935, having checked against Elsie's name with the RA, RBA and SWA records. But of course any such later work may have been not for exhibition.

Two things would nail this down, neither of which are in easy prospect. One is to find a piece of paper (or art) signed by Carter with the same form of monogram that Elsie M. has put on the base of the bust, which I suspect is based on his, not something of hers - though may be wrong. The second is to find current descendants of Carter (if existing via his son Oliver or any other children) who -one way or another - could confirm the bust is of him.

Both are needle-in-haystack operations and only the latter open to the sort of online research that is a skill of some Art UK contributors. Mr Macdowall has asked - if we conclude that the bust is of Carter or probably so - if I would supply a brief note on the matter for the Dunstonian magazine (which I will) and that may bring something out of their circle of association that helps change 'probably' to 'definitely' in the longer term but the immediate question is how much further we can realistically go at present.

On the question of the date, I read it as 1931. I have added a red line here on the image attached, and provided a heightened contrast version. I admit here that the ‘3’ appears incomplete, but I think the top part of the ‘3’ curls around to the right so to me was much more likely than a ‘5’. If you consider a ‘5’ then there is a larger part of the number missing. I read the last number as a ‘1’. Look how the first number, the ‘1’ is inscribed, and I see the same ‘1’ in the fourth number. The lighter markings to the right of this look like just marks on the bronze, not clear signs of an inscription, where on each of the numbers you see ridges in shadow.

Jacinto Regalado,

If it is 1931, the bust's face is too old/worn for the purported sitter.

As you all may be aware, on 2nd August 1982 there was a studio sale at Sotheby's Belgravia (long since closed) of the remaining paintings, drawings and sculpture held by the late Elsie March and five of her deceased siblings, comprising I believe some 182 lots in total. There was also, apparently, a March family retrospective held at The Grosvenor Hotel in Park Lane in Autumn 1981 (source the University of Glasgow), the link to which is below:

'Elsie March', Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 [http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib4_1273584785, accessed 22 Sep 2021]

I hope this link works.

If anyone has access to the Sotheby's Belgravia catalogue from 1982, or any information about the 1981 retrospective, we will be delighted to hear. Thank you.

I am going to add some context to the request above. With assistance from the collection at Bromley it has been established that they acquired a number of March family pieces from a London BADA art and antiques dealer in 1995, who provided whatever information he had in regard to the artist and the sitters. Although not confirmed at this stage, I think it probable that the original source of all these pieces was the March family auction sale at Sotheby's Belgravia in 1982. The auction catalogue, if available, will hopefully provide a little more information as could any catalogue for the Grosvenor House exhibition in 1981. This could potentially help us in respect of the bust under present discussion and also other March family pieces held by Bromley (two of which listed on Art UK have sadly been stolen in recent times).

Kieran Owens,

Jacinto, Alfred Ward Carter would have been 59 or 60 in 1931, surely an age that would be a perfect fit for the man depicted in this bust.

Jacinto Regalado,

It is possible, Kieran, but based on the photos it seems unlikely, and if the bust depicts him at 59 or 60, he did not age especially well, though that is also possible.

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