Completed Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 19th C, Portraits: British 20th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 15 Who is the subject of this portrait by David Waterson (1870–1954)? Could he be a sculptor?

Self Portrait
Topic: Subject or sitter

I would suggest that the sitter could be a sculptor. Could we discover his identity?

The collection note:

'It had been thought that the sitter was the artist himself, but it is perhaps more likely given the imagery in the background that it is of a sculptor acquaintance of the artist. The sitter is after all wearing an appropriate sculptor's overall, and on reflection does not bear a likeness to the artist.

I had a chance to check the reverse of the painting (attached) but no clues appear as to the identity of the sitter. The painting appears relatively clean on the reverse and its framing looks like a later reframing (perhaps 1990s?) – the artist passed away many decades earlier in 1954. So it appears the work was reframed when the painting was sold on.

The only label is a poor museum label from 2001 where if you see this label writer was not even sure of the identity of the sitter!

The upshot is, we are more convinced that sitter is not the artist but an acquaintance sculptor – identity unknown.'

Edward Stone, Entry reviewed by Art UK

3 attachments

Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now closed. The sitter of this painting has been found to be the builder and sculptor James Tosh. This change will be visible on Art UK in due course.

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.


Kieran Owens,

This portrait could be of the Brechin builder, sculptor and sundial maker James Tosh. See the attached clippings from the Brechin Advertiser of 1955 and 1956, which both reference a very fine portrait of him by David Waterson, which was included in the memorial exhibition in Brechin that took place after Waterson's death in 1954. Tosh and Waterson both exhibited in the Brechin Fine Art Exhibition in September 1911.

James Tosh died at 57, Clerk Street, Brechin, on the 25th February 1919, aged 88. If this is a portrait of him, Waterson would have been 49 years old in when Tosh died. If there are relatives of James Tosh currently living in Brechin, perhaps they would have photographs of him that could support this suggestion. Alternatively, it might be worth sending the image to the local Brechin newspaper and asking their readers if anyone can positively identify him. Similarly, the local Brechin library might have images of him on file.

Osmund Bullock,

Well done, Kieran, I think you've cracked it. See

I feel rather stupid. I saw that image of Tosh weeks ago when I first looked at the thread, but inexplicably dismissed him - I can only think because I thought I was looking for a sculptor, not a sundial maker. That'll teach me to dig a bit deeper.

Kieran Owens,

It is a satisfying feeling to have helped put a name to a face. Attached is a composite of the two images. There can be little doubt that the sitter in both is James Tosh. Where does the portrait hang at the moment?

It is also most rewarding to discover an artist such as David Waterson, and to appreciate his wonderful works of art.


This is compelling evidence that the painting is of the sundial-maker James Tosh and it will now be possible to update our records and give title to the sitter rather than that of an unknown man.
The painting is not at present on display (Jan 2018) but given its quality and condition it is very likely feature as part of any exhibit in future.
Thanks are due to the diligent efforts through this site to give a name to the sitter in this painting.

Kieran Owens,

It is a delightful feeling to have been of help in identifying this portrait's sitter and to learn that the painting has now earned a higher place in its present custodians' appreciation. It deserves this, as it is a very fine work or art.

Osmund Bullock,

I have one niggling concern about this identification. As well as the frame being pretty new - probably not long before its purchase by the collection in 2001 - the two views of the rear in the introduction above ( & ) suggest that the stretcher and indeed the visible canvas stapled to it are also recent.

At first, looking at the multiple horizontal creases in the canvas both back and front ( ), I wondered if it had been stored rolled up, and only put on a stretcher at the time of the 1955 exhibition. But could that canvas really date from c1895-1915? And besides, I'm not at all sure that the stretcher we see isn't even newer than 1955. I'm no expert, though. I wonder if Simon Gillespie sees this, could he give us a professional opinion?

Now it may be that the canvas has been (re)lined, and it is the lining canvas on a new stretcher that we see at the back. But if it is lined, why do the horizontal creases correspond so exactly on both sides? If the Collection has access to the painting, and can look under the frame, could they check to see if there has been a relining...and perhaps even get us a digital snap of what is beneath (including the tacked edge, if that is there)?

Another possibility is that the portrait is posthumous, and that Waterson painted it from memory and/or sketches long after Tosh's death in 1919. It is frustrating that neither of the 1950s newspaper reports describes the painting in any detail.

Kieran Owens,

Perhaps Angus District Museums fine art department could examine their records for the purchase of this work (Acc. no - B.2001.7) and see if there was any subsequent monies spent on having it re-stretched, re-lined and/or re-framed. If there was not, and should it now be as it was when purchased, there might also be a reference in that record showing from whom the painting came. 2001 is not that long ago, and perhaps the seller could be contacted and asked whether or not he or she was responsible for the new frame and stretcher and whether or not they would have a photograph of it prior to any work being done on it.

I am doubtful if the pencil drawing is of James Tosh - the shape of the nose, particularly in comparison with the profile photo - and the degree of baldness seem too different.

Regarding the evidently new frame and canvas, it looks to me like a very cheap relining job, perhaps by the framer.

Simon Gillespie,

I haven’t read all.
The canvas is unlined. It has been rolled and this has left creases in the back and cracked paint on the front. It looks recent , poss 2001 ,when acquired ? It looks in nice condition otherwise.
The sitter must be a sculptor with one of his prestigious pieces in the background. The sculpture looks a little like Gladstone. Could that be an avenue?

Simon Gillespie,

Sorry Osmund I deleted your email. I hope this works as an answer?

Osmund Bullock,

No reply was expected, Simon, but yes it does, thank you! Your view unfortunately rather coincides with my suspicions. We think we know who the sitter is...but as he died in 1919 (and the artist in 1954), the apparent newness of the support is clearly problematic.

A close examination of the canvas & stretcher is certainly needed to confirm that it is not lined. I sincerely hope that for once Simon is wrong - he is of course is only going by some pretty low-res images - but those coinciding cracks and creases seem to suggest otherwise.

The time has come to thank everyone and Kieron Owens most particularly for raising the question of the identity of the sitter in the first place.

I understand the Angus Council Collection are now happy to identify the sitter as James Tosh (d.1919), builder and sculptor of Brechin, noted in his day for an important type of garden sculpture - sundials.

Appearing as he does in his duster coat with a bust and an allusion to a container of tools such as spatulas and files, the portrait sets Tosh up as a sculptor with the status attached (this is the era of Pittendrigh MacGillivray's dominance of the Edinburgh School of Art, after all).

While the bust would be difficult to identify, unless the actual bust were to surface with a provenance (and possibly a location to the Brechin area), it appears with its sharp-edged profile and base to be of an earlier date, a work possibly of the sculptor's youth, of which he was clearly proud.

The painting has clearly been re-lined, by the unadvisable hot-bed method, and reframed very recently in a standard commercial moulding; I would suggest since entering the collection.

I am inclined to disagree with Andrew Greg about the drawing by Waterson also in the Angusalive collection, and included on the David Watterson site: one, bearded, old man looks much like another, and they all look like Moses. I would be happy to accept that these are one and the same person, possibly drawn at different times - the drawing is dated 1895 on the Waterson website. The drawing and the painting by the same artist and in the same collection is surely not coincidental. I am not so sure about the third profile portrait on the right of Osmund Bullock's composite image. This has a romantic, almost cinematic air to it: handsome patriarch staring up the Glen. There are no credits or location given for it.

This enquiry flags up the importance of keeping proper records that aid and abet subsequent research. Yet one of the joys of this sort of detective work is that it also throws up all sorts of things related and tangential. The David Waterson site for example, now there's an exhibition waiting to happen, clearly local to Brechin, and with evident stylistic links to the Glasgow Boys.

Thank you all.