Dress and Textiles, North East England: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 20th C 42 Who is this member of the Robinson family? Who is the artist?

Topic: Subject or sitter

The motto 'Virtute non Verbis' and crest are those of the Robinson family (see for example https://bit.ly/37Qq0oQ), and the identity of the sitter as a member of that family is supported by the monogram 'AR' below the crest. Presumably the portrait was donated because of a connection between the sitter and the hospital.

More research might identify which local Robinson family had historic connections with hospitals in the area and who painted him.

Andrew Greg, British 19th C, except portraits, Entry reviewed by Art UK


The collection’s forthcoming local history project, ‘The History of Healthcare in North Tyneside’, will share this portrait with a sizeable local audience on FaceBook to try to find out more about the sitter.

Osmund Bullock,

I wonder if we could see the highest-res version easily available of the top right and bottom left corners of the canvas? The size of the Art UK image is even smaller than usual; but when brightness & contrast are played with, I believe (or at least imagine) I can see potentially interesting marks in both areas, and one or other might just possibly be an inscription. I would certainly expect to see a signature on a portrait of this date and quality.

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Osmund Bullock,

And since the painting was only donated in 1998, presumably the Collection must have some further information about it, if only the donor's name. It seems most surprising to me that the sitter is unknown - I mean, surely they wouldn't have accepted the gift unless there was a known connection with the hospital?

Jacinto Regalado,

Or unless the donor was someone the hospital did not wish to refuse.

Jacinto Regalado,

It has something of a de Laszlo feel, though I don't think it is by him--it lacks his self-conscious painterliness. Of course, there were a number of people working in that general vein.

Louis Musgrove,

Is it my imagination-or dirt on the camera lens?- but is this chap wearing Pearl Earings ??????

Jacinto Regalado,

No, Louis, it is a spot or a blemish which needs conservation.

Osmund Bullock,

A pity that the Twitter discussion doesn't mention Art Detective, but perhaps the original query (https://bit.ly/2FIpoWp) originated elsewhere.

The identification looks good, though I don't think Alfred Robinson, JP (1874-1931), was an alderman - but he was a Tynemouth Town Councillor, from 1921 until his sudden death. Attached is one of several newspaper obits and tributes - as you can see he was indeed much involved with the main local hospital, the Tynemouth Victoria Jubilee Infirmary (one of North Tyneside General Hospital's predecessors).

Jacinto Regalado,

Art UK is mentioned, Osmund, albeit as an implicitly concurrent investigator, rather than the originator of the query. For what it may be worth, I submitted the following proposal to Art Detective nearly seven months ago:

In red at upper left is a heraldic stag and the motto "Virtute non verbis," above the initials AR. Presumably this refers to the sitter. That motto and a stag are apparently associated with a family named Robinson, which matches the initials. Further discussion on Art UK may identify the sitter.

Jacinto Regalado,

The picture should be Edwardian or certainly pre-War. Local sources should be able to determine a more or less exact date, so the question for us is who painted it. As already spotted by Osmund, there may well be a signature at upper right.

Osmund Bullock,

Perhaps I missed it, but I couldn't see any mention of us until I added a tweet about AD at about 18.30, then two hours later someone else added another one referring to Art UK.

Yes, certainly Edwardian or very late Victorian. Robinson was born in March 1874, so he was nearly 27 when Victoria died, and 36 when Edward VII went. His age looks to be around 30, give or take, and c.1900-5 would suit both that and the top-buttoned jacket and high imperial collar styles. It does not seem to have been exhibited at the RA, but that's not surprising given the sitter's aversion to being a public figure.

(I fear for the future of the cigarette in the portrait. 4 of the last 20 tweets by its owners, @NorthumbriaNHS, are anti-smoking messages - perhaps the fag will get edited out, rather as Brunel's cheroot and Churchill's cigar sometimes are. Or of course, since Robinson died suddenly at the age of 57, they might take the opposite tack...)

Osmund Bullock,

Attached is a rare (and v poor quality) press photo of him - the publication was in 1924, but it could be an earlier photo (though he has lost a lot of hair). He's still wearing an imperial collar, however, so I think I might extend the possible date range of our portrait to c.1900-10.

Andrew Chamberlain,

Alfred Robinson was manager of the Stag Line shipping company, curiously the newspaper does not mention that the company went into voluntary liquidation in 1918.

The stag in the family crest and in the company name were presumably related. Perhaps the portrait was originally in the shipping company's boardroom?

E Jones,

The Stag Shipping Line Company was founded by Capt. James Robinson and his brothers John and Thomas in 1817. Alfred was James’ Great grandson.

The Robinsons were a large family but the immediate line of succession with regards to Alfred was:
Capt. James Robinson
Joseph Robinson
Joseph Robinson Jr
Alfred Robinson

The stag device was adopted for use by the company in 1846.
It was placed on the funnels of all of their new ships. Their offices were in the Maritime Chambers of North Shields; 1 Howard Street, North Shields.
The building is currently being used as the Registry Office of North Shields.
The red stag can be seen on the gable end of the building.

Although the company did lose seven ships during world war one, they continued trading until 1981 when they were taken over by Hunting Gibson PLC. Although difficult to tell when the last Robinson left the Company.

Royal Museums Greenwich have the house flag and an example of a cap badge.

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E Jones,

Sorry small typing error...
The Company, one generation back, based in Whitby was founded in 1817. The Stag Shipping Line under discussion here was started in 1846 by Joseph Robinson, the same year as they started using the stag as the Company logo.

Thanks for mentioning the house-flag and badge at Greenwich: that there is a shipping connection here is news to me and I didn't know about them (hardly surprising: NMM/RMG has a lot ). It will be useful to note this portrait's existence in relation to them.

With reference to the Twitter discussion I think there has been confusion between our Councillor Alfred Robinson, without a middle name, who was a JP but not an alderman (born Tynemouth in 1874, the year marked on his grave) and Alfred James Robinson who was both a JP and an alderman (born Newcastle upon Tyne in 1873). The latter was presumably the 'Ald. Alfred J. Robinson, J.P.' listed as a Vice-President of the Northumberland Orchestral Society for the season 1921-22:


As to authorship, perhaps Hubert von Herkomer? He was a prolific portraitist, whose sitters included, inter alia, many civic and legal dignitaries, and captains of industry (our man fits all three categories). Herkomer often made striking use of hands (and starched cuffs), as in our painting:



Martin Hopkinson,

It might be worth looking through the exhibition catalogues of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters

Martin Hopkinson,

An alternative suggestion - Harold Speed - early second decade of the last century

Martin Hopkinson,

Speed's memorial exhibition was as late as 1959 at the RWS. Martyn Gregory staged Modern British Painters 1875-1945:Herbert Speed and his contemporaries in 1988

Jacinto Regalado,

The problem is there were still quite a few good portrait painters at the time, unlike the subsequent situation, whereby even royal personages have been rather poorly served by the available lot, and sometimes frankly ill-served.

Osmund Bullock,

I'm sure Richard is right about the confusion between the two Alfred Robinsons. There is a very full history of the Stag Shipping Line in the last post on this page of a discussion on the company: https://bit.ly/2Ro4lhp. It includes an explanation of the voluntary liquidation and reformation of the company in 1918. There is also an implication that the shipping Robinsons had no 'official' right to bear the stag trippant crest adopted by them in 1846 for a ship, and later for their shipping company and themselves. This is probably correct - it belonged to a family of the same name in North Yorkshire (from where the firm's C18th founder hailed), but there is no evidence they were related.

Osmund Bullock,

I have been very stupid. The Stag Line/Robinson thing has been nagging at me for the last two days, and I've just remembered why. Ten years ago or so, when I briefly flirted with art dealing (before realizing that while I loved the art, I didn't enjoy doing the deals), I bought a rather nice portrait of one Constance Alice Goodes (1878-1955), daughter of a well-to-do Walthamstow cigar merchant. This I sold to a descendant of one of her four sons, and whose name is Robinson...for on 25 April 1903 Constance Goodes married our sitter Alfred Robinson of North Shields!

Constance Goodes' portrait was an early one (1903) by Frank Samuel Eastman (1878-1964), and was exhibited at the RA the same year. See https://bit.ly/35MUHK7 for his work on Art UK. Hers is clearly an engagement portrait - her ring is prominently displayed - and the reason the then unknown Eastman was chosen is that he was Constance's first cousin (his mother and her father were siblings). Our portrait sits pretty well with hers* - see the attached composite - and at 91.5 x 71.5cm for Constance they are essentially the same size. Although Eastman was a London-based artist, this and the family connection suggest that Alfred's portrait may well be by him too. The signature on her portrait is bottom left, but several of those on other early portraits by him are found top right. Moreover I believe I can see a resemblance to the shape of what I hope is the (top right) signature on ours - see attached comparison. A higher-res image should clear the matter up, one way or the other.

[*Apologies for the poor image of hers]

Osmund Bullock,

In 1917 Eastman also painted a memorial portrait, based on a photo, of her brother Capt George Leonard Goodes (MC & bar), who had been killed in action the previous October. See https://bit.ly/35N5nIP. [The Great War Forum members crack his identity on page 3 of the discussion - they are extremely knowledgeable about detailed WWI military matters, something worth remembering should we ever need help in that area.]

Andrew Shore 01,

Here's a higher resolution version of the signature. It looks exactly like Frank Eastman to me, so well done Osmund for spotting this!

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Whaley Turco,

I agree, though the Mayor looks quite gregarious in comparison with our sitter. If you look over Eastman's other portraits everybody looks quite relaxed with their actual personalities shining through. On top of his painting talent that Appears to be Mr Eastman's other talent. He let the sitters present themselves the way they felt most comfortable. Much Like the great photographers of today.

Martin Hopkinson,

one should also look in the catalogues of The Modern Society of Portrait Painters - its first exhibition was in 1907

Osmund Bullock,

Assuming the enlarged image of the signature posted by Andrew Shore is the highest-res available to Art UK, I wonder if someone at the Collection could take a close-up digital snap of it for us? It's just possible there is a date there, slightly below and to the right of the name.

Kieran Owens,

Frank Samuel Eastman was born on the 27th April 1878, at Anerley, Surrey, the third son of Hugh Thomas Eastman (1843 - 1914) and Agnes Goodes (1845 - 1899). His father was an architect and land surveyor.

In July 1900, while a student at the Royal Academy School, Eastman won a two-year British Institution scholarship, valued at £50 per annum.

The 1901 UK census records that Eastman, aged 21, was living with his parents at 148, Croydon Road, Penge, and was described as an art student.

At the age of 27, with a profession described as "Artist" and from an address at Tedworth Studio, Smith Terrace, Chelsea, he was married to Edith Maud Mair, of 68, Primrose Mansions, also aged 27 and also described as an artist. The London Daily News, of Thursday 7th September 1905, carried the following marriage notice:

"Eastman - Mair: 2nd inst., at All Saints' Church, Battersea Park, by the Rev. P. D. Woods, assisted by the Rev. C. B. Grey Collier, Frank Samuel Eastman, third son of Hugh Eastman, Esq., of Mavisbank, The Avenue, Sydenham, to Edith Maud, eldest daughter of the late David Knox Mair, Esq., of Sutton Lodge, Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, and Mrs. T. E. Smith, of 63, Primrose Mansions, Battersea Park, S.W."

The couple's first child was Agnes Mary Eastman, who was born in London on the 24th August 1906. The 1911 UK Census shows the family of three living at 14, Edith Villas, West Kensington, both Frank and Edith being described as artists and painters.

In 1917, Perter Daniel Mair Eastman was born in London to the couple.

At the age of 40, on the 12th July 1918, Eastman signed up to the 94th and ended up in the 29th Battalion of the City of London Regiment. A photo of Eastman around this time is attached.

Between 1902 and 1947 Eastman was not an annual but was a regular contributor to the Royal Academy exhibitions, showing one of two portraits or paintings each time, several of the former having direct family connections.

https://chronicle250.com/index/exhibitors/e (search from Eastman)

Frank Samuel Eastman died at St. John's Hospital, Battersea, on the 12th October 1964. His home address was 63, Deodar, Road, Putney. His probate was granted on the 22nd December of that year, to Lloyds Bank, and his estate was valued at £12,037.

There are 38 works attributed to Frank Samuel Eastman on the ArtUK site:


Kieran Owens,

At the time of his death in October 1964, no obituary notice appeared in any of the newspapers that are available through the British Newspaper Archive.

Thanks Kieran: the Art UK tally is a bit light on the good work he clearly could do (and the Robinsons are of the better sort, perhaps because relatively early), but as many of them seem to be 'boardroom portraits' that's perhaps unsurprising. If 1947 is roughly when he stopped he was rising 70, so perhaps lack of an obit some 17 years later is also unsurprising. Apart from clarification of Alfred R's painting date this looks like 'job done'.

Jacinto Regalado,

The earlier work is better because standards were higher then, so in a sense they had to be better. All one has to do is look at the numerous mostly mediocre, if not worse, portraits of the Queen, who would obviously have access to the best people available. Times changed.

Osmund Bullock,

I've a bit more on Frank Eastman and his wife and daughter, both significant artists, which I'll post in the next day or two. And of course we're hoping to get a digital image of the signature soon - thanks, Marion - which may perhaps provide a date. So...job *almost* done, Pieter.

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