Portraits: British 19th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects, Sculpture 15 Who is this unknown lady who sat for William Brodie?

Topic: Subject or sitter

In 1881, the year this bust was made and the year Brodie died, he showed a single work at the Royal Academy, a marble bust of a Mrs Asher (see below):


This is purely speculative, but she might conceivably be the wife of Alexander Asher of Edinburgh, who became Queen's Counsel and MP in 1881. He married, in 1870, Caroline Julia Gregan Craufurd, who died in 1922.

Jacinto Regalado, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Helen Scott, Curator, 3/12/20
'This is really interesting, but I'm afraid I'm not able to shed much light on it. The sculpture was catalogued as 'Unknown Lady, Possibly Lady Usher (d.1902)' in the late 1970s, when the whole collection was inventoried for a printed catalogue publication project, and this title has continued in our records ever since. I'm afraid I don't know what the basis of this title was in the 1970s - whether the bust was given the title at that point, or whether it had been known by this title for many years beforehand.

I wondered if perhaps the name had anything to do with Andrew Usher (1826-1898), who was a whisky distiller and philanthropist in Edinburgh. He funded the building of the Usher Hall, a concert hall in the city, and we have several busts of him in the collection (though none by William Brodie). However, I haven't been able to work out a relationship to the bust, even with the date 1902. I don't think the family had a peerage ... I'll check our William Brodie files to see if there's anything there. I'll let you know when I've looked.'

Jacinto Regalado,

The Andrew Usher mentioned above never received a title from the Crown from what I could find, so his wife would not have been Lady Usher.

Jacinto Regalado,

Andrew's Lady Usher was born in 1831, so she would have been 50 in 1881 when the bust was made, which looks younger than 50 to me--but there's always artistic flattery.

Kieran Owens,

In June 1881, Brodie also submitted, to the Fine Art Exhibition in Aberdeen, busts of Baroness Burdett-Coutts (then 67 years old) and of Ellen Terry (then 34 years old).

Osmund Bullock,

Well, it's certainly not Terry or Burdett-Coutts. The similarity of 'Usher' to 'Asher' could just be coincidence; but with the extra link of a shared date I suspect that's the right track to be on. Unfortunately, the 1881 RA catalogue entry tells us nothing more.

Jacinto Regalado,

It appears from the accession number that the bust was given to the collection in 1966 by Miss I. L. Rodgers. Does the collection have more information on the donor?

Jacinto Regalado,

A few items which may or may not be relevant:

Sir John Usher (who became a baronet in 1899) was the brother of the Andrew Usher mentioned by the collection. Obviously, his wife was not Lady Usher in 1881. An image of her is below:


Andrew Usher married twice. His first wife died in 1876 at 50. His second wife, whom he married in 1879, was Marion Blackwood Murray (1847-1925), was 34 in 1881.

Jacinto, I will establish with the Collection if they know anything more about Miss I.L. Rodgers. I will also enquire about any Collection conventions on recording titles. At the National Portrait Gallery the convention was to record an authority name with their final title, even if they were not titled as such at the time of the portrait. David

The Collection says that they are afraid that there's no more information about this donor. They also said they don't have an official policy of recording the final title of a sitter, but have seen other examples of this in the collection, so it's possible that the title 'Lady' could have been applied to the sculpture at a later date, even though she was not 'Lady' at the time of sitting/execution.

Jacinto Regalado,

The leading candidates so far, in no special order:

Caroline Julia Gregan Craufurd, who became Mrs. Alexander Asher in 1870, was the eldest child of her parents, who married in 1836. That Means she could have been no older than 34 when she married and no older than 45 in 1881 when the bust was made.

Mary Anne Balmer, who became Mrs. John Usher in 1853 and Lady Usher in 1899, was 50 in 1881.

Marion Blackwood Murray, who became Mrs. Andrew Usher in 1879, was 34 in 1881.

Jacinto Regalado,

Does the collection know where the Lady Usher idea came from, or more to the point, the basis for it?


Sorry I missed your comment months ago. The Collection don't know when and why but mention the context in the first paragraph of their comment from 3 December 2020, relayed by me on 8 December 2020.


Jacinto Regalado,

For what it's worth, Brodie never showed a bust of any Usher at the Royal Academy. On balance, I favor this being the Mrs Asher he showed in 1881, possibly the wife of Alexander Asher, MP of Edinburgh, Caroline Julia Gregan Craufurd (who was at most 45 in 1881).

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