Portraits: British 19th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects, Sculpture 75 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).

Jacob Simon,

In this discussion, "Who is this unknown lady who sat for William Brodie?", certain ideas have been mooted but it has been difficult to find the evidence to establish the identity of the woman. I propose to recommend closure in a week's time unless further information is forthcoming.

Jacinto Regalado,

It is up to the collection, but it may wish to consider titling this bust "Portrait of a Lady (possibly Mrs. Asher)."

Marcie Doran,

While this does not solve the question, I suspect that the donor Miss I. L. Rodgers was Isabella Lidgate Rodgers born in Leith (South), Edinburgh, Scotland in 1892. She was the daughter of William D. Rodgers and Grace Rodgers née Lidgate. She died in 1988.

Jacinto Regalado,

I suppose it could conceivably be a bust of Grace Rodgers, then, but what was the position of the family?

Jacob Simon,

Marcie's idea as to the donor of the bust as Isabella Lidgate Rodgers is valuable. Do we have a list of works exhibited or made by Brodie? We could the check for Isabella's mother, Grace Rodgers, and for Isabella's grandmothers if we can establish their names.

Jacob Simon,

Very helpful, David, thanks.

The Mapping Sculpture link indicates three 1881 sculptures. Miss Young of Kelly, Mrs Hutchinson (circa 1881) but also ‘a daughter of the artist’. Brodie’s daughter Mary was born in 1842, married architect Sir James Gowans. Not Usher nor Asher but worth considering, or at least eliminating from our enquiries?

Jacob Simon,

The key is the donor of the bust, likely to be Isabella Lidgate Rodgers. Is she decended from, or related to, one of Brodie's subjects, whether exhibited or not?

Jacob Simon,

It should be added that the donor of the bust to Edinburgh in 1966 would appear not to have known its subject. I'd have thought that she would have revealed the name of the sitter had it been her mother or grandmother. So someone less important to her or unknown to her?

I have made the Collection aware of the full name of the donor as suggested by Marcie and the Mapping the Sculpture links to see if they help in any way.

The Collection have replied and can't really add anything at the moment, but feel the suggestion regarding the donor's identity sounds pretty likely, and do wonder if the Usher or Asher might be a red herring and the sitter might indeed be one of the three women identified on the Mapping Sculpture website.

Jacob Simon,

I recommend, subject to the collection and other group leaders, that we close this discussion, "Who is this unknown lady who sat for William Brodie?", on the basis that we are unable to identify the lady, despite valuable ideas being put forward. The collection should consider changing the title to just "Unknown Lady".

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry to interrupt the closure process, but having dug into Isabella Lidgate Rodgers’s roots six months ago I might as well share the results. She’s certainly suitable as far as name and (Edinburgh) geography is concerned, and there are no other obvious candidates. But her family background doesn’t support a connection.

Isabella’s father was William David Rodgers (1860-1951), the son of a clerk. At the time of his marriage in Nov 1886 he was a grocer’s assistant living in Grindlay St, a run-down part of the Old Town of Edinburgh; electoral registers show him continuing as a ‘shopman’ in the 1890s, then in around 1900 he becomes a warehouseman in a biscuit factory. This was still his employment in the 1911 Census, when his eldest two sons (aged 21 & 15) were a wholesale golf salesman and an apprentice tailor. The family of five were by then living in a three-room flat in a subdivided town house a bit further out. Isabella, meanwhile, was in service as a 19 year-old ‘general servant’ to two spinster sisters - milk vendors also living in Grindlay St, in a town house again split into many small apartments.

Her mother’s origins are no more promising: Grace Miller Lidgate (1863-1948) was the fourth child of seven of an Edinburgh housepainter (definitely that, not an artist), and there’s nothing in the records to suggest their roots were anything but working / lower middle-class either.

Osmund Bullock,

There’s no sign either that Isabella’s fortunes improved later. Scotland’s 1939 Register is annoyingly (and inexplicably) not available online, and access to C20th Scottish Wills is far more restrictive than it is for England & Wales – you can’t even see the probate indexes (which in E&W give you the estate’s value until the 1960s), let alone order the actual Will, without personally applying in Edinburgh. But we can see from the same electoral registers that by 1925 she had moved back in with her parents and two brothers. Thereafter she stayed with her parents, and (after her mother’s death) with her father, in a cottage on the busy main road running through the Edinburgh suburb of Slateford. After his death she remained for a couple of years with two male (?)lodgers, then moved with the same men to a pleasant little terraced house round the corner where she still was in her last traceable year, 1966. Other (?)lodgers had passed through in the 50s and early 60s, but by ’66 she was on her own. I suppose she may have come into money somehow after the 1950s, but there’s no way of knowing.

Osmund Bullock,

She may nevertheless still have been the donor. She could have developed an interest in antiques, which even allowing for inflation were far cheaper in the 1930s-50s, especially at the “junkier” end of the market – and so out of fashion were marble busts in those days that such a one might easily have been picked up in a junk shop for no more than 10 or 15 shillings (50-75p). And if you think I’m exaggerating, I have a (signed & inscribed) Richard Dighton portrait watercolour that I bought at auction a few years ago for £100 or so – on the back of the rather nice mahogany frame a previous owner has recorded that in Nov 1951 he paid a shilling (5p) for it in a Hammersmith shop!

So I must agree that even if Isabella once owned this bust, she is unlikely even to have known the sitter’s identity, let alone to have been connected to her.

Jacinto Regalado,

Thank you, Osmund, for narrowing down the field by excluding the presumed donor's family from consideration. That leaves the four female busts dated 1881 or thereabouts: Mrs Asher, Mrs Hutchison, Miss Young of Kelly and the artist's daughter. Brodie had a daughter (Harriet) who died in childhood and another daughter, Mary, who married the architect James Gowans c. 1860 and died in 1911 (in 1881 she was and should have been listed as Mrs Gowans). I do not know if Brodie had some other daughter(s).

Jacob Simon,

I repeat my recommendation from 22 July, "I recommend, subject to the collection and other group leaders, that we close this discussion, "Who is this unknown lady who sat for William Brodie?", on the basis that we are unable to identify the lady, despite valuable ideas being put forward. The collection should consider changing the title to just "Unknown Lady"."

Jacinto Regalado,

Can anyone find anything in the BNA database regarding the identity of the Mrs. Asher whose bust by Brodie was shown at the RA in 1881?

In any case, the phonetic and written similarity between Asher and Usher remains provocative.

Marcie Doran,

My searches of the BNA haven’t been productive, Jacinto.

An (unhelpful) article in 'The Scotsman' of Sunday, June 5, 1881, mentions the bust of Mrs. Asher that Brodie exhibited at the RA in 1881.

Perhaps the bust that we are discussing was not exhibited.

I have attached some information about Brodie's bust of Thomas Knox (10 June 1818– 4 December 1879). I am assuming that it is the work at this link on Art UK.

There is a long article about Thomas Knox in 'The Scotsman' of Friday, December 5, 1879.

Here is a link to his grave in Edinburgh.

Perhaps his dates could be added to the bust on Art UK.

Jacinto Regalado,

Yes, Marcie, the entry for the Knox bust should incorporate his dates.

As for our bust, it would appear that David Saywell forwarded Jacob Simon's prior recommendation to the collection over a year ago, to which presumably there was no reply. I personally would suggest a title of "Portrait of a Lady," which implies she is unknown.

If the collection wishes, a note could be added to the Art UK entry mentioning the names of the four leading candidates for the sitter. In any case, I suppose the collection needs to be contacted again so that this may subsequently close, as further progress is unlikely.

Marcie Doran,

I would add to the list the wife of Professor Thomas Croxen Archer (1817–1885), Director of the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art. Mrs. Mary Eleanor Archer (née Salmon) (bap. 1819) passed away on March 17, 1879. The name in the attached article might possibly be the correct name – Archer not Asher or Usher.

Jacinto Regalado,

Marcie, Mrs. Archer died two years before the bust was made, and she was 60 in 1879. Our bust is of a younger woman.

Marcie Doran,

Yes, that makes sense, Jacinto.


In 1881, Brodie produced the marble bust of a young girl shown at this link.



How could Brodie’s bust of a man born who was supposedly born in 1905 be dated 1888?


Alexander Miller's dates are 1793–1866.

Jacinto Regalado,

Marcie, the dates for Miller are clearly wrong and need to be changed on Art UK to the dates you found; his bust is clearly Victorian. But, an 1888 cannot be by Brodie, so that date must also be wrong. The bust is said to be signed, but it is not clear if it is dated. The collection needs to be asked for clarification.

The 1881 Christie's bust of the young girl is very interesting. I expect it is either Miss Young of Kelly or one of Brodie's daughters. Can you find out what daughters Brodie had and their dates?

Jacinto Regalado,

I meant an 1888 bust cannot be by Brodie, obviously.

Jacinto Regalado,

Thanks, Marcie. Based on dates, the Christie's bust appears too young to be one of Brodie's daughters, so I expect it is probably his Miss Young of Kelly, which would exclude her from being our sitter. That would then narrow our list of candidates to Mrs Asher, Mrs Hutchison, and one of Brodie's daughters (Mary, Helen or Jessie Ann).

Jacinto Regalado,

If this is Brodie's daughter, it is most probably the eldest, Mary, born in 1842 (who was Mrs James Gowans in 1881). In any case, our sitter looks like a married woman

Marcie Doran,

I have been reviewing Brodie family wills on the ScotlandsPeople website. https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

In his will from 1870, William Brodie bequeathed his portrait by John Phillip to the "Royal Scottish Academy, to be placed in the National Gallery Edinburgh" after the death of his wife. He did not mention any other works of art.

The will of William Brodie's wife Helen Brodie (née Chisholm) from 1886 mentions many items, including specific paintings, but no busts or statuettes.

The wills of their children (except Harriet) are as follows:

- The one-sentence will of daughter Mary Gowans (née Brodie) from 1909 did not mention any works of art.

- Their daughter Helen Brodie passed away intestate.

- The will of their son James Buchanan Brodie from 1915 does not mention any works of art. Most of his estate was bequeathed to his sister Jessie Anne Brodie.

- The will of Jessie Anne Brodie from 1916 includes many items, including paintings of her father by Herdman and her mother by John Phillip and also of herself by Barclay. I think that if she had owned a bust, it would have been mentioned in her will.

Here are the references:

1881 Brodie, William (Wills and testaments Reference SC70/4/192, Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills) Image 59 Last image 73

1886 Brodie, Helen (Wills and testaments Reference SC70/4/220, Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills) Image 435 Last image 437

1911 Gowans, Mary (Wills and testaments Reference SC70/4/429, Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills) Image 120 Last image 123

1916 Brodie, James Buchanan (Wills and testaments Reference SC70/4/483, Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills) Image 337 Last image 338


Perhaps the "acquisition method" on the portrait of William Brodie by John Phillip could be updated since the sitter passed away in 1881. Instead of "bequeathed by the sitter, 1886" it might state "bequeathed by the sitter with caveat that it be retained by the sitter's wife until her death (1886)".



A kind woman who created a Rodgers family tree on Ancestry for a friend is going to check the will of Isabella Lidgate Rodgers for clues early in the new year.

The collection has confirmed that the title should be adjusted to 'Unknown Lady', removing the reference to Lady Usher and that it would be helpful to have a list of potential identities for the sitter on the artwork page.

The title has been updated, but we can leave this open for Jacinto and Marcie's continuing research on the Brodie family, if they're happy to continue (Marcie mentions waiting for further information in the New Year).

Thank you, Marcie, for the following:-
-Thomas Knox's dates (updated)
-Alexander Miller's dates (updated). I'll ask Highland Council if they could possibly photograph any inscriptions.
-The suggested update to the acquisition method for John Phillip's portrait of William Brodie (RSA) (amended as suggested to clarify the 1886 date)

Jacinto Regalado,

In 1880, Brodie showed a bust at the RSA titled "A Daughter of the Artist." In 1881, also at the RSA, he showed a bust of the same title. If it was the same bust, then it cannot be ours because it was made before 1881. The bust of Mrs. Hutchison is only listed by the Mapping Sculpture database as c. 1881, so it might be earlier (it was shown at the RSA in 1916, obviously long after it was made). The Miss Young of Kelly may well be the 1881 bust of a young girl sold by Christie's and found by Marcie. Thus, the bust of Mrs. Asher shown at the RA in 1881 would appear to be strongest candidate, especially given the similarity of the surname to Usher.

I assume from the Art UK entry that our bust is actually dated 1881. Can the collection confirm that?

Marcie Doran,

"Miss Young of Kelly" would have been one of the daughters of James Young of Kelly (1811-1883), the distinguished chemist.


Mary Ann Young married James Walker on June 13, 1871. Annette Young was married to James Aitken on July 6, 1880. Eliza Young married Robert Wilson Thom on December 17, 1879. Agnes Young might not have married. She was living with her father in 1881.

I used some information from the “Young family tree” on Ancestry.

Marcie Doran,

Here is the 1881 Census record showing Agnes Young. I have also attached an extract that shows that, very likely, one of the daughters of Dr. James Young of Kelly ('Miss Young of Kelly") was a bridesmaid at the wedding of Dr. Livingstone’s daughter Agnes.

My guess is that "Mrs. Hutchison" was the wife of the sculptor John Hutchison (1832–1910). Here is a link to the FindaGrave website that shows the grave of Margaret Hutchison (née Ballantine)(1839–1875).


Marcie Doran,

As shown on page 44 of this RSA catalogue that was published in 1917, Brodie's bust "Mrs. Hutchison" at the RSA was "lent by Mrs. Melville, Edinburgh".


An obituary from 1910 of the sculptor John Hutchison indicates that he was survived by a daughter who was married to Andrew P[Paterson] Melville (1867–1938). Her name was Henrietta Melville (née Hutchison)(10 Sept. 1871–3 April 1933). Andrew's will is sealed. Henrietta's will would likely mention the bust of her mother.

Note the works on that page of the catalogue that were related to the Young family of Kelly.

Jacinto Regalado,

If Brodie's Mrs. Hutchison died in 1875 at about age 35, she is quite unlikely to be our sitter, assuming our bust is dated 1881.

Jacinto Regalado,

Agnes Young was 28 in 1881, which may be too old for the Christie's bust of a young girl linked above, assuming she is indeed the Miss Young of Kelly Brodie sculpted. She may, however, be too young for our bust.

Marcie Doran,

Here is some good news. I have just downloaded the will of the "Mrs. Asher" who sat for William Brodie. The terms and conditions of the ScotlandsPeople website prevent me from posting any images of wills.

1922 Asher, Caroline Julia (Wills and testaments Reference SC70/4/563, Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills) Image 24 Last image 35

The will includes a lengthy "List of Articles belonging to Mrs Caroline Julia Craufurd or Asher referred to in her Trust Disposition and Settlement dated 23rd April 1920".

Page 24 of the will reads, in part:
"To Augustus Gordon Grant Asher:- White marble bust of self and black pedestal - was exhibited/

Page 25 of the will reads, in part:
"exhibited in London Academy - by Brodie, Edinburgh"
Sir Augustus Gordon Grant Asher passed away on July 15, 1930, and his probate entry from 1931 indicates that his will is sealed.

Is there any way to determine if the pedestal belongs to this bust?

Jacinto Regalado,

Pedestal may refer to a socle but might also refer to a plinth on which the socle rested.

Jacinto Regalado,

There are side and back views of the bust on Art UK. The bust is indeed signed and dated. I expect the socle is probably the original one, though I cannot be certain of that, but I would think a black socle would be rather less likely than a white marble one for purely visual reasons. A plinth, however, could certainly be a contrasting colour.

Jacinto Regalado,

And yes, Marcie, it is good to know that "Mrs. Asher" was indeed Caroline Julia Craufurd, as I initially suspected. Do you know when she was born?

Marcie Doran,

She states in her will: “I was born Jan. 15th 1845 in Worcestershire.”

Jacinto Regalado,

That would make her about 36 in 1881. The sitter could still be one of Brodie's daughters if the bust of a daughter shown in 1881 was not the same one of a daughter shown in 1880. Mrs. Hutchison is less likely if she was indeed the wife of sculptor John Hutchison who died in 1875. Miss Young of Kelly also seems less likely if she was indeed the Agnes Young of Kelly who was reportedly 26 in the 1881 census.

Marcie Doran,

Here are my attempts to trace the bust owned by Mrs. Caroline Julia Asher (née Craufurd).

Mrs. Asher bequeathed the bust to Sir Augustus Gordon Grant Asher, who passed away in 1930. His wife, Lady Emme Berry Asher (née Barclay), passed away in 1942. Arthur W. Russell was the informant on her record of death. I haven't been able to locate her probate record.

Lady Emme Berry Asher and her husband likely had two children. Their son Ronald Stuart Asher (b. 1897), passed away at Vitry-en-Artois, France, in 1917. His documents are sealed but the probate record is from 1951 and the confirmation was provided by his sister Evelyn Maud Asher. Evelyn Maud Asher (birth registered in Scotland in 1901), might have passed away in Wellington, New Zealand, in Q2 1954 – I haven't discovered a more likely record. I'm not planning on ordering that death certificate.

Jacinto Regalado,

This is obviously speculative, but if Evelyn Asher inherited the bust of her grandmother and moved to New Zealand, it is conceivable she sold it before leaving the UK, especially if she had no children.

Marcie Doran,

The will (dated June 18, 1953) and probate records of Evelyn Maud Asher are available to view online on the website of Archives New Zealand. She passed away, unmarried, at Upper Hutt (Wellington) on March 27, 1954.

She made bequests to her goddaughter Gillian Barbara Cable, her friend Barbara Cable and her friend Jean Martin and left the residue of her estate to her friend Clarice Mary Whitby (the mother of Barbara Cable and Jean Martin). Her estate was valued in 1954 at £NZ 8,600.


Marcie Doran,

On June 3, 1884, Agnes Young married James Edward Stoddart (b. October 13, 1850, d. September 13, 1920).

When Agnes passed away on October 4, 1931, her estate would have been bequeathed to their daughter Agnes Young Stoddart (b. April 5, 1885). Agnes passed away in Edinburgh on March 2, 1966, and the probate of her estate was granted on June 2, 1966. Unfortunately, these wills are sealed.

If this bust entered the Collection after June 2, 1966, it could be the bust 'Miss Young of Kelly'.

Jacinto Regalado,

I tend to doubt Agnes Young, who was 28 and unmarried in 1881, would have looked as matronly as our sitter.

Marcie Doran,

Here is an image of William Brodie from 1845 when he was a young man.


I had not realized that William Brodie’s eldest daughter Mary Brodie (later Dame Mary Gowans) (6 April 1842–21 July 1911) was a sculptor who exhibited at the RSA.

Marcie Doran,

Just for the record, here is a brief description of Brodie's (723) 'A Daughter of the Artist' at the RSA in 1881.


While I agree that the bust shows a "matronly" woman, I thought that the following information might be useful in some way.

The kind owner of a Thom family tree told me that Dr. James Young willed his mansion 'Limefield' (in West Calder, near Edinburgh) to his daughter Mary Ann Walker (née Young) and that she in turn willed it to her niece Alice Muriel Thom (13 Nov. 1881–23 Aug.1966). I double-checked Mary Ann's will and that information is correct – the bequest included all the furniture, etc. Her relative told me that his older brother recalls seeing busts at that house.

If the bust was "presented" after December 8, 1966, there is always the possibility that the sitter of the bust was a member of the Young family and Miss Thom was acquainted with Miss I.L. Rodgers before she moved to Glasgow. On what day was the bust donated?

Here is the ScotlandsPeople reference:

1920 Walker, Mary Ann (Wills and testaments Reference SC70/4/543, Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills) Image 355 Last image 361


Alice Muriel Thom donated a painting to Glasgow Museums during her lifetime. Here is a link to works of art that were donated by Alice and her family.

Jacinto Regalado,

"A charming expression gives life to a nice face," said of the bust of Brodie's daughter shown in 1881, may or may not apply to our bust, depending on the speaker, but I would not have described it thus. Its expression is more impassive or classical than "charming" to my eye.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

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