Completed Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 18th C 40 Who might be the sitter in this portrait by Mason Chamberlin the elder and another in the same Collection?

Topic: Subject or sitter

Can the identity of the sitter here and in this other painting by Mason Chamberlin the elder ( be established?

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. Neither sitter was identified, though it was established that both portraits were sold by a Miss D. Pearson at Sotheby’s in 1979. The portrait of the unknown gentleman in red (TC1984/297) has been dated 1779 and the one in green (TC1984/298), 1778/1779. Art UK has updated its record of Mason Chamberlin the elder’s birth date from 1727 to 1722.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Andrew Cormack,

I regret that I can suggest no sitter's name, but it must be an extremely late work for the artist because from the style of dress - the collar, the large buttons, the powdered hair/wig, I would have said about 1790, but the artist was dead by that date. It is certain, however, that despite the scarlet coat, he was not an officer.

Jacinto Regalado,

The paintings are not native to the house but entered it in 1984 via Francis Johnson (1911-1985). What does the collection know about them in terms of prior provenance?

Jimaa Alaa,

I think this is a portrait of Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1743–1805)

Jacinto Regalado,

At the link above, just enter Prince William Henry in either search engine slot, then click on the sitter's name when it appears.

Jacob Simon,

Chamberlin's sitters were prosperous but relatively modest in status. My memory is that he did not paint royalty and rarely the aristocracy. It is going to be hard to identify these two men.

Francis Johnson was an architect who focussed on the Georgian and the Georgian revival. He will have had a reasonably well-informed interest in his two paintings. I suspect that they had lost their identity before he acquired them.

Jimaa Alaa,

There is a portrait by Anton Von Maron of Prince William Henry, the resemblance between them is large, especially the nose, the eyes

Jacinto Regalado,

There are no royal portraits by Chamberlin in the Royal Collection.

Whaley Turco,

Great Portrait. The Sitter is obviously wealthy. No Doubt it's a Chamberlin, just look at the coat. You can feel it between your fingers. I'm intrigued by the waistcoat color. You just don't see that color in that time period very often. The sitter immediately reminded me of Sir Brooke Boothby. Wrights portrait was au natural where as this one is a more traditional look at me portrait from that period. We also have a short list of some of his more notable sitters at this link. Plus this. "and one commission from the royal family, Prince Edward and Princess Augusta" he May have received the commission. Princess Augusta was Married to Prince Frederick. He Looks nothing like Prince Frederick. Princess Augusta had a daughter named Princess Augusta, she married Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick and it doesn't look like him either. 1771 he showed a full-length painting of Prince Edward and Princess Augusta. This could either be Mother and Son or Brother and Sister. Either way I have been unable to find a copy of it online. Edward died age 28. I would put our sitter at 25 to 35. I Know I'm rambling. So Not only do we not know who this fellow is we are missing the only Royal Portrait By Mason Chamberlin. This is another example of Chamberlin painting a wealthy London Businessman. The Photo is terrible but you can tell it's Chamberlin by the coat. There is also info on the back of the Painting. Dare I ask did anyone check that. Most of the Folks who liked having their portrait done had a habit of having it done by more than one painter. So I am guessing there is another portrait by someone else of this fellow. Last but not least, a note on his face, He appears to be Scots or Irish, Narrow long face and nose bent down at the end.

Deirdre Hewgill,

Having looked at the various portraits of Prince William Henry in the Royal collection that Jacinto Regalado referred us to, I noticed that they almost all show him having very bright blue eyes whereas this sitter has rather distinctive brown eyes. I can't imagine that this is something that an artist with royal patrons would be likely to get wrong.

Jacinto Regalado,

This is not the prince in question, who had different eyes (both in color and in expression), a fuller upper lip, and looked a good deal like his brother George III, which our sitter does not.

Francis Johnson was the architect who restored the house now known as Fairfax House, in Castlegate, York, as a Georgian townhouse museum. It had been in a derelict state after serving previously in the twentieth century as a cinema and dance hall. Johnson presented the two Chamberlin portraits to Fairfax House at the time of its opening to the public as a museum in 1984.

‘More information’ tells us that the present portrait was purchased by Johnson in 1984, as does ArtUK, while the latter tells us that the related portrait by Chamberlin at Fairfax House was a gift from Johnson in 1984. Despite this apparent inconsistency, it may be surmised that both works were purchased and donated together by Johnson in 1984. Moreover, they were almost certainly the two items catalogued as by Mason Chamberlin in Sotheby’s, London, sale of 24 October 1984 (lots 242 and 243), each of which was identically described as ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’, executed in oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches/60.96 x 50.8 cm (the sizes correspond). The only difference noted was that lot 242 was signed and dated 1779 (info from the Blouin Art Sales Index). Johnson could have been the bidder at auction, or have commissioned someone to bid in his behalf, or have bought the pictures from a dealer who had successfully bid.

The two portraits now seem to be pendants, but were they intended as such? Could they depict brothers?

Tamsyn Taylor,

The two young men look like Percys, sons of the first Duke of Northumberland. . I would say that the one in red is Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland (1742–1817), and the one in green is his brother Algernon, 1st Earl of Beverley, (1750-1830). I think that in both cases the artist has been kind to the sitter, particularly in making Hugh.s nose a little smaller than in paintings of him in later years. The paintings may date from around 1766 when their father was made the 1st Duke of Northumberland. This would make Hugh 24 and Algernon 16.

Jacob Simon,

Hardly seems grand enough as a portrait to represent the 2nd Duke, soldier and M.P.

Please could the collection let us know whether there is any indication of a signature and the date 1779 on one or other of these portraits. If there is, it would at least confirm that the paintings were the lots in Sotheby's sale of 1984.

I share Jacob's doubt about the Percy brothers proposal. That the sitter in green could be only sixteen looks impossible.

Fairfax House,

Thank you everyone for your comments and suggestions.

I can confirm that these two paintings were indeed the lots in the Sotheby's sale of 1984.

As you can see from the attached images the frames of these portraits each have a plaque naming Chamberlin as the artist and dating them to 1779. I do however believe the plaques to be a much later addition.

As soon as the museum is closed for the day I will check the reverse of the portraits.

Unfortunately we have no further information on these pieces at present.

With best wishes,
Assistant Curator, Fairfax House

2 attachments
Jacinto Regalado,

Are both portraits actually dated 1779, or is it only one? If the latter, which one is dated?

I have asked the Collection if the reverse of the portraits have now been checked and photographs taken, and to see if both portraits are dated 1779. Regards, David

Jacinto Regalado,

I don't suppose there's any sitters' book for Chamberlin, since presumably Jacob would know about it. But certainly the Pearson lady should be pursued.

I apologise that Art Detective has been down for two long periods, from yesterday afternoon and again this morning (possibly overnight). Please alert me if it goes down over the weekend. I am not working tomorrow but will keep an eye on emails.

Jacob Simon,

I checked this morning. There is no further information about Miss Pearson in the 1979 Sotheby's catalogue. Nor can I find information on the portrait under discussion in the National Portrait Gallery Heinz Archive and Library except that it was at some stage, probably following the sale at auction, owned by the Old Hall Gallery.

Discussion question: Can the identity of the sitter be established? Response: No, not possible unless pre-1979, preferably much earlier, info emerges, which seems unlikely.

Osmund Bullock,

Having difficulty accessing AD from my laptop, and impossible to post when I do manage to get in. This is an experiment using my horrid smartphone (though I can't/won't use it for proper posts with attachments).

Osmund Bullock,

So maybe it's my computer...seems all right with everything else, though.

Marcie Doran,

Thanks for checking that catalogue, Jacob. I'm assuming, because an internet search for "Miss D. Pearson" showed the (inaccessible) Sotheby's catalogue, that the catalogue included the words "Miss D. Pearson", possibly on the cover.

I noticed that a Christie's catalogue from 1976 also mentioned a "Miss D. Pearson". My attachments have failed this week but here is the text:

"Fine Jewels, the Properties of Mrs. B. Barber, Mrs. M.J. Cadman, J.B. Cumming, Esq., J. Griffith-Jones, Esq., Mark J. Norman, Esq., Miss D. Pearson, the Late Winnafreda, Countess of Portarlington, B. Smith, Esq., the Cancer Research Fund, the Imperial Cancer Research Campaign, the Trustees of the Avenue Trust, and from Various Sources
By Christie, Manson and Woods (London) · 1976"

I'm wondering if the wealthy golfer Dorothy Marion Westall Pearson (1908-1994) might be the elusive "Miss D. Pearson". Her probate record from 1995 shows that she left an estate valued at £510,778. It seems to me that the seller must have been someone who was quite well known. The sitter might have been a draper. A family tree on Ancestry shows that there were many drapers in Dorothy's family and that they lived in Yorkshire.

Jacob Simon,

To respond to Marcie, "Miss D. Pearson" appears in the catalogue immediately preceding the lot description as was standard practice. Many vendors were quite obscure in auction sales so sellers did not have to be well known.

As to portrait comparisons, they are so often not very convincing.

Osmund Bullock,

This is very frustrating. I've been trying for several days to upload posts (with attachments) to two or three different discussions without any success, and Marcie started having attachment problems almost a week ago. I'll try my post here again after this, and this time leave out the attachments.

Osmund Bullock,

[OK, that one worked, so here goes. I can add the images later.]

It doesn’t help with the question asked, but before the discussion closes we should address Mason Chamberlin’s year of birth as given on Art UK. Nearly a decade ago Barbara Bryant pointed out (in the “Abercromby” discussion that this probably needed correcting – though widely found as 1727, both the NPG and the ODNB now give it as 1722, the latter with referenced evidence.

I can confirm from primary sources that 1722 is certainly correct. Chamberl[a]in was baptised on 7 Oct 1722 by Dr John Evans, the pastor of the Presbyterian congregation at Hand Alley (now New St) in Bishopsgate – possibly at his parents’ home in nearby Artillery Row, rather than in the meeting house (the wording is unclear). Furthermore, in or shortly before June 1737, the artist-to-be was apprenticed to Jeremiah Pearce, a mealman in Bishopsgate Street and member of the same congregation. If born in 1727, Chamberlin would have been just 9 or 10 years old in 1737, whereas a date in 1722 would make him 14/15 (the C18th norm for a new apprentice). And finally, the record of his burial at St Botolph without Bishopsgate, on 3 Feb 1787, gives his age as 64, which also concurs with a birth date later in 1722. [Images of all these attached - now omitted, see above]

Ellis Waterhouse’s ‘18th Century British Painters’ (pub. 1981) gives Farington’s Diary as the source for the inferred 1727 DOB (“died … 26 Jan 1787 aged 60”), though I've failed to find it there. The correct 1722 date was in fact known several years before Celina Fox’s ODNB article of 2004: it is given (with evidence) in Stewart & Cutten’s ‘Dictionary of Portrait Painters in Britain up to 1920’, published in 1997.

Osmund, thank you for reminding us to update Mason Chamberlain's date of birth. I'm sorry the baptism and burial records wouldn't attach, but thank you for the details. The site seems to be working again now.

We apologise that the site has frozen repeatedly in the last few days. Trying to add a new discussion caused it again yesterday. I know Osmund has experienced the same problem with attachments. Our software company is looking at it today.

Jacob Simon,

We are asked, “Who might be the sitter in this portrait by Mason Chamberlin the elder and another in the same Collection?” We do not know.

What we have established is the sale of the portraits by Miss D. Pearson at Sotheby’s in 1979 but there the chase goes cold. The portraits appear to date from 1779 though some sources give 1778 for the portrait in green.

Osmund has noted Chamberlan’s correct year of birth (25/02/2024).

I recommend that this discussion be closed with a date 1779 for the one in red and 1778/79 for the one in green.

Jacob Simon,

Wishful thinking. Penn would have been only 18 or 19 when our portraits were painted.

Louis Musgrove,

Could not our sitter be 18. .?The. One in the Philadelphia Museum - by Edge Pine -cannot be after 1788- So John Penn would be 25ish- and does look older than our sitter here. I still think this is a possibility- please think again- cheers Louis.

Jacob Simon,

As I said before, likeness is not enough. In any case your link leads to an artist born in 1809.