Completed Dress and Textiles, North West England: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C 33 Who painted Dorothy and Marjory Lees?

GMI_OLD_PCF16
Topic: Artist

Can anyone help us identify who painted this portrait?

The Lees sisters were born in the second half of the 1870s, so presumably this painting dates to late 1880s or early 1890s? They were daughters of Charles Lees, a significant industrialist in Oldham.

Gallery Oldham, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Alice Read,

The artist has been amended to 'Theodore Blake Wirgman' and the execution date of 'c.1891–1892' has been added.

These amends will appear on the Your Paintings website by the end of February 2015. 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.

32 comments

Simon Carter,


"Charles Lees helped establish Oldham Art Gallery (now Gallery Oldham) in 1883, loaning works from his own collection of British watercolours for exhibitions and encouraging others to do likewise. He was an advisor to the Art Gallery Committee and used his influence to encourage artists to show their work in Oldham. He was a member of the Fine Arts section of the 1887 Royal Jubilee Committee and in 1889 contributed to the foundation of the Manchester Whitworth Institute (now Whitworth Art Gallery), to which he donated 13 watercolours. In 1888 he made a substantial gift to Oldham Art Gallery of 80 watercolour paintings and drawings from his own collection." from:
http://revealinghistories.org.uk/how-did-money-from-slavery-help-develop-greater-manchester/people/the-lees-family-of-oldham.html

Martin Hopkinson,

I see that Simon Carter got to the site before me in suggesting the Scottish artist Cadenhead. There is a little known recent book about him- I will try to recall the details. His 1886 Lady with a Japanese screen and goldfish in the City of Edinburgh Art Centre must be one of the outstanding Scottish Aesthetic Movement portraits.

Martin Hopkinson,

Kenneth Cadenhead, James Cadenhead, R.S.A. : keeping his memory green, Auburn , Alabama, 2003
There is a copy in the National Art Library, which I presented after writing a short piece on his prints for 'Print Quarterly'


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Gallery Oldham,

Thank you Simon and Martin. Definitely a good starting point for further research there. I'll do some digging around here to see if there's any possibility of Charles Lees having come into contact with James Cadenhead. I'll let you know if I manage to turn anything up.

Martin - thank you for the book title. That will be helpful.

'Lady with a fan...' is a cracking painting, isn't it!

Osmund Bullock,

The Cadenhead suggestion seems good: though a much smaller work, it has much in common with the wonderful Edinburgh portrait.

As always impossible to see at this resolution, but playing with the image brightness & contrast suggests the possibility - I wouldn't say more than that - of an inscription or signature on the cushion of the piano stool/chair, and (less likely) on our side of the hanging tablecloth, below the vase. Cadenhead seems to have been a signer, he signed both high and low - on 'Lady with a Japanese Screen... ' it's on the tablecloth at the bottom.

Any chance of a higher-res image? And Oldham, whether or not there's something in those areas, if the painting's accessible it would be worth a careful look under good light for a signature. My apologies if you've done that already - I am surprised by how often nobody has.

I've only just caught up with this double portrait of the daughters of C.E. Lees. As Simon Carter has noted, C.E. Lees was prominent as a collector and benefactor of the arts in Oldham. It appears the female members of his family were equally noted--daughter Marjory in this painting became a prominent suffragette and President of the Oldham Women's Suffrage Society in 1914 (see https://gm1914.wordpress.com/tag/marjory-lees/); Lees's wife Sarah supported the suffrage movement, later becoming the first Lady Mayor of Oldham and receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Manchester. The Lees had a remarkable art collection at Werneth Park with highlights including J.E. Millais's Sisters (1868) which perhaps reminded them of their own daughters (and may have inspired their commission of the Aesthetic Movement portrait under discussion here).

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

The style of the dresses in this portrait:

The younger daughter is indeed wearing a moderate aesthetic rather than fashionable dress. see attached image. The older sister is far more fashionably dresses wearing corset, vestiges of the 1885 bustle and sleeves which are slightly gathered n the crown.... see dress from Met. NY. I would say portrait is about 1889-1892??? Lou

Betty Elzea,

Hello Lou:
Just what I was thinking about the date of the picture from the style of the dresses. Your attachments make the case beautifully - end of '80s to beginning of '90s.
Betty Elzea, Retired curator/art historian

For the Museum in Oldham: it would be great to get that higher resolution image mentioned above.

Also is there anything else that you could add by taking a look at the back of the painting. It would seem unusual that a work that must have been a commission from C.E. Lees would not be signed or exhibited at the time it was painted. Any labels or information on the back of the painting, however slight, could give us a direction to go in.

Gallery Oldham,

Thank you all for all your information.

Lou, that is really helpful in dating the painting, thank you.

I've only been in post here for a couple of months but it is my understanding that the back of the painting has been checked. It is well-used in our exhibitions and displays, for all the biographical reasons mentioned above. It is currently on display in our semi-permanent gallery, hanging quite high up. I'm not going to take it off the wall to look at for now, but will have a good look when we next re-hang.

Attached is a higher resolution image.

I suspect I will encounter further information as I go along here, but at present I am not able to lay my hands on anything which links to the artist. I have checked the database and the accession register from around the time that the two significant Lees collections came in (from Charles in 1888, which is possibly before this was painted, and from Marjory in 1952 ). There is no artist file as far as I am aware since we do not know who the artist was at this stage. I have been through several lists of work from the Lees collection. This painting does not appear on the 1990 list, or any subsequent lists. My suspicion is that it has been accessioned at some stage, possibly in the 1950s, but has become separated from its number, rather than never having been accessioned in the first place. Or that it has come in at another time, as it is strange that the rest of the Lees-related paintings have been reasonably well documented.

1 attachment

Thank you very much for this. The image is excellent. Lots of details suggestive of the interests of the Lees family, especially the taste for Japanese screens. Someone with knowledge of this area might like to comment.
It's unfortunate that the documentation on the accession is unlocated but I am sure there are more avenues to pursue in search of an attribution for this interesting portrait.

Gallery Oldham,

I should say as well - I've run a speculative database search for "Cadenhead" and checked there isn't a Cadenhead file languishing separately from its painting, but unsurprisingly that hasn't magically turned up any records!

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, thanks so much for the high-res image, Oldham - though sadly my "signature" proves to be (as it usually does) just wishful thinking. Thank you, too, for your regular contact with the forum - it's very helpful and much appreciated.

Gallery Oldham,

Thanks anyway for the suggestion, Osmund. It was definitely worth a look! I couldn't spot anything on the image but it's good to have a group consensus on things like this...

It would be useful to have Barbara Bryant's opinion specifically on the attribution to James Cadenhead. The similarities of composition to the 'Lady with a Japanese Screen and Goldfish (The Artist's Mother)' in Edinburgh City Council's collection are remarkable, and, as Simon Carter pointed out, the particular way Cadenhead tends to paint chins is distinctive.

On these bases alone I would be confident to make an attribution to Cadenhead.

As can be seen form the high-res image, the Oldham portrait is more painterly but this is probably due more to the great difference in scale between the two paintings than anything else.

Martin Hopkinson,

Kenneth McConkey will know the Edinburgh painting well and should be able to offer an authoritative opinion

This discussion is moving forward well. Let's hear from the Scottish experts referred to by Martin Hopkinson about the idea of a Cadenhead attribution.

Gallery Oldham,

I really appreciate all the information you have all shared so far. Thank you very much.

Rebecca (Art Curator at Gallery Oldham)

Martin Hopkinson,

The painting of the flowers in this double portrait is certainly closer to Riviere's style than to Cadenhead's - see the portrait by Riviere of Lady Newlands in Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery. Riviere was a more conventional artist than Cadenhead.

Gallery Oldham,

Hello Gabriel. Thanks for your suggestion. Certainly one to look into. I've had a thorough look at the Riviere slideshow on Your Paintings while standing next to the painting of the Lees sisters and I'm not as certain as you. I agree about the flowers in the Glasgow painting, Martin - that was one of the ones that stands out when comparing them. There is also a similarly Japanese inspired background in the portrait of Sir John Miles (Merton College) http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/sir-john-miles-18701963-222424 although the style in which it is painted is somewhat different.

It is quite a different painting from the confirmed Riviere in our collection, but then if it is by him then it would have been 20 years earlier when he was in the very early stages of his career.

Amanda - I have checked the artist file and database and there is nothing helpful there I'm afraid.

I've scheduled taking it off the wall at the end of January when we're changing other nearby items, so I shall update you all of any developments then. Thanks for your continued interest and helpful suggestions!

Gallery Oldham,

We have an answer!

We took the painting off the wall and discovered it had been re-backed fairly recently (in the last 20 years? See not-very-good-photo from my phone).

So we removed the backboard and found a label saying it is by T. Blake Wirgman of 24, Dawson Place, London (see second photo below).

Thank you for your efforts. Without your interest I probably wouldn't have prioritised it as a task so although we could have found the answer ourselves in due course, we probably wouldn't have done!

1 attachment
Andrea Kollmann,

The painting was shown at the exhibition of The Society of Portrait Painters in June 1892. The London Standard (23 June 1892) reported
'... Mr. Blake Wirgman [shows] what looks like a veracious portrait-group of Dorothy and Marjory (No. 22), the daughters of Mr. lees of Oldham.”

Gallery Oldham,

Thanks Amanda. Yes, I think we can agree that.

Well quite, Andrew! I think the addition of the Lees portrait will lift the selection. He's certainly put more effort into the background on the one here!

Thanks Andrea, that's great. I'll add it to the information I'm gathering.

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you, Rebecca, and well done, Andrea - though I feel slightly embarrassed that the answer was waiting in the British Newspaper Archive all along: as an experiment I just did a search for "lees oldham portrait dorothy marjory" between 1885 & 1895, and it came up immediately!

All wonderfully sorted out thanks to the persistence of all involved, especially the collection itself taking the trouble to remove the backboard. The backs of paintings are often more eloquent than the best informed guesses. The portrait can now be attributed to Theodore Blake Wirgman and dated 1892 (that is, exh. 1892; one might want to go for c.1891-2 to take account of the time taken to produce the painting, though I would have thought 1892 is fine). Wirgman's delicate still-life at Gunby (National Trust) on Your Paintings gives a sense of his style and relates to the similar detail in the Lees double portrait. His portrayals of fellow artists, Thornycroft and Brock, show more sensitivity than his institutional portraits. The Lees double portrait must count as one of Wirgman's very best.