Portraits: British 19th C, Maritime Subjects 22 Who painted this early portrait of Arctic explorer Sir John Ross?

Sir John Ross (1777–1856)
Topic: Artist

This fine and relatively early portrait of Sir John Ross has already been mentioned in connection with an Art Detective discussion on another later one in the National Maritime Museum collection: https://bit.ly/2TIgA7D

It has something of Raeburn about it. As the other discussion has already noted, John Hayter is known to have exhibited a portrait of Ross, but that has not yet been pursued.

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

22 comments

E Jones,

It appears that the portrait by John Hayter of Sir John Ross was bought in 1864 by the Corporation of London for 100 Guineas. There is an interesting account in the 'London Evening Standard' on the 9th Dec. 1864.


The article also seems to infer that the portrait had been kept by Hayter in his studio for nearly thirty years until the 1860's.


There was a proposal at the Court of Common Council to buy the portrait after it had been displayed in the Guildhall for The Lord Mayors day of 1864. It also notes that the Corporation had contributed 100 Guineas towards Ross' expedition. Felix Booth had also famously fitted out the expedition whilst he was the Sheriff of London. (Although he had originally turned it down), it appears that he may have paid £17,000 and Ross £3,000 from his own purse.
The transaction is also recorded in a number of regional Newspapers around the 21st of December that the painting was bought for a 100 Guineas.

The Hayter portrait doesn't appear to be in the collection of the Guildhall Gallery as shown on ArtUK, unless it has been a mislaid or donated elsewhere. Are the paintings distributed across various sites or buildings?

Did the Corporation of the City of London lose any paintings when the Guildhall was damaged/destroyed in the blitz in 1941?

Is there a chance that Archives could be reviewed within the Guildhall Gallery as to what happened to the painting after it came into their possession please?


Incidentally, It also looks like there was another portrait of Sir John Ross in the Ross family as there was a miniature on ivory of Sir John Ross by John Hayter, exhibited in 'The Naval, Shipping and Fisheries exhibition of 1905 at Earle's Court, London. This isn't as surprising given that he was the son of Charles Hayter, the miniaturist.

The painting of Sir John Ross by Hayter on the other discussion was donated to the Maritime Museum by Arthur V. Ross. He was James Clark Ross' grandson. The Miniature, as well as the flag that was raised at the magnetic pole was lent by Cecil C. Ross Esq. He was also a grandson, but a descendent through James Clark Ross' other son.

Can you tell us please what the provenance of the painting above is? It's a little vague on the Collection's website. Thanks.

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This came from Sir Robert Leicester Harmsworth, 1st bt. (1870-1937), Liberal MP, businessman and one of the four mainly publishing brothers who all became peers (Lords Northcliffe and Rothermere) or baronets: it was sold at Christie's, 18 March 1838, lot 147, where its was bought by Sir James Caird via Spink's for the NMM.

There havenow been two independent suggestions (from Osmund Bullock in the parallel discussion on the 'other' Greenwich portrait of John Ross, and privately to me by an NMM colleague) that this is probably not John Ross -which is it old received but so-far unqueried identification- but his nephew James Clark Ross. General appearances seem to support it without suggesting who such a good image might be by assuming it shows him between about 1820 and 1835 at latest. J. Beech of London Road, Leicester, showed a 'Captain Ross' at the RA in 1830 (when JC Ross was in fact a Commander in rank, but the terms are informally interchangeable). However his uncle John was then a captain already and both absent on their 1829-33 Arctic expedition, so it Beech's portrait -given he was a provincial painter- might just be another 'Captain Ross', perhaps an army man. John Hayter showed a now unlocated 'Captain John Ross' at the RA in 1834, after the expedition returned but this is unlikely to be it even if it is John since he was then about 56, let alone other appearances.

Attached is a stab at the oil iconography of JC Ross to date from online sources, starting with the present item as a 'probable': hard print (esp. Richard Ormond's NPG listings) I still have to look at

Thinking of artists, I wonder if there is any mileage here in Sir John Watson Gordon PRSA (1788-1864), himself a Scot- as were the Rosses - and also son of a Royal Naval officer....

Kieran Owens,

Pieter, while Beech was listed in the RA catalogue with an address at London Road, Leicester in 1830, he also listed in that year as having an address at Miss Linwood's Rooms, Leicester Square. There is existing correspondence between Beech and Linwood from 1829. He was listed at her rooms in 1831 too, but now also at 34, Hercules Buildings, Lambeth. By 1839 he was still listed as living at 15, Allen Street, Hercules Buildings, Lambeth. The Miss Linwood mentioned was the needlework artist Mary Linwood (1755 - 1845):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Linwood

Beech was in London in 1830s, albeit on a temporary basis. So it is not quite correct to say that he was provincial artist, in the most accepted understanding of that phrase.

The other famous Captain Ross in 1830 was Captain Horatio Ross, the marksman, racehorse enthusiast and all round gambling fanatic.

Osmund Bullock,

Heavens, I was expecting much more resistance to the idea that this might be Clark Ross! And also bracing myself to put together some long and detailed posts with composite images in support - a relief not to have to, as I've a long list of things to write about re Sir John on the other discussion. Actually the thing that kept shouting at me was his extraordinary, top-heavy 'big' hair' - JCR has it thus in all his portraits, while his uncle's style is far less flamboyant throughout. I agree that c.1820-30 is right, and suspect the early part of that range - it's really quite a boyish face, hints of puppy fat, youthful enthusiasm. And no sideburns, of course. The chunky (in shape, anyway) fur wrap is slightly deceptive: it gives him more weight, visually and metaphorically, than the basic portrait; I rather think it was added later, and has since proved more fugitive to over-enthusiastic cleaning - either that or it was unfinished. My guess is that it was added after the 1829-33 expedition, to try and turn a pleasant, lightweight young man's portrait into something more substantial and relevant to his new reputation - or much later for the same reason.

I don't think it can be Watson Gordon. It seems too loose, flat and imprecise for him; and there are some poor passages...his left eye (our right) is a mess, too big, too low, and quite dead - surely WG wouldn't have come up with that? Whoever it's by, perhaps it was unfinished and completed by someone else...or damaged and badly restored? See attached close-up.

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Osmund Bullock,

To address E.Jones's post about John Hayter. First, I think you may have misunderstood (or it's a typo)...the portrait of Sir John Ross on the other thread is not by Hayter - at least it seems most unlikely, though it's true that it was described as including "by his [Ross's] desire, several objects of interest, illustrative of the enterprise". To find out exactly who it *is* by is the very purpose of the other discussion! We should probably really be talking about it over there, but as you've raised it here I'll reply here too.

Second, I'm pretty sure that Hayter's portrait of Captain (John) Ross, RN (the one that was exhibited at the RA in 1834), was *not* acquired by the City of London for 100 gns in 1864. The Evening Standard report of 9th Dec that you attach (and two similar ones in the London City Press of 10th Dec, and the Galloway Advertiser of the 15th) describing the Court of Common Council's meeting of the 8th Dec to discuss the suggestion, makes clear that there was little or no inclination at the meeting to buy it, and the move to purchase it was withdrawn "for the time" by the proposer for that and financial reasons.

Osmund Bullock,

The six provincial newspapers (in Hull, Salisbury, Staffordshire, Sheffield and two in Newcastle) that between 17th and 23rd Dec reported in identically-worded (and very brief) terms - you showed us one example - that the portrait had been purchased by the Corporation for the same price were, I believe, mistaken - the result I would imagine of one erroneous story that misunderstood and incorrectly precised the original report of the meeting, and was then repeated by several others. None of those six provincial papers carried the original lengthy story, and no London paper carried the new one. I also find it hard to believe that the man who proposed the motion first time round was able to resubmit it just a week later at another Court of Common Council (if there was one then).

Osmund Bullock,

If it *was* purchased by the City, then they seem to have got rid of it again pretty quickly: just three years later, on 8th Feb 1868, "a fine portrait of Sir John Ross by Sir [sic] J. Hayter" was offered by Christie's at their rooms at King St in London, one of a "valuable collection of modern pictures..the Property of a Gentleman, received from the Country". See attached advertisement.

Quite a number were by Charles, George or John Hayter, suggesting that they may have come from the artist or his family - John Hayter almost entirely stopped exhibiting after 1864, which explains him selling off the contents of his studio thereafter. I should be able to get more details of seller, buyer and (I hope) size from Christie's Archive.

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, I misread the advert. The Charles and George Hayter portraits were *of* them, not by them - they, along with others including Ross, were by John. Which makes it even more likely the collection was his, and derived from the contents of his studio.

I had noticed the sale of 1868 but let's be wary. The portrait of Sir John Ross is said to be by "Sir John Hayter" and, as Osmund's "sic" indicates, John was never knighted. His more eminent brother, George, as Queen Victoria's painter, was in 1842. Also the portraits of Landseer, George and John refer to the group portrait by John that is at the Shipley Art Gallery (RA 1823) and would be one of the most direct comparisons for John's style. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/a-controversy-on-colour-35526/search/actor:hayter-john-18001891/page/1/view_as/grid

I doubt this sale of 1868 has anything to do with any of the Hayter studio sales (if that is what meant). It is the fairly large collection of "a gentleman". The extent of the works of art listed suggests to me that these are not the collection of John Hayter. However, if it can be proved otherwise, I will be interested to know.

Osmund Bullock,

You are wise to recommend caution, Barbara, on all counts - especially as I can find no sign that John Hayter moved out of London after his retirement (at least not until the very end of his life many years later). The journalists who reported the 1864 meeting at which the painting was discussed seem to have been even more confused than Christie's about the artist's identity - see attached.

I will try and look at a copy of the 1868 catalogue this week, and email Christie's Archive for any further information they hold.

We are not yet further on with identifying the artist here but I some time ago updated the NMM database entry from the sitter being stated definitely as John Ross (as when received in 1938) to the greater probability of it being his much more handsome nephew James Clark Ross: see

https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14455.html

It also turns out that the usefully comparable portrait of James by Pickersgill (exh RA, 1848), in the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge, is one previously long at Greenwich, originally as a 1920 loan from James's grandson, Basil Ross, to the former Royal Naval Museum in the Royal Naval College:

https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/james-clark-ross-18001862-133903/view_as/grid/search/keyword:james-clark-ross/page/1

Though the subsequent story is a bit more complicated, through early misreading of paperwork it became a long-unrecognized 'inherited' loan to NMM, after it took over most of the RNMG holdings in 1934. That staus was only rediscovered in 1991, after Basil's son, Rear-Admiral Maurice James Ross (1908-96) finally asked about it - the first family query of which there is record since 1920 - and said that, rather than having it remain at Greenwich and in store, he wished to offer it to SPRI, where it could be more generally on display. NMM has also held, since 1936, a late-life portrait by Stephen Pearce as part of the Greenwich Hospital Collection, and had later acquired the dashing and (usually displayed) younger one by John Wildman. So with everyone content with the proposed outcome, and after a little remedial conservation, NMM delivered it direct to SPRI in June 1992 on Rear-Admiral Ross's behalf.

Osmund is right (13/04/2019): we are not seeing the painting in its original condition. However, allowing for possible damage (e.g. to the sitter’s left eye) and over-cleaning, it might be worth considering Andrew Geddes, another Scot, as a contender for the authorship:

https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/andrew-geddes-17831844-artist-self-portrait-212332/view_as/grid/search/makers:andrew-geddes-17831844-459603/page/2

https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/david-maclagan-17851865-frcsed-1816-prcsed-18261827-187237/view_as/grid/search/makers:andrew-geddes-17831844-459603/page/2

Whaley Turco,

At the risk of being a fickle know it all. I'm going to agree with Richard Green. Andrew Geddes is a much better suspect for this art crime. I get the same vibe off of his known paintings as I do from ours.

The only 'art crime' is how Geddes managed not to exhibit at the RSA: allowing we can't currently explain the left-eye problem this is a striking image with a good deal of 'swagger' and such a high probability of being James Clark Ross rather than John that I'm not sure why I'm still being cautious about it. The ongoing problem is that even if a crime, that needs motive and opportunity, and better evidence for 'whodunnit'. Geddes had a long track record of working both in London and Scotland, so at least that seems fair opportunity.

Whoever it is by, there is no suspect in word search for 'Ross' through the Graves RA and BI catalogues (in the former of which , strangely, Geddes's name does not come up on my machine in the archive.org online version, though he's there in force as one would expect as an ARA. ) His BI stuff is also not portraiture: most in the RA was.

However, right at the start of this I wondered about Raeburn and Geddes has a dose of him, so its one of the likelier shots so far and, I suggest, better than the Hayters.

(For Geddes a la Raeburn see for example: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/captain-robert-skirving-of-croy-17571843-of-the-east-india-company-brother-of-archibald-skirving-212329/search/makers:andrew-geddes-17831844-459603/page/2)


Whaley Turco,

I think Geddes had the same problem that Wright of Derby had. He was surrounded by other great portrait artists that had a recognizable style. That style gave them the edge. if you look at their paintings you can see how good they were but at the same time you can also see them fluctuating all over the place in terms of style. A little bit from here and a little bit from there. Never really landing on their own definitive look. if the other artists had never existed you would never notice this. But, they did and you do.

Let's just try and stay as close as possible to such evidence as we have, albeit sometimes circumstantial: this of course includes that both of the Rosses and Geddes were Scots, which adds at least a further element of motive. As to variability of quality and style in what was a very numerous 'phiz-mongering' business: not everyone was Hogarth (that's his phrase), Reynolds or Lawrence. Things would have been boringly perfect if they were, and everything has to be judged in its fair context. Geddes was variable but busy and not always on portraits: he also did at least one huge altarpiece, in St James's Garlickhythe.

Whaley Turco,

Love the 'phiz-mongering'.. And Hogarth had a point. It was a Dog's Life already without having to compete with the rest of Europe. As for Judging Geddes and Wright, I'm not. They were very talented very accomplished painters. All things being Equal they are the equal of their contemporaries. But, They got there second. There's only so much room to paint a Portrait that stands out. Dare I say it, Gainsborough was not the best portrait painter in the world. But you knew from 15 feet away that it was one of his Paintings. Also, everyone knew what it had cost you to have that Portrait Painted, because everyone staring at it had already talked to Gainsborough about having one done. So you were rich enough to have him do the work and he rewarded you with a Painting you couldn't get from anyone else. Which was the point of the whole exercise. You didn't or couldn't get that from Geddes or Wright.

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