Completed Portraits: British 20th C 33 Who painted this portrait of 'Beatrice, Lady Lever'?

Beatrice, Lady Lever
Topic: Artist

We have long been intrigued by this characterful portrait. It is of Lady Beatrice Lever, whose only other image I know of is a small sketch in the Imperial War Museum. We think it is from the period 1900-1914. We have it apparently through its donation by her son, Sir Tresham Lever, who was later a trustee of one of our predecessor hospitals, maybe in the 1930s.

A puzzling aspect of the canvas is that at the very bottom left edge there is an inscription in large and rough capitals that is hard to read, but looks possibly like "E HILLWRIGHT" or some such name. It really does not look like an artist's signature. We would love to know who the artist might be as it is such a likeable picture.

Oddly there seems to be very little about the subject either, even though she must have been fairly well known at the time.

Royal Free Hospital, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Alice Read,

The title has now been amended to: 'Lady Lever, née Beatrice Hilda Falk' and the artist to: Ethel Wright (1866–1939). The birth date is from NPG collection records.

This change will appear on the Your Paintings website by the end of August 2014. 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

Martin Hopkinson,

Could we have a detail photograph of the signature please?

Royal Free Hospital,

Yes, that is her full name. Her husband changed his name from Levy to Lever. I have researched her family history, and can tell you more about that if you wish. The prominent zoologist Christopher Lever, is her grandson, I believe.

Martin Hopkinson,

It might be worth looking in Country Life for her - the photographs introducing the issues for instance

Victor James,

could it possibly be by Rowland Wheelwright? He did do some portraits.

Martin Hopkinson,

The signature in capital letters looks similar to Wheelwright's signature in his portraits of Mrs Irene Florence [nee Beacham] Butcher in Bushey Museum and Art Gallery

Well done Victor and Martin. This looks a very convincing to me. The portrait is stylistically similar to others by Rowland Wheelwright (born in Australia 1870, died 1955); the signature is in the correct and distinctive format for Wheelwright (see many of the other paintings by Wheelwright on Your Paintings), although it may have been damaged or retouched making it hard to read correctly.

Christian Thurston,

any suggestion for going to Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight ?

Julian Treuherz,

This family is nothing to do with the Lever family of Port Sunlight.

Tim Williams,

The painting isn't Wheelwright, its by Ethel Wright. There were a few Ethel Wright's painting around the same time - this one Graves notes as exhibiting between (1887-1893). The 1927 Who was who notes:

Wright, (Miss) Ethel, R.O.I; portrait painter; born London. Educated in London and Paris. WOrks purchased by Oldham Permanent Art Gallery, Australia, Canada, America. Address 76 Glebe Place, SW3.

She exhibited many portraits of society figures at the RA - Exhibitors dictionary says she died in 1939 and gives five other studio addesses, all in South West London.

BBC Your Paintings website records three works by an Ethel Wright with similar dates (b.1866) - though I wonder if there has been some confusion with other Ethel Wright's (of which I fathom about 4) working around the same time.

The IWM drawing of Lady Beatrice Lever is also by Ethel Wright, as are these:

http://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/ethel-wright-1887-1939-full-length-portrait-o-570-c-5310df2eaa

http://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/ethel-wright-20thc-school-.-a-portrait-of-a-408-c-a0725207d5

http://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/ethel-wright-a-portrait-of-a-lady-wearing-a-pearl-281-c-1x47ltet9g

http://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/ethel-wright-british,-fl.1887-1900-lady-with-wh-192-c-5tggjcun1l

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/27029

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry to be a bit pedantic, but the sitter's "full, correct name" is not "Lady Beatrice Hilda *Lever, née Falk", which would imply she was the daughter of a peer of earl's rank or above, but "Lady *Lever, née Beatrice Hilda Falk" - or commonly these days "Beatrice Hilda, Lady *Lever, née Falk", though at the time that would have been understood to mean she was not the wife, but the ex-wife of Sir Arthur *Lever.

[*I have omitted 'Levy' throughout for clarity.]

Whether or not one worries about these distinctions any more is a matter of personal taste (and possibly personal politics). But in a catalogue description they are perhaps still useful because of their precise meanings.

Royal Free Hospital,

Thank you very much to Tim Williams. The Ethel Wright ascription looks satisfactory to me, especially given the style of the signature on one of the pictures from the Invaluable.com website. Does anyone disagree with this, or can we now accept this lady as the artist?

Royal Free Hospital,

If my admittedly superficial researches are correct (they may not be), this painter's genealogical credentials are a little complicated. She was born as Ethel Mary Puckle in Brixton in 1865 (not 1866), her father being an accountant. She grew up in Sutton, where in 1888 she married Harry John Barclay, also an accountant, with whom she had five children. However Mr and Mrs Barclay must have divorced, because in 1922 she married again, this time David B Wright, in Marylebone. Harry Barclay died in 1933. Tim Williams' Tiscali "tidbit" above therefore calls her Miss Ethel Wright, when really she was Mrs Ethel Wright. As we know she died in Kensington in 1939, but aged not 73 but 74.

Lady Beatrice died in the first world war. If the portrait was from life Ethel would at that time have been Ethel Barclay. In that case I wonder if the ham-fisted "signature" in capitals at the foot of the picture is explained by someone having altered an original signature to "E Wright". As far as I can see from the other three Ethel Wright pictures on Your Paintings, her signature was normally neat and conventional. On the other hand, if the portrait was made posthumously, possibly, as Bendor Grosvenor had suggested a month ago, from a photograph, then perhaps that "signature" was made by or for her.

I would now like to ask the PCF to amend the artist of this likeable portrait - it is more animated and colourful in the flesh - to Ethel Wright (nee Puckle), born in 1865 and who died in 1939. We will produce a new label for this picture. Perhaps the Ethel Wright of the other three works on Your Paintings should also be considered as 1865-1939.

Thank you very much indeed to all who contributed.

Paul Kettlewell,

I don't think Ethel Wright here mentioned can have been Ethel Mary Puckle. Ethel Mary Puckle marries Harry John Barclay in 1888 and he dies in 1933, however Ethel Mary Barclay dies on 27 Oct 1938 at Sutton in Surrey aged 73 - her probate naming her children Harry Tracy Barclay and William Edward Brian Barclay. This suggests that they did not divorce.

Oliver Perry,

She's certainly described as "WRIGHT, Miss Ethel (afterwards Mrs. A. Barclay)" in Graves' "Dictionary of Contributors to the Royal Academy", exhibiting from 1888.

There's an interesting quote on a geanealogical forum, but the other information on the page seems rather muddled, so it should be checked out from the source:

From the Pall Mall Gazette of 19 Dec 1898:

'Among the names of prominent exhibitors at the Royal Academy that of Miss Ethel Wright (Mrs. Armiger Barclay) is likely to be missed at the forthcoming exhibition at Burlington House. Miss Wright's health has lately been very indifferent, and with regret it is feared that she will be unable to complete the pictures at which she has worked until quite lately.'

http://www.british-genealogy.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-68165.html?s=61ea167592fa29aea707d01fc6e75434

It certainly seems as if we are dealing with Miss Ethel Wright who had married and become Mrs Armiger Barclay by 1898 and who died on 6 July 1939. If, as Tim Williams's 'titbit' suggests, she generally exhibited under her maiden name then she probably painted her portrait of Lady Lever when the latter was living. It would be worth checking the multi-volume dictionary of exhibitors at the RA which continues from where Graves finished in 1904, if anyone has easy access to them (I don't think they are yet online).

I will try and sum up the knowledge about the artist of this portrait.

The title, as Osmond Bullock has pointed out should more correctly be ‘Lady Lever, née Beatrice Hilda Falk’.

The artist who called herself Ethel Wright appears to have been born in 1866 (although no firm evidence is yet forthcoming) and died in 1939. She exhibited under the name Miss Ethel Wright at the Royal Academy from 1888-1929, though this portrait was not shown at the RA. One problem with identifying all the pictures signed ‘Ethel Wright’ on Your Paintings and in the sales Tim Williams identified is the form of her signature, sometimes in script sometimes in block capitals. In fact, looking at images of five RA pictures known to be by her, both forms of signature were used, so we can happily accept the script signature form of Oldham’s ‘Bonjour Pierrot (RA 1892) and the block signature of say ‘Rejected’ (RA 1896) as hers.

Her ‘real’ name however appears uncertain. The Miss Wright who married Bernard Armiger Barczinsky (also known as Armiger Barclay) was Caroline Elizabeth Wright, (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/s/res?_srt=3&_q=Armiger&_p=1900). But in print the artist ‘Miss Ethel Wright’ is also explicitly called ‘Mrs Armiger Barclay’ so they must surely be the same person. Ethel Wright was presumably a ‘nom de plume’.

I hope this will do to satisfy the Royal Free as to the identity of their artist.

Paul Kettlewell,

Interestingly in the death registers for Kensington district in the third quarter of 1939 there is an Ethel Wright and a Caroline E Barclay, both aged 73 - almost certainly the same person, the death would be recorded twice if she was known under another name. There is no obvious sign of her on either the 1901 or 1911 censuses under any combination of Ethel / Caroline Elizabeth and Wright / Barclay / Barczinsky. The archives at Kew hold the divorce papers for Caroline Elizabeth Barczinsky from Bernard Armiger Barczinsky in 1910. Their marriage certificate from 1897 would confirm her age, occupation (artist?) and father's name, and possibly give other clues about her.

Barbara Bryant,

With the artist now resolved, it might just be worth a short note about the sitter, Beatrice, Lady Lever, in reply to the Royal Free's request for further information on the sitter. This interesting woman died aged only 43 in May 1917 due to septic poisoning contracted while serving as a nurse with the British Red Cross Society at the Hampstead General Hospital (predecessor to the Royal Free Hospital). Her tragic early death while working for the war effort perhaps explains her son's wish to commemorate her by giving the portrait to the hospital where she served. She was also a playwright of some note, known for her light comedies (Brown Sugar was published and produced after her death), as well as a 4 act play, The Torch of Fate, produced in 1913.

According to that ever reliable source Wikipedia "He assumed the surname of Lever in lieu of Levy by deed poll in 1896 and by Royal license in 1911." So her surname was Lever.

Al Brown,

I assume though her husband had a say in the tombstone inscription which clearly says Levy Lever.

The tombstone shows his full name, but the question revolves around whether Arthur Levy Lever added Lever to his Levy surname or replaced Levy with Lever as a surname. I don't have Burke's Peerage to hand but relying, like most of us, on the web, this site http://www.thepeerage.com/p63283.htm (which seems to base much of its information on BP) shows that the two succeeding baronets dropped the Levy and had the surname Lever, which may support my assertion.

Royal Free Hospital,

May I now conclude this discussion from the collection's point of view, and say how we propose to describe this picture.

Per Andrew Greg the title will be amended to "Lady Lever, née Beatrice Hilda Falk".
Per Tim Williams and others the artist will be stated as Ethel Wright, c1866-1939.

Ethel Wright's origins remain uncertain, and it seems that we are yet to ascertain her birth details. Perhaps it is only when those are found and linked to her later life that we can be certain of her year of birth, which was presumably either the latter part of 1865 or the earlier part of 1866. I will continue to research that, and will let the PCF know if I find anything conclusive.

Thank you very much indeed to all contributors who have taken such pains to help us with this most likeable picture.