Completed Portraits: British 20th C 113 Who painted this portrait of 'Brenda, Countess of Wilton'?

Brenda, Countess of Wilton
Topic: Artist

Can anyone suggest who the artist of this portrait might be? The sitter is Brenda, Countess of Wilton (wife of the 6th Earl of Wilton). She was born in 1896 (as Brenda Peterson), married in 1917, and died in January 1930. The painting was given to Manchester City Galleries by her son, who could not remember the name of the artist, but thought it might be by an Italian, who also painted his aunt. All suggestions gratefully received.

Hannah Williamson
Curator, Collections Access, Manchester City Galleries

Manchester Art Gallery, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Jade King,

This painting is now listed as by Edoardo Gioja (1862–1936), painted c.1919-1920.

The Art UK record for this work will appear updated in due course. Please see below all the comments that led to this conclusion. Thank you to all who participated in this long-running discussion.

112 comments

R. Stephens,

Do you have an image of the aunt's portrait you could share? It would then be possible to test the idea that the same painter made both pictures.

Paul Kettlewell,

On the 1901 census, Brenda Peterson is living in Newcastle upon Tyne aged 6 with her father, William Peterson, a Danish shipowner, her mother Flora McKay Peterson, born in Scotland, and two sisters Doris and Flora. In 1911 Brenda is at a convent school in London with her sister Doris (they appear to be twins). The portrait of the aunt could then be of Doris or Flora?

Paul Kettlewell,

Brenda and Doris Petersen's births were registered in Mar 1895 at Newcastle, and Flora in Dec 1897 at Tynemouth.

Possible married surnames of Doris and Flora, for the portrait of the donor's aunt, are Bulteel for Doris (thank you Andrew) and McCombie (or Duguid-McCombie) for Flora.

Andrea Kollmann,

Her sister's name is given as Marie Dolores Bulteel in an article in the London Gazette on Nov, 6th 1925.

Martin Hopkinson,

One should probably check the recent catalogue of the portraits of Philip de Laszlo to see if a portrait of this sitter is recorded

Martin Hopkinson,

Duff Hart-Davis, Philip de Laszlo. His life and art, Yale University Press, 2010

Osmund Bullock,

It is certainly not by de Laszlo. And besides, de Laszlo was hugely renowned and indeed loved in British aristocratic circles, to which he was related by marriage; I doubt that even an English peer in compulsory-philistine mode would have thought a family portrait from his brush "might be by an Italian"!

Lest you doubt my word, the online (and ongoing) de László Catalogue Raisonné project can be viewed here, subject to free registration: https://www.delaszlocatalogueraisonne.com/

Tim Williams,

There's an article on her in 'The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality' Vol.105, p.289. It's titled 'Her latest Portrait: The Countess of Wilton' - so it may well be about this picture (it's defo the same Wilton as it says Miss Brenda served in the war and was the eldest daughter of Mr William Petersen). I can only get a google books snippett and regrettably no libraries within 100 miles of me would have a copy - anyone have access to a decent library?

R. Stephens,

That sounds really promising. Vol 105 was published in the first half of 1919. Unfortunately the V&A doesn't have this volume, nor does the London Library, but the BL has a complete run and on microfilm. Sorry I don't know about libraries in the Manchester area.

Osmund Bullock,

Indeed it does - the date looks spot on. No real excuses as I am in London, but I'm not sure when I can next get to the BL.

Paul Kettlewell,

Brenda's sister, Doris, otherwise known as Marie Doris or Marie Dolores, first married Major Douglas Reynolds VC in 1915 ( he was killed in 1916), so if the portraits are dated around 1919, then the aunt's portrait could be named Marie (Doris or Dolores) Reynolds. She married John Bulteel late in 1919.

Oliver Perry,

I'm afraid the "Sketch" reference seems to be a red herring: I've wangled an excerpt from Google books which implies that the article is illustrated not by a reproduction of a painting, but rather with a photographic portrait by Yevonde a.ka. Madame Yevonde. It's her latest portrait, not the countess's.

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Osmund Bullock,

Oh dear: back to the drawing board. But I'm glad you managed to cheat the right snippet out of Google Books - saved a lot of ultimately disappointing effort. I've occasionally done a tweak like that in the past, but in this case I failed miserably even to find the right reference.

Samuel Shaw,

There are echoes of Charles Shannon's portraiture here - and I daresay he'd have enjoyed being mistaken for an Italian! It feels a bit too static for a Shannon, however...

Osmund Bullock,

The American papers were way behind with their news. Col Ross Hume (not Hulme) had been granted his divorce on 25th Nov. For reasons of jurisdiction Lord Wilton was technically no longer the co-respondent, but his affair with Mrs Ross Hume was admitted by her, and proved by other testimony. I'm attaching a newspaper report of the proceedings (no 2), from which it is clear that Lord W did not behave very well towards anyone involved.

Lord Wilton's name was made public when the case was first called in late June or early July (see attached no 1). Nevertheless, the couple's second surviving child (and first son) must have been conceived in August - he was born on 29 May 1921 - so either Lady Wilton (our sitter) was unaware of it for a while, or she forgave/tolerated it, or he persuaded her it was untrue - or equally likely, her husband just insisted on his conjugal rights willy-nilly. Whichever way it happened, by the time the child was born, Lady Wilton (and everyone she knew) must have been painfully aware of her husband's extended infidelity and supposed unhappiness. With such a public humiliation, I am not surprised that no further children were born to the couple, despite the lack of a 'spare' to the 'heir' (a normal aristocratic requirement for the time).

The son born in 1921 was in fact (Seymour) John Egerton, soon to be the 7th Earl of Wilton, and the donor of this portrait. One wonders if his desire to offload it was connected with these unhappy events and their aftermath. His sister Alexandra was born in November 1919, and his father seems to have commenced the affair a couple of months later - poor Lady Wilton. And poor John and Alexandra: if their parents stayed together afterwards, I can't imagine it was a very happy household, not that it had much time to be. The philandering 6th Earl died in 1927, and John inherited the title at the age of six - and then just two years or so later his mother, too, was gone. John did not marry till his 40s, he had no children, and his sister's marriage ended in divorce. The words "money", "buy" and "happiness" come to mind.

The sad sequence of events may, at least, help us date the portrait. It seems unlikely that Brenda would have sat for it after all this (unless they were trying very hard to pretend everything was normal). I think the costume and hairstyle point to much the same thing, and I feel 1917-20 is the widest possible spread. Just before or just after marriage is, of course, always a good bet, and if both sisters were painted that points to a commission from their father rather than a later one by Lord Wilton. But I'd welcome more expert input on the fashion aspect.

Martin Hopkinson,

The portrait was not exhibited at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the Modern Society of Portrait Painters or the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in the years 1917-20. I have yet to check the Royal Academy in these years. Do we know where the couple honeymooned? For it must be possible that it was painted abroad at the time? Given the disharmonious marriage, helpfully brought to our attention by Osmund, of course, it may never have been exhibited. Its quality is high. So an expert in Italian portraiture of the period should be able to recognise the artist fairly easily.

Andrea Kollmann,

Concerning the dating: A photo of her twin sister Doris taken in 1915 shows her looking very much like her sister in the painting, especially the hairstyle is the same.

http://www.diomedia.com/imageDetails.do?imageId=18043503

Osmund, I think your reference to 'money does not buy you happiness' is, sadly, all too true for the countess.
In 1914, their brother was killed in combat, in 1916 Doris' first husband died in combat as well, in 1918 their mother, Flora McKay Petersen died 'in her bath' ( her death was examined by a jury, which decided it was a 'death by misadventure') and from 1920 her marriage must have been a difficult one. Her husband died in 1927 and she died 1930 following an operation.

Osmund Bullock,

I suspect 1915 is too early, Andrea, though the hair is indeed the same - but I think her dress, from what I've found online, is unlikely to be before 1917, and she looks a good bit maturer than her twin in '15.

Martin, I had wondered about it being painted abroad, and it's certainly very possible if it post-dates the War; but some newspaper searching I've just done** suggests that travel to the Continent for pleasure became very rare during it, and unheard of (at least publicly) after 1916. At any event, the Wiltons, I've discovered, didn't go abroad for their 1917 honeymoon - it was taken on Eigg, the Scottish island recently bought by the bride's father (see attached).

Actually, I wonder how many society portraits were painted during the war at all, with the exception of some officers off to the front (famously those by de Laszlo). I suspect it would have been considered frivolous, with brothers and friends dying in the trenches in their thousands. Were there many female portraits exhibited in 1917-18, did you notice, Martin? Oh, and did you look for one of a sister, too, or just for Brenda?

(**I found that honeymoons and holidays to the Continent by the well-off were not unusual in the run-up to war - a dozen society honeymoons to Italy, Paris & Switzerland reported in May & June 1914, for example. But they stop pretty abruptly in August, and by the 22nd the Chester Chronicle was reporting on the excellent prospects for local businesses, as "people are returning in numbers from foreign resorts, and many of these, driven from Italy and southern France, will winter in North Wales." I found a couple of Italian honeymoons early in 1915 (when Italy was still neutral), but they both had connections there - one bride was an Italian countess, and one groom a British attaché in Rome. A few diehards seem to have continued to struggle there, but it was clearly a difficult journey - in Feb 1916 an elderly peeress wintering in Italy was unable to return to England for her granddaughter's wedding.)

Martin Hopkinson,

There can have been very few Italian portrait painters active in Britain during the First World War. I saw no portrait of the Countess's sister in the catalogues which I consulted, but I did not look earlier than 1917 in the RSPP and ISSPG. My impression was that there were female portraits still being exhibited, but that male portraits predominated. However, naval and military portraits by no means dominated, until the war was over. No time to sit must be the reason
One London based Italian by name of Giusti was a regular exhibitor at the Modern Society of Portrait Painters from its very first show in 1907. I do not know what his work looks like - and he may have left London some time before this portrait was painted

Martin Hopkinson,

Giuseppe Giusti born 1872 does not seem to have exhibited in Britain after 1913. So he is unlikely to be the painter

Tim Williams,

Edward Poynter exhibited a portrait of 'Miss Doris and Miss Brenda Petersen' at the R.A. in 1915, along with a portrait of just Doris.

Not much use really.

Martin Hopkinson,

There are extremely few publications on Italian portraiture of this period in British libraries. So ultimately we may need to identify a specialist or specialists in Italy to identify the painter, if we come to agree with the donor's statement. My guess is that the artist worked in Venice or North East Italy and was aware of slightly earlier painting in Vienna and Munich. Giorgio Marini of the Uffizi says that 'it reminds me in some ways of the style of Lino Selvatico', but adds the caveat that 'there is no evidence that he painted the Countess'.

Andrea Kollmann,

A Portrait of Mrs. Reynolds (=Doris Petersen) 'by Herkomer' was shown at the R.A. exhibition in 1915 according to the Cheltenham Chronicle, 26th Feb 1916.
Too early again.

Martin Hopkinson,

Sergio Marinelli ed., 'Il ritratto nel Veneto 1866 -1945', Banco Popolare di Verona e Novara, 2005, the most serious study of portraiture in that region, provides no support for identifying the portraitist as one of the leading artists in the Veneto at this date.
However, it might be worth looking in the catalogues of the Venice Biennali and in those of the most serious annual regional English exhibitions of the period [Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham ] for this portrait
Where was the Earl of Wilton's main residence at this time?

Various, including Heaton Park, Manchester, to 1902; Wilton Park, Melton Mowbray until 1919; and town house in London no doubt (2nd and 3rd Earls had 7 Grosvenor Square [Survey of London]).

Andrea Kollmann,

In 1920, her husband's residence is Elkington Hall, Louth, Lincolshire.

Martin Hopkinson,

Although Gioja was in London in 1915 when he painted Lady Anne Mills, I think that the Manchester portrait is of a different order in quality - although I do think that we can entirely rule him out

Martin Hopkinson,

There is a 1980 monograph on Gioja unfortunately only covering his work from 1878 to 1913 - Pasqualino Spadini, L 'archivio di Edoardo Gioja ..., Emporio Floreale, Rome
His later career should be summarised [with a bibliography] in a recent volume of de Gruyter, Kunstlerlexikon, Munich [the new 'Thieme - Becker']

Martin Hopkinson,

Spadini's book is not recorded on Copac. which may mean that there is no copy of it in a major British library

Tim Williams,

Gioja moved to London permanently in 1921 and had apparently been the art teacher of Princess Margaret of Connaught and Princess Patricia of Connaught - the Connaught's grew up in England and Canada - Margaret died in 1920 so presumably Gioja was here for a period before this.

Martin Hopkinson,

I have asked a couple of art historians based in Italy much more knowledgeable than me about Italian artists of this period what they think of Tim's interesting suggestion. His British clientele does suggest that he is the sort of Italian portrait painter that the Wiltons might have commissioned

Tim Williams,

Brilliant resource Andrea.

The photographs show that Gioja had a studio in London as early as circa 1902 and how reliant he was on photography.

Interesting artist, he has one of the most superlative filled reviews I've read in 'The Studio', and a champion of pre-raphism in Italy, yet completely obscure.

Osmund Bullock,

Well done, Andrea, for tracking that down - as Tim says, a brilliant resource. After research yesterday, I was already of the mind that Tim's suggested attribution was right, but this has convinced me.

Gioja's style (and apparent quality) is variable, but one can see from the archive and other images online that there are some recurrent visual habits and themes that are also in the portrait of Lady Wilton:

(a) He favours a heavily-draped background (at least a dozen in the archive); and although we cannot see the colour in these, in other images they are often rich crimson - as in the two portraits of King Vittorio Emanuele III & Queen Elena of Italy that Tim linked to (another version of the latter is in the archive), and two others I am attaching (1&2). And even when there is no red drapery, he shows a liking for the colour (3&4).
(b) He likes to introduce a piece of furniture (again a dozen examples) - a chair, a sofa, a table, a piano, on which the subjects's hand is displayed - sometimes in a rather distinctive way with backwards-bent wrist and 'broken' fingers (see Lady Wilton, Queen Elena, and archive nos FG 130, 134, 203, 213, 235, 282).
(c) Only a handful of examples, but I suspect not commonly painted in the C20th - the fur stole. See Lady W, attachment #1 and FG 80.

I think it is worth looking at attachments 1&2 in a broader context, too. Neither is identified, but I feel they are later works (one supposedly very late, 1934). And though one image is poor, I would suggest that they are both much closer to Lady Wilton in colouring, tone and technique than others we have seen.

Martin Hopkinson,

Paul Nicholls , an art historian in Milan who specialises in Italian painting of this period, doubts that the portrait is by Gioja

Andrea Kollmann,

Thanks Tim and Osmund. But I was wondering, would you not expect his signature on such a painting? Most of the few examples online are signed.

Tim Williams,

I would expect every artist to sign a painting of this date and this size! I think the question should be (as I imagine this picture is in a store room) has anyone ever looked for a signature or inscription front and back? It's logistically difficult to look at the back of paintings this size - a two people job.

Osmund Bullock,

I was going to say the same thing, Tim: and Gioja seems to have routinely signed his work (at this period in a cursive script). It would of course not be the first time here that there's been an overlooked signature...!

Johnson & Greutzner list only three works (portraits, I think) exhibited by Gioja: one at the Walker, Liverpool, two at the R.A. (all in 1922-23). One of the latter was of Mr M(erwanji) D Jeejeebhoy. And although Gioja was clearly painting in England regularly before settling here in 1921, I wouldn't rule out Lady Wilton's portrait being as late as that. If so, I much doubt it was a commission by her husband - further delving has revealed that they had effectively separated by late 1920, though she bore his son in May 1921 - he had travelled alone to Bombay in January 1921, came back briefly, then almost unbelievably went off to South Africa two days before the child was born.

The only other exhibiting by Gioja in England I've found is a landscape show at the Bruton Galleries in July 1914, a charity one at Claridge's in Dec 1921, and a mixed one (including portraits) in April/May 1925 at his home and studio in Glebe Place, Chelsea.

I'm attaching three obituaries of varying colours (he died quite literally at his easel), which confirm his solid aristocratic connections (he was one himself). One states that "Professor Gioja was intensely shy and worked almost in secret. His portraits hang in Britain's most famous houses." Noble birth, non-showiness and extreme discretion would, of course, be an attractive combination to the upper crust. And his lack of self-promotion and distaste for the social whirl go a long way to explaining his almost complete absence from the newspapers between 1925 and his death in 1937. His presence is noted at only two events, in 1934 & 1935, oddly both given by the Saudi Minister in London - and it was the Saudi minister's portrait he was painting when he died. Interestingly, his daughter Armida converted to Islam and married a Anglo-Rajput sheikh who worked in London as an architect (but was killed in their home by a V1 flying bomb in June 1944).

Just as a suggestion by a reader of the ongoing discussion: it seems clear this portrait of the unhappy countess has generated much interest. It would be great, if as suggested above, Manchester could look at the object itself, especially the back. This might yield some labels or inscriptions which could provide more to go on.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Just to let everyone know that we are willing to look for a signature but due to the location of this work that is not currently possible in the short-term. However it is due to be moved before xmas and we will make sure it is given a thorough going over. Hope this delay doesn't stunt the discussion.

Tim Williams,

The 1921 picture at the RA was just titled 'portrait', so unlikely to be a 'society' person. I'm concur though, this could easily be executed in the 20s.

I think I've exhausted most of my sources - I've a couple more databases to search but I don't expect to find anything new in them.

We've got a little bit of circumstantial evidence and some compelling yet not entirely convincing iconographical evidence, but nothing that 'seals the deal'. I think unless there is a cache of Wilton papers in an archive somewhere......

I forgot to check and there is a cache of Wilton papers at the Greater Manchester County Record Office (Manchester Archives)

Mostly relating to estate rents etc, the quantity of ephemera they have relating to the Egerton family, Earls of Wilton and Heaton Hall is overwhelming to even search online. Best to wait for the portrait to get examined....

Osmund Bullock,

Yes - just had a brief look at the huge online catalogue, but gave up after five minutes.

Thank you, Manchester. If - IF - it's by Gioja (why do I keep starting to write 'Goya'?), and it's signed, it should be at the bottom - I haven't seen one signed anywhere else. Speaking for myself, a wait for the answer might be healthy - I've become rather over-involved in the strange lives and troubles of the Wiltons (I've not posted the half of it!). A film script in there, perhaps...

What I'd really like to see are images of more post-WW1 portraits, but they are elusive. A visit to the Heinz Archive boxes, I think, but probably not possible for ten days.

Martin Hopkinson,

This portrait was not in the catalogue for the 1920 Venice Biennale, nor could I find it in the catalogues of the Liverpool Autumn Exhibitions or the Manchester Academy exhibitions, which I was able to see in the National Art Library. However, I suspect that their holdings are incomplete

On another errand at the NPG Archive, I did a quick basic check. Nothing on the right Petersens and the only one of our Countess of Wilton, Brenda, is Manchester's painting in a black and white photograph. Dead end.

Martin Hopkinson,

Part of Manchester's Museums and Galleries is Platt Hall, one of the best museums of costume in Britain. Perhaps its Curator could offer a view as to the dating of the costume. The Countess is likely to be wearing up to date clothing

Martin Hopkinson,

It occurs to me that we may have looking at too late a date for this painting. This could be an engagement portrait, rather than a marriage portrait, and my wife, Jane Lee, specialist on French painting of this period, suggests that the dress may be by either Jean Patou or Paul Poiret. Was her father a Danish citizen , and was she a Danish citizen?

Martin Hopkinson,

Patou's 'house' opened in 1912 and became famous in 1913, when an American bought his complete designs for the year. There is a very recent monograph on him, while Poiret of course has been much studied. One of Patou's trademarks was furs

Osmund Bullock,

Martin, I would really welcome a more expert opinion of her dress; but a lengthy trawl through online images suggested to my inexpert eye that it was unlikely to be before 1917, and probably later - the very plain, flat chemise and somewhat dropped waist seemed to be the deciding factors. I also thought she looked a good bit older then her twin in 1915, when they were 20 (see Andrea's post 6 days ago). But the engagement was announced in May 1917 and they were married at the end of August, so it's certainly possible that it dates from then - indeed that was my first thought.

Brenda was British, born in Newcastle. Her father William Petersen was born in Denmark, but naturalised British from 1887. Her mother was Scottish.

Osmund Bullock,

An extensive biography of Gioja (in Italian) here: http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/edoardo-gioja_(Dizionario-Biografico)/

It tells how the archive was found in a trunk at an antique market in 1981 - I thought for a moment it was implying that there was more post-1913 stuff as yet unpublished, but I think not. It also mentions portraits of three Indian "princesses" illustrated in a 1925 edition of 'Emporium' magazine, and this can be viewed here: http://www.artivisive.sns.it/galleria/libro.php?volume=LXI&pagina=LXI_361_070.jpg

The quality of the monochrome reproduction isn't great, and it's hard to draw any conclusions - they don't seem very like Lady Wilton in style...nor so very different either. I assume you didn't have time to look for Gioja at the Heinz, Barbara?

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, for some reason the first link doesn't work - try copying and pasting it into the address field manually. Alternatively, click on the 'Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani' link top right, do a search ('Cerca') with "edoardo gioja" in the box, then click on 'Leggi' at the end of the short text.

Martin Hopkinson,

Unfortunately Emmanuelle's book, Jean Patou. A fashionable life, Paris, c. 2012 does not illustrate Patou's earliest dresses

Andrea Kollmann,

I have been looking for further photos that might assist the dating of this painting.
A pretty good photo of Doris was taken in 1919 ( Illustrated London News, Nov 22th, 1919.)
There is also another reference to a "New Portrait" of her in an article in The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality, Volume 99 (September 12th 1917).
Unfortunatly, I have no possibility to access this journal.

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Martin Hopkinson,

Giogio Marini of the Uffizi thinks that the portrait is 'on a different level, more accurate and modern' than any work of Gioja. He also suggests that this as yet unknown portraitist made use of photography

Osmund Bullock,

Martin, I would certainly agree as far as much (but not all) of Gioja's earlier work is concerned; but do you know how familiar Dr. Marini is with his post-war portraits? Whatever else may be said of them, the three Indian princesses of 1924, and indeed the unknown lady of 1934 seem pretty 'accurate and modern', as far as I can judge from the images. As to the photographic aspect, we know from the archive that Gioja used it actively to record his work, and as an aid to portrait composition - it would not surprise me if he later extended its use to helping achieve a likeness.

Osmund Bullock,

I don't think Lady Wilton can have been dressed by Jean Patou or Paul Pioret in 1917 - both designers were away fighting from 1914, and Patou closed up shop entirely for the duration and didn't re-open until 1919. The House of Poiret seems to have carried on, but when the designer returned to Paris after his demob he found the business broke and on the verge of collapse. In any case, I think it unlikely that British clients would have come to northern France while hostilities lasted (see my post above on the subject), and Paris couturiers clearly struggled - Chanel famously survived (and flourished) by opening shop in Biarritz, where she catered to a wealthy clientèle from across the border in neutral Spain.

Either designer would have been possible after the war, however, especially Patou (Poiret never really regained his pre-war reputation and fashionability). And as it happens the only report I have found of Lord & Lady Wilton travelling abroad - and their movements are recorded in copious detail - was a May 1920 Court Circular saying that they had left for the Ritz in Paris. They had leased their London house in Connaught Sq for three months, so an extended trip may have been intended (an attempted second honeymoon?). In the event things may not have gone well, as Lady W. was back in London rather before then, and there seems to be no record of them ever doing anything as a couple again.

Still looking for an alternative artist to Gioja, this could have an opportunity for Brenda to have been painted in Italy (or elsewhere on the Continent), though the picture's largish size (c.51x39 in) would I suppose make that slightly less likely in transport convenience terms. It is perhaps worth observing that the canvas size is much closer to an historic French format than it is to the equivalent British or Italian ones (though non-standard dimensions were common by then).

Osmund Bullock,

Here is a photo of Lady Wilton, with children, in 1923. Her hairstyle has changed a bit, and her face is just a little older, but nothing is dramatically different - I would still guess our portrait as being c1919, with a little leeway either side.

Oh, and I've just written to Oriole Cullen, curator of C20th fashion at the V&A, to see if she has any thoughts on the dating of Lady W's clothes. Will report back.

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Andrea Kollmann,

A photo used in several newspaper articles about her charity work for the Red Cross in 1918 shows her wearing a dress similar in style to the one in the painting. Different hairstyle, but I think the photo supports Osmund's suggestion that the portrait was painted c1919.

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Tim Williams,

Might Bendor have access to some info on this as I think the current earl is his uncle?

Osmund Bullock,

Yet more very really useful images, Andrea, thank you. However I think I’ve finally trumped all the ones we’ve found to date with the attached June 1919 press photo of her (her details are on the back)! Annoyingly it is watermarked, and her dress is quite different, but the hairstyle is clear enough – it has the same centre-parting (not apparently there in Andrea’s 1918 one), the same sort of wispy part-fringe, and the hair bulk to the sides has yet to expand outwards in the manner of the 1923 Country Life shot.

I have also now heard back - in very interesting detail - from Cassie Davies-Strodder and Oriole Cullen at the V&A. From the fashion angle the answer is that she’s wearing what is probably a dinner dress, and the date is likely to be around 1919, perhaps a fraction later. I’m attaching some images of 1919 French dress designs (most by Jeanne Paquin) with echoes of what Brenda is wearing.

Osmund Bullock,

Actually I would like to quote Cassie in full, just to show how extraordinarily kind and helpful curators in museums can often be: her reply goes way beyond the call of duty, and I am immensely grateful to her. It's long, though, so I’ll post it as an attachment to stop the thread length getting out of hand. Martin, you’ll see that your wife’s suggestion of Paul Poiret is mentioned as an influence. The ‘Heather’ talked about is Heather Firbank, a near contemporary of Brenda Petersen's (with a similar ‘new money’ background), whose extensive wardrobe, held by the V&A, was researched in depth by CDS for a book.

All of which is fascinating (to me, at least), and pretty much nails the date to c1919-20 - but gets us no nearer to an artist. Tim, in view of the difficulties surrounding the Wiltons' relationship I wonder if that would be a welcome approach; and besides, if her own son knew little, I doubt a more distant relation (not even her descendant) will know more – after the death of her son (the donor), the title went off at a tangent, and the present Earl is a 4th cousin with a different surname, and lives in Australia!

I think all we can sensibly do now is wait and hope that on closer inspection the picture itself (including the back, Manchester, pleeeease) may reveal something.

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Andrea Kollmann,

Really fascinating information Osmund!

While looking for comparable portraits, I found this one. Interesting (in my opinion) because it shows another noble lady in a similar dress and position and it was painted in 1919.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/mabel-carlisle-wife-of-hugh-edwardes-6th-baron-kensington-181586

I am also looking forward to new information from Manchester. I think I have spotted a signature (botom of the painting, in the middle of the couch, but maybe its just wishful thinking.

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Osmund Bullock,

She IS interesting, Andrea, though a bit older and less fashionable - and unlike Brenda she's wearing jewellery (Cassie talked about that), including a deliberately displayed ring. The fact that Brenda's ring finger is almost gratuitously hidden - with her hand where it is it would have been easier to show it than not - makes me think it might be a post-separation statement (i.e. from 1920 on).

I'm not really convinced by the 'signature' - however, it got me looking, and I believe there may be one in the bottom left corner! As always at these resolutions you can't really see, and the imagination runs wild, but there could be a capital 'GI' there - actually it looks like "GILES"...or is the last part a date (??1923)?

Rather late in the day, but is there any chance of a high-res image, please - at least of the bottom left corner?

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, I didn't do that image very well - you have to save it and then enlarge a bit to see anything

Andrea Kollmann,

Looks like a number to me too, but without a high-res image, we can only guess. Lets hope we won't have to wait too much longer!

Manchester Art Gallery,

Hi everyone. We will hopefully be able to access the work this week and get some more images.

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you, Manchester: we look forward to it.

Manchester Art Gallery,

I have 2 images from the painting to show everyone. Unfortunately due to where the picture was being stored the light levels were shocking so all pictures of the front of the painting are not worth sharing as you can't see much, any use of a flash ruins the picture. We have scanned the whole front with a torch and there are no signs of a signature or number in the corners. And as you can see from the back there isn't much to go off there either.

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Osmund Bullock,

Oh dear, that's disappointing re the (not) signature. If you do get a chance to re-do the front, just to re-emphasise that the #1 area of interest is in the bottom left corner - it seems very dark down there, and if - IF - there's anything there it would take a strong light to pick it out (a flash shot taken obliquely might do it). By the way, is there a higher-res version of our existing image available?

I've re-done the close-up (with tweaked brightness & contrast), and it's a bit clearer now what and where we're talking about - there's an arrow pointing at the supposed numbers/letters (which appear to continue below the bottom of the image). But they may well be, as they often are, just marks from the frame...or nothing at all.

Last chance saloon, really: I've nothing else to suggest, and nowhere else to go.

Osmund Bullock,

Good find, Andrea - clearly the (far clearer) original of the three 1918 newspaper photos you posted together five months ago.

I suppose you are right about the (non-) signature, though I retain a scintilla of doubt: is there something possibly nestling under the edge of the frame? See attached image. Things seen there, however, are almost always just random patterns caused by wear from the frame: and to get a 4+ ft high painting in deep storage *out* of the frame to try and see, on the very off-chance, would not really make sense.

Sadly I think we're at the end of the road now, though like Andrea I'd still like to see the PCF higher-res. I would suggest, however, that fashion evidence, coupled with the photos found that record her developing hairstyle, enable the the portrait's date to be narrowed down with some confidence to circa 1919-20.

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Martin Hopkinson,

Sometimes portraits were exhibited a couple of years after their execution. Was there a 1922 Royal Society of Portrait Painters exhibition [not in the NAL run, but may be the RA Library has a copy] ?

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you, Manchester - but no sign of a signature anywhere, alas. I'm completely out of ideas, now.

It's possible, Martin; but granted the severe ructions in Lady Wilton's life that closely followed the probable date of the portrait, I rather doubt she would have wanted it exhibited.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Can we conclude that we do not know who painted this painting after extensively exploring many possible avenues?

Osmund Bullock,

I'm afraid so, Manchester: Edoardo Gioja (1862-1937) is certainly perfectly plausible, but in truth he remains no more than a possible. The only pretty firm conclusion is that the painting dates from c1919-20.

Thanks for your support and help, and I'm sorry we couldn't crack it.

Tim Williams,

Hang on -

"Edoardo Gioja gave last week an attractive exhibition of recent portraits; including three quarter lengths of Miss Bulteil and Mme. Zoyay Poklewska-, and a round (head and bust) of the Princess de Samos."

From a google snippet of 'The Architect and Building News - Volume 104 - Page 407' 1920.

Isn't Miss Bulteil the sister, Doris?

Tim Williams,

The article is from December 24th, 1920 - so the exhibition happened the preceeding week somewhere in London.

If someone has access to the Hathi trust digitial collections (American university membership) I think the full article can be viewed online:

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/012226004

It was certainly worth hanging on, Tim, but surely Doris Petersen would have become Mrs [sic] Bulteel [sic] on her second marriage in 1919? However, this could just be a matter of slight inaccuracy on the part of an architectural journal -- not 'The Tatler'.

Tim Williams,

The sister would be Mrs Bulteil rather than Miss, but it would be an extraordinary coincidence if they are not one and the same. It could well be a google OCR error, so we really need to see the original article.

Osmund Bullock,

Well done, Tim, that's a splendid find, and must tip the balance of probability towards Gioja (the original suggestion of whom was also yours). When Lord Wilton gifted the portrait of his mother to Manchester in 1979 he did recall that his aunt had also been painted by the same artist (and thought he might have been Italian). The widowed Doris (alias Marie Doris, alias Marie Dolores - she must have hated the name) married John Crocker Bulteel in late Nov 1919, and bore their first child in early Oct 1920. It seems very plausible that she might have posed for a portrait a month or two later.

Osmund Bullock,

I've managed to reconstruct much of the relevant page from snippets cheated out of Google Books (see attached). There's very little about the exhibition itself - it may perhaps have been at the artist's studio and home, like one he held in 1925. Unfortunately "Miss Bulteil" is also how it's printed in the original; and while 'Bulteil' is certainly an error for 'Bulteel' (the former spelling seems to have been unknown at the time), the 'Miss' could possibly be correct: there was a woman of that name of social standing around in 1920.

'Miss Bulteel' usually appears in the context of a few official engagements by Q. Victoria's youngest child, Princess Beatrice, to whom she was a long-serving Lady-in-Waiting. HRH was by then in her 60s, and had largely withdrawn from public life after the deaths of her husband, her mother, and her favourite son (killed in WWI). Elizabeth 'Bessie' Bulteel was much the same age (in fact slightly older), and it seems unlikely that she was very stylish or socially active: I imagine she was chosen for her sobriety and discretion. She was in fact an aunt of Doris's husband, and her own aunt had been a courtier to Q. Victoria. There may have been other Miss Bulteels around (though John Bulteel's sisters were both married), but none of them seems to have made enough of a mark socially to have appeared in print. Marie Doris, Mrs Bulteel, however, was very different: from her many newspaper appearances it's clear that she was a social animal (as she had been before her marriage). She was young, rich, beautiful, well-connected, and the widow of a VC winner - altogether a more likely candidate for a portrait by a fashionable society artist, and one singled out for attention in print.

I think it likely that the 'Miss' of the article was (like the misspelling of Bulteel) a mistake, and that the portrait exhibited was of Doris. And that in turn also makes it likely that Edoardo Gioja is indeed the artist of this portrait of her younger sister. So not proven, but in my view definitely now worth an "attributed to".

I agree we seem to have enough circumstantial evidence to at least attribute this portrait to Edoardo Gioja. Perhaps Katharine Eustace, Group Leader for British 20th c. portraits could have a look at the discussion and make a formal recommendation?

Tim Williams,

I agree Osmund, I went through many Miss and Mrs Bulteels after I made my posts (fearing error) and Doris was the easiest fit. The portrait of 'Miss Bulteil', like Brenda above is also a three-quarter length.

I wonder if there is anything in the Gioja box at the Witt? One might expect the portraits of 'Miss Bulteil' and 'Zoya Poklewska' (Zoya Poklewski-Kozeill) to share much in common with the portrait of Brenda; same studio, furniture, size, format etc.

Osmund Bullock,

I had an idea there wasn't a Gioja box, Tim...but I'm not absolutely sure now I ever looked properly (though I meant to). I'll go and check (and also for Bulteel & Poklewski). How satisfying it would be to nail this after so much effort.

Tim Williams,

The checklist has Edoardo Gioja listed, so hopefully there is one. I wish I could check myself, but alas London is many miles from Exmoor. It would be very satisfying indeed to have this one sewn up!

Osmund Bullock,

Zoya (or Zoia) Poklewski-Koziell's younger son, Vincent (b.1929) published a memoir two years ago. I might try and track him down and see if he has or knows of her portrait.

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, Tim, I was being particularly dim about the Witt - I was thinking of the Heinz Archive. I'm hoping to make it to the Heinz tomorrow, and will perhaps have time to go the Witt too.

I've tracked down members of the Poklewski-Koziell family, and have just written to one who I believe may be Zoia's grandson. I'll keep the discussion posted.

Sara Johnstone,

Have just picked up on this conversation as I was doing some research into Bessie Bulteel.

I am Doris Bulteel's granddaughter. My mother was her third and youngest daughter Mary.

There is a companion portrait of Mrs. John Crocker Bulteel ( Marie Dolores/Doris poor thing!) by Eduardo Gioya and indeed I have it!

It is signed and dated, I think 1919, bottom right hand corner.
I hope this solves the problem !

Brenda and Doris were twin sisters, daughters of Sir William Petersen. Doris became Bulteel on her second marriage and my grandparents looked after John Wilton and his sister Alexandra on the death of their parents when they were children.

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Tim Williams,

Amazing! Just to be thorough, can you provide the dimensions of the canvas Sara? And do you know of any family anectodes regarding Gioja having painted both sisters? It's fantastic to have the other image, thank you.

Tim Williams,

Sorry I'm typing on a phone *anecdotes!

Sara Johnstone,

Have to be out this morning so no time until later. However I have several family scrapbooks and will look through the relevant dates. I'm sure there are photographs of Doris, but will look for Brenda and anything to do with the portraits.

Unfortunately, I was never told any anecdotes by my late mother. However I will ask my cousin Brenda's granddaughter!

Sara Johnstone,

Tim, I haven't an accurate measure here and the painting is in its frame, however the canvas measurements seem to tally with those of Brenda.

I have found some cuttings in Bessie Bulteel's albums of Doris and Crocker Bulteels engagement. I know there are more photographs of her somewhere, but I have over 40 albums going from the 1870's to the 1940's and some are in a huge trunk that I can't move on my own!

Interestingly the two princesses who Gioya apparently tutored , appear quite frequently in the albums. If he was involved at court, undoubtedly, Bessie, who was lady-in-waiting to Princess Beatrice for decades, would have known him. The albums are full of billets-doux from the likes of de Lazlo and Leighton.

However as their father William Petersen presumably commissioned the Poynter of his twin daughters, I don't see why he wouldn't have commissioned the Gioyas. Separate rather than together, because of their married status.

Sorry for poor quality photographs, only an iPad at my disposal!

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Sara Johnstone,

Rather an overload of photographs, delete what you want.

However on looking at the photos of date and signature , I think that the date could also well be 1920. It would need someone to look at it professionally.

However, it remains that the painting of Doris has a direct provenance.

I will continue to look in 'the albums ' for references to the portraits.

Tim Williams,

Yes, I read 1920 when I looked on a monitor earlier. I would say that the evidence is now overwhelming for a firm attribution to Gioja, but if you can find something that absolutely puts it to bed (or indeed suggests otherwise) that would be super. Many of the society clippings may seem extraneous, but they do help in forming a better understanding of the artist's work, circles and patronage in London/UK, certainly with regards to the princesses etc. How splendid to reunite the sisters portraits, after almost a century, even if only digitally!

Sara Johnstone,

Perhaps it would be helpful to know that John Wilton set up a trust which included historical Bulteel family portraits, I believe to thank my grandmother for taking him and his sister into her family. He was very generous to Doris and her daughters, two of whom died without issue.

I was the sole eventual beneficiary and there is documentation of all the items including the portrait of Doris, always attributed to Gioya.

I imagine that he gave away the Brenda portrait which wasn't in the trust, when he no longer had any space for it. Having lived in several large houses, he downsized as he got older. I don't know if he offered it to his neice, Brenda's granddaughter, but will ask. I'm afraid that my mother never mentioned it to me. John Wilton's widow, Diana, is still alive, but not at all well...will see what I can do!

However I will continue to search the 'albums' but I'm afraid I don't think that I have any other other family correspondence that mentions the Brenda portrait. Next stop my cousin!

Osmund Bullock,

This is exciting stuff, Sara – and seeing your grandmother’s portrait is hugely helpful. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to get involved, and for sharing so much.

The date is almost certainly 1920 (enhanced image attached) - and this means it must be the portrait Gioja exhibited in December of that year. Assuming John Wilton's memory was correct that his aunt had been painted by the same, probably Italian artist, we are pretty much there. One might have hoped that the two portraits, and their poses and backgrounds, were more directly comparable - the outdoor vs indoor settings, in particular, have resulted in a somewhat different tonality. And a comparison of drapery technique would have been easier if they had been dressed in more closely related fabrics - Brenda'a fur and beaded black chiffon are far from Doris's gold lamé and shot silk (though all are painted with great skill). However if they are (as they seem to be from the proportions of about 1.33 : 1) pretty much the same size, that is significant - I don't think that's a standard English size.

Another point, one of iconography, perhaps supports the idea of a common artist. The new mother Doris is shown with her wedding ring subtly but clearly displayed - perfectly normal for a married woman; but unusually we cannot see Brenda's ring finger at all. And that's not because she is posed with her left hand invisible - indeed it is given great prominence. But somehow she and the artist contrive to block it completely, even gratuitously from our view: we cannot know if she is wearing a wedding ring or not. A deliberate choice, perhaps, for a separated wife?

Sara Johnstone,

Please don't thank me, this is what I love to do and it was fortuitous that I spotted the site and a subject so close to home!

Just a few thoughts: looking at the pics of the paintings side by side, it should be said that Doris is hanging on a stair wall with a large window to her right. Photographed correctly she wouldn't look so washed out, indeed the colours and paintwork are very vibrant with lively brush strokes and I believe that in life the two would compliment each other well.

I agree that Brenda is significantly not showing her wedding ring and I wonder if the fingers could have been altered or the ring taken out? It seems strange to have that hand in such a prominent position in the pose. I had no idea that she had had such a sad time.

As for the background in Doris's composition, I am not surprised. If my grandfather had any say in the matter this is what he would have preferred. His father died in May 1920 and they would have been living on the family estate in Devon. Devon was the biggest love of his life and the estate which joined those of his Bulteel cousins( Mildmay and Revelstokes) was linked throughout with woodland gardens and drives along the estuary and coast. I feel that the background conveys these surroundings.

I have just noticed in the albums that Bessie Bulteel received an invitation to the wedding of Princess Patricia of Connaught in Westminster Abbeyat the end of February 1919 and it was quite possible that the Princess's former art tutor was also a guest.

Doris was engaged in July 1919, married in November 1919 and it appears that her painting was exhibited in December 1920. If the portrait was painted in 1920 it. May have been early in the year before her pregnancy was too apparent. If it had been after the baby's birth, I believe in October, she would hardly have recovered her slim figure or left a new born and indeed the paint would not be dry!

Perhaps Brenda's portrait was begun before her marriage blew up and something of the hand altered slightly as the painting progressed and the marriage retreated. Brenda was painted in furs and Doris in a sleeveless dress, in a an evening glade and leaves on the trees!

Will try Brenda's niece again this evening to see if she can add anything!

Sara Johnstone,

Sadly, have not had much luck with Brenda's granddaughter. Yes, she knows about the portrait, indeed she and her mother were apparently somewhat piqued not to have been offered it!

However, she had no idea of the artist and not that much information about her grandmother who after all died in 1930 when her own mother and uncle were still very young.

Sorry for the dead end here!

Sara Johnstone,

Apologies, re-reading some of the above, I apologise for a few typos and grammatical faux pas etc. Am in the depth of the country and Internet cut out so had to retype in haste!

Osmund Bullock,

Well, it’s a pity that Brenda's granddaughter knew nothing more, but thanks for trying – these things can sometimes be sensitive where recent-ish family history is concerned.

I'm sure you're right about the date of Doris's portrait, though it doesn't affect us directly. I like the idea that Sig. Gioja (he preferred the plain 'Mr' over the Count that he was) may have been a fellow guest, with Bessie Bulteel, at Princess Patricia's wedding. I went through a host of press reports, from The Times downwards, of what was a hugely-celebrated public event for any sign of him - I even checked the vast published list of wedding presents - but no luck...not that it means much, as no Bulteel was listed either! I suspect that amidst an ocean of royalty, nobility and other notables (the Laverys, for example), mere mortal guests would not have been thought newsworthy. And besides, Gioja was a notably private man – it may not have been his sort of thing at all.

I also like the idea that the hand/ring may have been altered in the portrait. In fact looking at the high-res image there is an odd line in the brushwork veering off at an angle from the forearm: could it possibly be a pentimento relating to this? See attachment 1.

I might add that Gioja seems to have had a penchant for an outstretched-arm pose, and/or a hand bent back in a similar fashion to this. There are numerous examples, especially from his pre-1913 archive, of portraits and photographed models showing variations on this theme – in fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s a recognisable personal trait of the artist, and helps support the attribution of Brenda’s portrait to him. See attachment 2.

PS I can't see *anything* to apologize for in your writing!

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Manchester Art Gallery,

4 weeks without any new updates so I thought I would check with everyone to see where the confidence levels currently reside on Gioja being the artist?

Osmund Bullock,

The circumstantial case is now extremely strong. Most significantly, John Wilton said his aunt was painted by the same artist, and he thought he might have been Italian. Thanks to Tim and confirmed by Sara Johnstone, we have Edoardo Gioja who fits that bill precisely.

Seeing Doris's portrait has given us an image that, though the pose and setting are very different, compares well in general style and technique (allowing for the difference in lighting mentioned by Sara). I would also suggest that the way the twin sisters' physiognomy is seen by the artist is identical - a painted portrait is not a photograph, and different artists usually see the face of the same person (or their twin) rather differently. I think something of a similar character is seen in both, too - reflective, even a little sad. The non-standard canvas sizes would appear to tally, though we don't have a precise measure of that. Though I have not heard back from Zoia Poklewski-Koziell's grandson, in truth the best we might have hoped for was portrait that had a closer pose or background. I think my 'Gioja's hands' collection carries weight - but then I would, wouldn't I? Seeing all those images together also throws up other style similarities previously mentioned. But it is surprising that there is no signature, and that, along with the lack of any other direct evidence of his authorship, means we remain slightly short of the finishing post.

I am certainly too involved in this to be objective, and it must be for others to assess the weight of evidence with disinterest. But, adopting the National Gallery's current preference for avoiding the catch-all 'attributed to', I feel that we can honestly describe this portrait as "probably by Edoardo Gioja".

Manchester Art Gallery,

I would be happy to go with a "probably by" if there is agreement from some of the other parties that have put a lot into this discussion.

With 109 comments, this is the 110th: in the two years it has been running the discussion has been thorough, positively forensic, and extensive. It has produced a wealth of fascinating information, historical and familial, social and sartorial. It has become as conclusive as may be without documentation such as artist sitter ledgers, invoices or other written sources. The time has come to close it. Should Sara Johnstone find conclusive documentation, the case can be reopened and Manchester Art Gallery the happier.

I am happy to conclude that the painting is by Edoardo Gioja (1862–1936), and painted circa 1919-1920: neither attributed to, nor yet possibly by, but by. There have been times in the discussion when I have wanted to intervene and remind everyone that not having seen the real thing, we are all working from images. Comparison with, say, Gioja’s Indian princesses would be very unwise as a determining factor. The determining factors are ones of comparison, but of a historical and family context to the commission.

The breakthrough points were Tim Williams suggesting the artist, and Sara Johnstone providing the necessary corroborative material. Much of the ground work was provided, as has become usual, by Osmund Bullock and Andrea Kollmann, and an important intervention from Cassie Davies-Strodder of the V&A Costume Department. Osmund’s collation of hands has the note of authentic comparison.

Gioja was, from the fascinating archive photographs, something of a chameleon, from flower painting and landscape to photography, a suggestion of a late Italian Symbolist manner before the Great War, and a proficient portrait painter with a clientele from European royalty to the upper-middle classes of Britain and Europe. The pity is that there is so little by way of record once he had settled in London after the War.

Manchester Art Gallery must be very happy with this in-depth study and its wide ranging references.

Jade King,

The collection has been contacted about this recommendation.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Manchester Art Gallery would like to send a great amount of thanks to all of those who have been involved in this discussion. Who would have thought it would span 2 years. We are quite happy to accept Katharine's concluding remarks and will make the necessary changes to attribution and date.