Completed Military History, Portraits: British 20th C 11 Who painted this portrait of Brigadier John Mellsop (1907–1980)?

Brigadier John Mellsop, 1946
Topic: Artist

This is dated 1946 and inscribed, bottom-left. The signature which appears to end 'antony' should be legible in an enlargement of that corner of the painting. The collection has kindly supplied a high-resolution detail of the signature. It is documented as illegible but possibly reads 'Hank M. Antony'. Suggestions for the artist are welcome.

Mellsop served in Sumatra in 1946 in command of the 4th Indian Infantry Brigade. The Imperial War Museum has two films in which he can be seen in Medan. Units remained there until November 1946.

He had previously served in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment in India in the early 1930s. The National Army Museum also has some of Mellsop's uniform items in its collection.

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

1 attachment

Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now closed. This portrait was found to have been painted by Henk Ngantung (1921–1991).

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.


It's hard to reconcile the apparent contradictions here: either the portrait is by an unbelievably talented amateur whose name (if Hank M. Antony - and probably thereby American) has made no other mark, or the surname at least is wrong. If it is 'Hank', was that perhaps the Brigadier's nickname? I.e. 'Hank by antony' despite lack of a capital 'A'.

Andrew Chamberlain,

I am not convinced by 'Hank', more likely the first word ends with a double l, or the last curved stroke is the start of the next name, perhaps a capital C?

Andrew Chamberlain,

A little bit of background from "The British Occupation of Indonesia 1945-46"by McMillan: Lt Col Mellsop was promoted to Brigadier and given command of the 36th Indiain Infantry Brigade in December 1945, then given command of the 4th Indian Infantry Brigade in Sumatra in May 1946. The painting is dated April 1946, so likely to have been done in the East Indies.

Kieran Owens,

I think it is clear, as mentioned in the 'More Information' notes, that the painting was executed in Java. It says as much on the canvas from the word that lies below the signature and before the '1946 IV' date. The bold painted line that seems to underscore the signature is actually the top of the J of that name, the bottom part of which has that oddly extended tail.

Osmund Bullock,

This was a troubled, transient stage in the history of what was still technically the Dutch East Indies. After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the Dutch tried for a few years to re-establish their administration in the face of a strong local independence movement. Military support was initially provided mainly by British/British-Indian forces, but from Feb/Mar 1946 the numbers of KNIL (Royal Dutch E.Indies Army) troops - mainly local, but officered by Dutchmen - increased rapidly. Similarly the numbers of Dutch civilian administrators were at exactly this time greatly increasing.

So it seems very possible that a professional Dutch artist serving as a national service/wartime army officer could have been present in Jakarta, say, in April 1946 - we do not need to look for a European artist who actually lived there. And the same thing applies even if he was British.

Following on that, I did wonder if the last name could be 'Martens', though I can't find a suitable candidate. I also rather like Pieter's idea of 'xxxx by antony' (though the unemphasized lower-case 'a' is problematic)

Kieran Owens,

This painting is by Henk Ngantung, or more formally Hendrik Hermanus Joel Ngantung (1921 - 1991). He would have been 25 years old when it was painted. The attached composite, with two drawings, apparently from 1948, will show three very similar signatures. More can be found on the internet for comparison, but those on these drawings are the clearest that I could find so far.

Attached also is a portrait with another similar signature visible.

The Wikipedia entry for this artist/politician can be seen here:

Many of his signed drawings can be seen by Googling the words Gelanggang + Ngantung

Kieran Owens,

An Abe Books search reveals that, in 1992, Yayakarta Agung Offset, of Jakarta, published "a book of reproductions of drawings and sketches made by the artist Henk Ngantung (1921 - 1991) during the political conference held at Linggarjati, Java, in November 1946. The drawings mainly portray the members of the Indonesian delegation, such as Moh. Hatta, Sukarno, Sjahrir and anonymous Indonesian pemudas and secretaries, but also Dutch officials like Van Mook and Schermerhorn."

In the 1963 book, "Indonesia", edited by Ruth T. McVey, a perspective is given on Ngantung's role in 1946. "If the younger generation was united in criticizing the old, it was divided as to its own orientation. Two main attitudes emerged, one of them coalescing into Gelanggang (Forum), a cultural organization which had been founded by Chairil Anwar in 1946. Among its members were the writers Asrul Sani, Rivai Apin, and M. Akbar Djuhana (b. 1925, East Sumatra), and the painters Muchtar Apin, Baharadin, and Henk Ngantung. Its mouthpiece was a supplement to the political and cultural weekly Siasat ( Scrutiny ) likewise called Gelanggang."

All of this, and more online, firmly puts the young Ngantung at the heart of matters in 1946 that would have directly involved Brigadier J. A. Mellsop.

National Army Museum,

Thank you everyone for your tremendous work with this, especially Kieran for finally cracking this one. The Art UK and NAM database records will be updated shortly.