Completed Continental European after 1800, Portraits: British 20th C 24 Who painted this portrait of British nurse Edith Cavell (1865–1915)?

Edith Cavell
Topic: Artist

The inscription as recorded says the artist is 'G. Finchingford', but the signature doesn't appear to have enough letters for that name.

The painting was a gift from Belgium (presumably done when Edith Cavell was in Belgium during the First World War), so perhaps this is a Belgian artist?

Art UK has published this story about Cavell to mark the centenary of the unveiling of a public memorial to her in St Martin's Place, London, on 17th March 1920:

Andrew Shore, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Completed, Outcome

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Martin Hopkinson,

Could it read Finch ft. ? Arthur William Finch 1854-1930 was of course an internationally renowned Belgian artist, but settled in Finland 1897 turming to ceramics - but he returned to painting in 1902. His parents were British, but has anything been written on his later work?
He exhibited alongside Whistler with Les XX
There was a joint Finnish and Belgian exhibition in 1991-2. There may well be more recent Finnish publications

Martin Hopkinson,

latest publication - 2018 Didrichsenin taidemuseo, Helsinki [ only
a small museum]

I attached a detail of the signature to Andrew's enquiry above, but it's not from the high-resolution image. For the time being I have no direct access to those because they will not save to my home computer, but I hope to solve this soon.

It looks to me like a 'G' in front of the surname, but I've not had any luck making that out.

Jacinto Regalado,

The first initial certainly seems to be a G, and the surname appears to have nine letters and start with an F. I rather doubt it is followed by the Latin abbreviation for "made by" (fecit) at such a late date.

Martin Hopkinson,

It might be worth looking at the artists listed in the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie online H. Wijgergangs, Projekte Belgische Vluchtelingen in Nederland 1914-1918 since many Belgian artists fled to Holland - and the portrait of Edith Cavell would have been a dangerous thing to paint in Belgium during the German occupation of Belgium
This artist is not one of those I came across when I was doing research on Belgian artists in exile in Britain during that war

It would be well worth consulting the art historian Dr Caterina Vedickt at the University of Antwerp, a specialist on this period of Belgian art

A portrait of Cavell by a Belgian artist will probably have attracted
attention in several contemporary Belgian newspapers

Osmund Bullock,

Attached is an enlarged and contrast-adjusted image that is perhaps slightly easier to work with...though not, as far as I'm concerned, any easier to decipher!

On the face of it I agree that 'ft' or 'fct' seems unlikely - the last letters look very much part of a continuous sequence of 8 or 9 lower-case ones following a capital 'F' (or perhaps 'T) that logic suggests should be a surname. But I've so far been unable to find a name in Getty's ULAN, or even genealogically, that seems to fit any likely interpretation of what we see. I even considered the idea of the first two strokes being a 'u' with a slightly offset umlaut - or that the 2nd & 3rd ones together could be a 'd'. I remain baffled.

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Osmund Bullock, seems to be based on an image extracted from a pre-war group photograph of her with some of her nurses: . I can't find the photo's origin - it appears in a couple of other places on the web (e.g. ), but all versions are very low-res. It's probably in one of the numerous biographies of Cavell that have appeared over the years - most are not online, but I've checked six or eight that are. It might be worth emailing the website owner to see if he knows more.

It is no surprise to find a photographic original, as I think it unlikely she ever sat for a portrait in oils; the family background was essentially genteel poverty, and few had heard of her before her trial and execution - afterwards *everybody* had heard of her, and not just in England. As a result, countless likenesses were produced in succeeding years, and most were based on photographs, however remotely - the others seem to have been based on nothing but the artist's imagination.

Interestingly there is mention here of "a splendid oil-painting of Miss Cavell" which was presented in 1919 to the school where she taught during a ceremony attended by the King and Queen of the Belgians. It was hung on the class-room wall, and is described by the book's author, one of the nurses she trained, as "an exact likeness of her as she appeared during the early years of our little school in the rue de la Culture". There's not enough there to identify it as our portrait, let alone to help with the artist...but it might be.

Barbara Bryant,

Yes, Osmund, I thought this might well be a posthumous image as she is seen as a rather saintly figure, lending the portrait a sense of homage. The photo is a great find and is most likely to be the source. She appears to be close to the age she was at her death.

Barbara Bryant,

According to a recent book on Cavell, the school on the Rue de la Culture opened in 1907 when she would have been 42 years old. There's probably not enough difference between that age and the age she is in the "pre-war" photo to be relevant.

Mark Wilson,

I presume this is the same picture that appears in the National Archives here:

dated 1915 (the year of Cavell's execution) and part of "Papers of and relating to Edith Cavell (1865-1915), collected by the Institut Edith Cavell - Marie Depage, Uccle, Brussells" The Institut no longer seems to exist in that form (though there are still medical facilities there with Cavell's name), so that may explain why it was donated to the UK in 2000.

It would be wonderful if it had been painted from life when she was imprisoned (August to Aoctober) before her trial but it's also possibly taken from a photograph such as the one used for this photogravure:

that in turn might have been taken from the earlier photo of her with the Depages in 1909 or so:

though the uniform is slightly different and Cavell looks older and more tired in the portrait. But that might be the work of a skilled artist.

(Because of the GF initials I did wonder if it might be linked to Sir George Frampton who created Cavell's monument outside the NPG, but I think that's a coincidence)

Andrew Chamberlain,

If starting with T then could the first group of letters be Tidje, or Tiedje ?

Marcie Doran,

Based on interpretation of the signature, I believe that the artist was George Henry Fortescue Fortt. Is it possible for someone with access to art/artist catalogues to see if he was mentioned?

According to the England and Wales Birth Index and an Ancestry tree, he was born in St. Pancras, London, in [Jul-Aug-Sep] 1856, to George Henry Fortt and his wife Clarissa Fortt (née Gill). George Henry Fortt was a “Bookseller” on the 1881 England Census and a “News Agent” on the 1891 England Census.

According to the Marriage Index and an Ancestry tree, he married Margaret Jane Richards of Penzance, Cornwall, in [Jan-Feb-March] 1888, and passed away in Chicago, Ilinois, USA, February 12, 1915.

The England Census records (attached) show:

1891 - “George H. Fortt Junr” - 72 Holloway Road, Islington, London, England. “Artist. Landscape Painter”. Living with: his parents (on the previous page, which I have not included), wife Margaret, son, brother, aunt, uncle and a visitor.

1901 - “George H. F. Fortt” - Derby Road, Duffield, Derby, England. “Colour Etcher Artist”, working on “Own Account”. Living with his wife Margaret, three sons, and a servant.

1911 - “George Henry F. Fortt” - 19 Hart Street, Bloomsbury, London, England. “Artist and Colour Etcher - Colour Process Engravings”. Living with his wife Margaret, their three sons and Margaret’s son.

Due to the size of the attachments, I will send the final attachment in a separate message.

Osmund Bullock,

Marcie, while I agree it probably starts 'G. F--', I am quite unable to see how the signature could conceivably continue '[F]ortt' or '[F]ortescue' or anything else that might resemble the name you suggest. It is also quite unlike Fortt's signature on the 1911 Census form - note particularly how his capital 'F' is of a completely different type. Comparison attached.

The biographical details you give us are very premature - you'll need to make a plausible case for the artist from the signature first, or find some documentary connection between him & our painting (or Cavell).

Marcie Doran,

Osmund, I provided all the biographical details because I do not have access to the artist databases that others often reference. I thought the names and dates would help another researcher.

The first initial is clearly a “G.”. George is such a common name that the initial “G.” is often used on documents.

Then there are two names - each starts with a capital letter. The first of those names begins “Fort”. A likely given name that starts with “Fort” would be Fortescue”. Fortescue could easily have been abbreviated to “Fort/s”.

The second of those names with a capital letter starts with either “Ford” or “Tord” (note the “ford” in “G. Finchingford”). The final “t” is heavy so could conceivably be two letters (“tt”). Then there is a heavy dash.

Your composite is very useful. It shows that the signature on the 1911 Census form has the same “G” and the same “ort” of “Fortt”. Only the “F” is different, and it could be because the artist did not use the same signature on his artwork.

Since George Fortt was an artist for many decades, perhaps one of his signed works will be discovered by an Art Detective.

Wellcome Collection,

It looks like the signature of Georges Fichefet (1864-1954) who lived at Uccle.

William Schupbach

Jacinto Regalado,

Fichefet was indeed a Belgian artist. There is nothing else listed under his name on Art UK.

Osmund Bullock,

Ah, that's more like it! A collage of other Fichefet signatures of varying (image) sizes attached, alongside the one on our painting.

No doubt in my mind whatsoever. Very well done, William, it's a far from obvious one - I've been fruitlessly picking at it for months, on and off.

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Kieran Owens,

We know the following about Cavell, which could explain the interest of a Belgian artist in her:

"She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination and for helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during the First World War, for which she was arrested. She was accused of treason, found guilty by a court-martial and sentenced to death."

Kieran Owens,

His full name was Georges François Paul Fichefet, who was born in Bruges, Belgium, on the 5th January 1864 and died in Uccle, Belgium, on the 7th May 1954. He has a short entry in the Belgian 'Biographie Nationale' (1984). He was a portrait and landscape painter, and was a student of Jean-François Portaels (1818-1895) at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Bruxelles. He was a member of the art "cercles" "L'Essor" (up until it disbanded in 1891) and "Pour l'Art" (for its establishment in 1892). An 1894 poster for the group's 2nd exhibition is attached, with the artist's name highlighted.'Essor_{LPARENTHESES} artist_group)