Completed Portraits: British 16th and 17th C, South West England: Artists and Subjects 21 Who painted this portrait of Elizabeth Kennicott, Mayoress of Dartmouth (1683)?

Topic: Artist

Does anyone know who painted this portrait of Elizabeth Kennicott, who was Mayoress of Dartmouth in 1683? Dartmouth Town Council hold no further information about this work. We do not know when it was acquired, or even an estimated execution date. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Dartmouth Guildhall, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Jade Audrey King,

This discussion is now closed. An execution date of c.1692 has been added to this work.

This amend will appear on the Art UK website in due course. 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.

If you have any new information about this painting or it's sitter, please propose a new discussion by following the Art Detective link on the artwork's Art UK page.


Tim Williams,

Elizabeth is portrayed here in mourning attire, and presuming her husband is George Kennicott

the date of the painting would be shortly after his death. There appears to be very little, if anything, on the web about either person.

The artist of her portrait is more accomplished and 'fashionable' than that of his, but surely still a provincial hand. Who was working in and around Dartmouth/Totnes/Exeter at the turn of the 18th century?

Bendor Grosvenor,

Yes, I suspect as Tim says, we're dealing with a regional painter here. It's unlikely we'll make any firm links, but you never know!

Martin Hopkinson,

Dartmouth was an important port in the late 17th century. We should not totally rule out that the artist was not a native born Englishman. Does Dartmouth know anything about the political position of the Kennicotts, and their possible mercantile interests beyond Devon? 1683 was in the middle of a divisive time. Were the Kennicotts supporters of the ruling regime, or protestants who might have welcomed Monmouth or William of Orange? I notice that Charles II had visited the town in 1671

R. Stephens,

There is a better image of this portrait here:

A good thing to do would be to visit the excellent Westcountry studies library which now shares space with the Devon Record Office on the outskirts of Exeter. There is almost no information which is easy to glean there about painters in Devon in the late 17th century, unfortunately, but they might well have something useful on the Dartmouth Corporation and on this couple. Many Devon wills were destroyed in WW2, but there is an index (here: ) which states that the will of a George Kennicott of Dartmouth, was proved at Totnes in 1691 (the reference is Olive Moger, 'Transcripts of Devonshire Wills 1600-1800', vol 12, pp.4040-1 - this is available at the Westcountry Studies Library). Perhaps his and her burials are recorded in parish records, too, though I don't know what survives. Or there may well be other documents that identify his trade, such as a bond of some kind If we are going on the theory that Elizabeth's clothing indicates that her portrait shows her in mourning for him, it would be useful to obtain more facts about George (whose will will very probably clarify the question of whether she survived him or not). It could be, of course, that her portrait was given to mark some bequest of her own. An old county history might well contain a list of such bequests, as that kind of thing accorded well with the antiquarian interests of the 18th-19th century county historians.

Worth also being aware of the many variants in the spelling of this name: Kennicott, Kencot, Kenicoat, Kennycott etc.

R. Stephens,

On the question of authorship, if this is a Devon picture of the early 1690s then the family of Gandy springs to mind, though I don't think William Gandy fits. At any rate, they were a family of skilled portrait painters based in the West country around this time. There's nothing to link the Gandy name to this picture; so it's more a case of them serving as an example of the quality of painter that could make a living in Devon around that time.

Martin Hopkinson,

The 6th form centre in the former King Edward VI School in Totnes [now called King Edward VI Community College] bears the name of Kennicott. A George Kennicott [married 1637] was a signatory in 1642 to a petition addressed to the Justices of the Peace over the threat to the fishermen of Dartmouth Harbour who worked the Newfoundland fisheries posed by the pirates of Algiers and Salle, the rebellion in Ireland and the threat of a Popish rising. So it is more than likely the family's business was in the fishing industry.

Osmund Bullock,

The Kennicott name of part of the K Edward VI School relates to a later member of the family (and not, I think, a descendant of George), Dr Benjamin Kennicott (1718-87), a renowned Hebrew scholar and former pupil there. See:

Your other excellent find, though, is certainly our man - and there is a bit more to be dug out about him on the net...but as Richard observes, you need to have a mind to the vagaries of contemporary spelling.

To take things one step at a time, it seems certain that 'our' Elizabeth Kennicott was indeed the wife of George, as according to the list here - - George was the only Mayor with that surname. George Kennicott's portrait dated 1683 gives his age as 70 (which I wouldn't have guessed, not a grey hair...more of that in a minute). This means he must be the George Kennicott, son of John, baptised at Totnes 27 Aug 1613. Though he had a near-contemporary namesake (bapt Exeter 1620), he is almost certainly also the George Kennicott who married Jane Staplehill at Dartmouth in May 1637. They had a series of children baptised at Dartmouth over the next fifteen years, three of whom seem to have survived childhood: Elisabeth (1639), John (1646) and Marie (1649). Their youngest, George, was baptised in 1652, but only lived a year. Few burials in the area (or anywhere else) have been digitized, let alone have online indexes, but it seems likely that Jane subsequently died, and that Elizabeth was George's second wife (though I have not managed to find such a later marriage).

The slightly confusing 1683 date associated with Elizabeth's portrait must relate, I think, to the date on her husband's painting (and the supposed date of his mayorality). As others have said, this is surely a portrait in mourning, and if (as seems virtually certain) 'our' George's Will is the one proved in 1691 at the Archdeaconry Court of Totnes, then Elizabeth's portrait must indeed date from c1691-2, which I am happy with as a date.

We will learn nothing from George's will, alas, as it's clear from a careful reading of the codes on the list at Richard's Genuki link (and related webpages) that, along with all other Totnes wills, it was indeed destroyed by enemy action in 1942: its existence is known only from the pre-war listing by Olive Moger. Worse still, it is one of the 5,000 wills (out of 11,600 that she covered) from which she made no abstract or transcription - it is just the bare listing that we can see online. No other copy of any part of it is known, nor is one likely ever to be found. So no help there - and there is no record of a will for Elizabeth herself, assuming she did not re-marry. An Elizabeth Kennicotte was buried at Dartmouth in 1756, but that's clearly too late to be our woman.

Osmund Bullock,

More to do with George's portrait than with Elizabeth's, but there is a problem with the 1683 date. According to that same list of Mayors of Dartmouth, George held the position in 1686. How then can he be shown wearing the mayoral robes (if that's what they are) in a portrait dated 1683? The answer may perhaps lie with the fact that George had been mayor before, in 1657 - his surname this time spelled "Kynnycott". That this is the same man is clear from his surviving son, John Kynnycott's Dec 1680 will (proved Feb 1680/1 by his father) - John, also of Dartmouth, was a mariner, and so fortunately his will was proved at the PCC, not locally, and survived. I'm attaching a copy. John seems to have had no wife or children, and apart from a few bequests (one to his sister Mary) he leaves everything "unto my deare Father George Kynnycott".

I was already slightly troubled by the "1683" date on George's portrait - he doesn't frankly look like a man of 70...and notwithstanding it being provincial, I think the hair, collar and demeanour would make more sense for a man of consequence during the Interregnum than they would to one holding office twenty years and more after the Restoration. I wonder whether it isn't actually a portrait commemorating his first mayoralty in 1657 at the age of 44, and that the inscribed date and age are a later addition...any thoughts, anyone?

I have a couple more snippets to share, one of which may clarify the provenance of both portraits, but they'll have to wait till tomorrow now.

Tim Williams,

What evidence is there to suggest these are Kennicott's? I'm guessing there is a name inscribed on the back of one or both of the pictures? If so can this be verified?

I think I remember reading previously (pretty sure it was in the ODNB) that the Elizabeth Kennicott buried in 1756 was the wife of Benjamin Kennicott Sr. and the mother of Dr Benjamin Kennicott.

Osmund Bullock,

The date and age on the portrait called George Kennicott accords perfectly with his known baptism year and long lifespan, so it seems right. I suspect there are inscriptions, too...perhaps painted on the front of the frame like this other old one in the collection:

Your memory is almost spot on: the ODNB says that Dr K's mother was, indeed, another Elizabeth (nee Sage) - but she died a little later, in 1749/50. I have now found an online source for many images of Devon parish records, and the Elizabeth Kennicott who was buried at Dartmouth in 1756 was in fact the wife of Gilbert Kennicott. A more likely candidate for ours is the "Eliz. Kennycott" buried at Exeter in Feb 1710/11 (another, too, was buried there in 1740) - but there are several people of the same(ish) name living in Exeter at the right time, so we can't be certain it's her. No sign of a re-marriage, though. The same new source has, however, turned up a couple of other things.

"Mr George Kinicutt" was buried at Dartmouth on 5th March 1691/2, which accords with the lost will proved 1691 (if that's an old-style date). Unlike most of the male burials, he is specifically given the title "Mr", which suggests a man of status (the child burials give the father's name). No other George K. seems to be living locally, so I am now sure it's the right man.

The other discovery is the burial of apparently yet another of George's wives: "Mary, ye wife of Mr George Kynnycott" was buried at Dartmouth in August 1662. So the Elizabeth of the portrait must have been his third, at least - which is not as unusual as it sounds for a wealthy and healthy man in those days, owing to the high mortality of women during childbirth. He doesn't seem to have had any more children by his later wives, however, and I still can't find records of the later marriages.

I've also found a reference to George K. that throws a little light on his trade. In his Nov 1653 will, John Staplehill the elder of Dartmouth, merchant - a relation of George's first wife Jane Staplehill - appoints as overseers, " brother Gilbert Staplehill, Master Walter Jago, and my cousin George Kennicott merchants...". So his business (and that of his mariner son, John) may have extended beyond the fishing industry alone.

On which subject, George's 1642 plea for protection of the fishing fleet against pirates and other dangers eventually bore fruit, though not until the turmoil of the Civil War(s) had passed. In Oct 1657 Geo. Kynnycott, Mayor of Dartmouth, and 6 others conveyed their thanks to the Admiralty Commissioners for " their fishing ships a convoy from Newfoundland, whereby many hundreds are now comfortably supplied, and delighted with each other's society."

R. Stephens,

This is all interesting stuff about George. As Osmund has named his father as John of Totnes, these are surely the people who were beneficiaries of the will of Richard Rodd of Herefordshire & Totnes, merchant, dated 27 Feb 1633 (NS) & granted probate 17 April 1734 (PROB 11/165 f.28, but this via a transcript here: )

The bequests are: "to George KENNICOTT my house in Totnes in Harges Hill Street called Ferases Howse leased to Christopher FARWELL for life; my gardne in Totnes in occupation of John KENNICOTT to Elizabeth KENNICOTT his wife & then to George KENNICOTT her son; to Elizabeth KENNICOTT 40s." I am guessing that 'Harges Hill' is a misreading of 'Harper's Hill'.

Before reading Osmund's postings, the wording of this will had made me think that there were two George Kennicotts not one, but perhaps that's wrong. Maybe in his 2nd bequest to George he adds that he is Elizabeth's son merely by way of additional explanation. The reason for the bequests to Elizabeth are made obvious by her inclusion in a second will, of Frideswide Rodd, widow, dated 18 August 1647 and proved 7 September 1652 (PCC 11/223 f.181, abstract here: ), who gives "to my sister Elizabeth KENNICOTT - 20s".

Another thought: we don't know, after all, if Elizabeth, the subject of the portrait under discussion, was the wife of Mayor George (or do we?). Maybe she was his spinster daughter, in her 50s by the early 1690s, who served him as a companion/housekeeper (esp after the death of 2 wives). I'm not against George having had 3 wives, by the way, but given how many Kennicotts there were knocking about, there could easily be another explanation for the apparent proliferation of Mrs George Kennicotts. A visit to the Devon Record Office would doubtless be useful here, as we can go only so far with electronic resources.

What a pity that George's will is only listed. It looks like there is an abstract of the 1674 administration of the will of an Elizabeth Kennacott of Dartmouth, and I wonder now if that was his mother (whose name is given in that first Rodd will)? (it's vol 12, p.4039). Or perhaps the mother is the Elizabeth Kennycot, widow of Totnes, whose will is PROB 11/246/465, proved 11 December 1655.

R. Stephens,

Sorry, having made that last contribution, I then re-read Osmund's first, in which he says "it seems certain that 'our' Elizabeth Kennicott was indeed the wife of George, as according to the list here - George was the only Mayor with that surname."

But the list of Dartmouth's mayors makes no mention of Elizabeth. Osmund, what am I missing?

Osmund Bullock,

You're missing nothing at all, Richard - I was making the otherwise completely unfounded assumption that the portrait is, as recorded by the collection, of Elizabeth Kennicott, a mayoress (i.e. mayor's wife) of Dartmouth, and which the mayors' list suggests could only have been George...or at least A George.

I am very impressed by the Rodd wills you've dug up, not to say excited by what's in them! I need to digest all that properly, and assimilate it with the other things we know. Before taking time to do so, though, I will quickly add that I suspect the 1674 admon relates to Eliz(s)abeth K, eldest child of George & Jane, baptised at Dartmouth 15 March 1639/40; the admon's grantee, Mary Cousens, was probably her younger sister Mary/Marie (bp Dartmouth 11 June 1649) - in 1672/3 (the date is illegible) a Mary Kynnicot married David Coussens at Kingswear just across the harbour. (Incidentally I don't think there was a will involved with the admon - and the abstract may just be what we see, the name of the grantee.)

Richard, I am slightly concerned that we are getting so deeply and publicly immersed in the genealogy here - it is of course absolutely necessary to the full understanding of the sitters, and may even conceivably throw up something directly relating to the portraits. But I'm worried that the quantity and complexity of our discussions, while of great interest to us, may be a bit off-putting to those with a more general interest. In particular there are several more PCC wills that may throw further light, some of which (like the Rodd ones) may be available, at least in transcrpt, without buying an image download from the National Archives - and frankly I'm so caught up with this now, I don't think I'd mind paying anyway!

Should we perhaps try and kick this about elsewhere, before reporting back with conclusions: what do others think?

Osmund Bullock,

I am resurrecting this long-dormant discussion - perhaps not very helpfully - with a snippet about Dartmouth's other Kennicott portrait, that of the mayor George K, whose own PCF entry says its origin is unknown. Attached is a cutting from a Jan 1933 edition of the Devon & Exeter Gazette, which mentions the picture's (?)recent acquisition by Dartmouth's Town Clerk on behalf of the Corporation. I have no information on Elizabeth's portrait, however, and I'm afraid I ran out of steam in my deeper researches into the family relationships.

Osmund Bullock,

I agree that it’s time to wind things up – I’ve intermittently tried to dig out more, but without any significant success. I will summarize what we know, some of the conclusions being now at least firmer than they were. By the way, we never received a reply to Tim’s query about the source of the portrait’s identification as Elizabeth Kennicott – is it an old rear inscription, or perhaps on the frame? I will in any case work on the basis that it’s right, at least as to the sitter’s name.

It is frustrating that despite generally good coverage of Devon vital records online (unlike the original Devon wills all destroyed during WWII), I have failed to find any sign of a marriage between George Kennicott and anyone called Elizabeth. His first marriage to Jane Staplehill at Dartmouth in May 1637 is recorded, and he had five children baptised at Dartmouth between 1639/40 and 1652. But we do not know when Jane died, nor when George married his second wife Mary xxxx (though we know she was buried in Aug 1662). Richard wondered if the portrait might in fact be of George Kennicott’s eldest daughter Elizabeth (bp Dartmouth March 1639/40), rather than of an otherwise unrecorded third wife.

However, Elizabeth the daughter almost certainly died before the picture was painted. The will of her (only surviving) brother John, a mariner, was written in Sept 1680; and while he mentions both his father George and his other surviving sister Mary, there is nothing about Elizabeth. It seems pretty clear that the administration granted in 1674 of the estate of Elizabeth Kennacott of Dartmouth refers to her – the person granted admon was ‘Mary Cousens’, and a ‘Mary Kynnicot’ (doubtless Elizabeth’s sister) had married ‘David Coussens’ in an adjoining parish just a year or two earlier.

The iconography of the portrait, moreover, is clear: this is a widow in mourning for her husband. As well as the obvious black clothing, she is displaying prominently (on the appropriate finger) what is almost certainly a double gimmel ring: “A gimmel ring takes its names from the Latin 'gemellus', meaning 'twin', since such a ring is formed of two interlocking hoops. Traditionally, the betrothed couple would each receive one of these hoops, which would then be reunited at the wedding ceremony to confirm that each party gave their consent to proceed with the marriage” (B. Museum). I would also hazard a guess that the place in the book she is marking with her thumb is the wedding service in the Book of Common Prayer.

So assuming the traditional name is right, I am quite convinced that this is indeed a portrait of Elizabeth the third wife and widow of George Kennicott or Kynnycott (1613-1691/2), merchant and Mayor of Dartmouth in 1657 & 1686. She may well be the ‘Eliz. Kennycott’ buried at Exeter on 19th Feb 1710/1. The associated date of 1683 must be wrong, however (as it may be on the portrait of her husband): it must have been painted within a year – two at most – of the death of her husband in March 1691/2 – and stylistically I am very happy with a date of c1692 for it. The artist is an unknown provincial painter.

Jade Audrey King,

Dartmouth Guildhall had no further information about this work; the painting title is displayed on a plaque on the work.