Completed Portraits: British 19th C, Portraits: British 20th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 28 Who painted this portrait of Sir William Arrol?

Topic: Artist

ICE Scotland Museum would like to find out who painted this portrait of Sir William Arrol.

The picture was taken off the wall on 5 May 2023 and I've attached a photo of the back. I wasn't there unfortunately. I've also attached a photo of the portrait in its frame. There is no plaque and there are no obvious markings visible.

I am assured by the former Chairman of the Museum Committee, Professor Roland Paxton, that there were no marks or labels on the reverse of the painting. The attached image is Professor Paxton receiving the painting when it was donated.

Finally, attached is a copy of the conservator's report which may or may not shed any light. It has been through a PDF > Word converter hence the mis-spellings etc. The conservation work was carried out as per the quote.

David McGuigan, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

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My previous conversation with the collection:

According to the 'Inverness Courier' of Tuesday 17 November 1891, Joseph Henderson painted a portrait of Sir William Arrol. Henderson's paintings on Art UK. and an example sold by Sutcliffe Galleries.

The 'Westminster Gazette' of 6 October 1909, reports that the frontispiece for that month's 'Magazine of Commerce' was ‘an excellent portrait of Sir William Arrol’. Can anyone find the frontispiece? Sorry I didn’t have time at the submission stage to look further.

David McGuigan replied, ‘The dates do seem to fit for Joseph Henderson being the artist. It was in 1890 that the Forth Bridge was completed and Arrol received his knighthood. In 1891 Arrol was at the height of his fame and a portrait then would have been appropriate. A search of the Arrol archives in Glasgow focusing on 1891 might clinch it.’

It may help to see this detail taken from Art UK's TIFF. The much better full definition image is available on request. I'm not convinced by comparisons with Henderson's other portraits, especially by a closer look at the portrait of James Docharty (Glasgow Museums, attached), but I hope others will have time to help take this further.

Jacinto, that update to the collection website must have appeared while I was preparing the discussion text. I was unaware that the collection had updated anything based on my suggestion before the discussion took place.

Onwards: could we confirm the suggestion on the collection's website that Joseph Henderson painted Sir William Arrol?

Kieran Owens,

Although not as a painting, the 1909 frontispiece portrait is likely to be the same photograph as appeared, also in 1909, at the start of Arrol's own book, 'Bridges, Structural Steel Work, and Mechanical Engineering Productions':

Kieran Owens,

This discussion's portrait could be loosely based on a photograph of Arrol which, although obviously not dated to that year (he died seven years earlier), appeared in The Business Encyclopedia (sic) and Legal Adviser, published in January 1920.

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Jacinto Regalado,

If the picture is based on a photo, it could be posthumous, which would exclude Henderson (d. 1908).

Kieran Owens,

Marion, it is possible that this painting was posthumously painted, after the above-attached photograph, which seems itself to date from the early 1900s, as there are other later photos that show Arrol looking considerably older.

It might be better to assume that it was not painted by Henderson (who died in 1908) until a more convincing attribution can be made to him. As you have pointed out, it has none of the fine painterly qualities of Henderson's other portrait works as they appear on the Art UK site.

If the portrait does not appear in Sir Robert Pervis's "Sir William Arrol: A Memoir" (William Blackwood & Sons, 1913) there is a chance that it was painted some time after that book was published and 1920.

Kieran Owens,

The Inverness Courier of Friday 20th November 1891, as cited above by Marion, additionally states the following:

"It may be mentioned that Mr. Henderson, who painted the portrait of Dr. Robson, stands in the front rank of his profession as a painter."

The quality of this portrait hardly matches those words of high praise.

In the previous year, in the context of a lecture on the Forth Bridge, it was mentioned in the Fifeshire Journal, of Thursday 23rd January 1890, that "Another diagram showed a large life-like portrait of Mr William Arrol, the contractor of the bridge just completed."

The attached photograph, although possibly taken a few years earlier, shows Arrol as he would have looked just before or in 1890. It appeared in an issue of 'Engineering' journal, of the 28th February 1890. It more likely shows Arrol as he would have looked for Henderson's portrait of the following year of 1891 and not as the older man as he appears in this discussion's portrait.

Kieran Owens,

Hi Marcie, many thanks. Alas, that link does not work for me.

Osmund Bullock,

The photograph of Arrol that appeared in 'The Business Encyclopedia' of 1920 had previously been published in 'The World's Work' magazine of July 1907. See and attached. They had also published a portrait of him (most likely also a photo) in June 1904.

A full run of 'The Magazine of Commerce' is held by the BL - - as is the 1913 biography 'Sir William Arrol: A Memoir' by Robert Purvis - I'm afraid I don't have time to go there at the moment, and neither publication seems to be available online.

Osmund Bullock,

There are in fact at least two portraits of Arrol in the Purvis biography, one (the frontispiece) of c.1909, the other (page 34) of c.1875. I suspect they are both photographs. See attached (cheated from Google Books snippets).

Here is Sir William in or before 1898: There's another photo of him in around 1864 two pages further on.

I agree that our portrait is almost certainly not the one by Henderson of 1891 or earlier. It does indeed look like it was based on a photograph, perhaps aged up somewhat, and more likely to be the product of a commercial firm than an accomplished artist working ad vivum. I also believe it is likely to be posthumous.

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Osmund Bullock,

Ah, so there are at least *three* images in Purvis - and the one missing (the frontispiece showing him aged 70) is the one we'd really like to see!

Kieran Owens,

Hi Marcie, many thanks. Do you have access to that third photo, when Arrol is 70?

Marcie Doran,

I downloaded his will from the ScotlandsPeople website. He bequeathed his "pictures" to his wife "Dame Elsie Robertson or Arrol" (1875–1954).

Jacinto Regalado,

Marcie's linked photo of Errol at 70, c. 1909-1910, shows him the way he looks (or the age he looks) in our picture, which cannot be Henderson's portrait of 1891 or earlier.

Jacinto Regalado,

If this is a portrait ad vivum, it is not by a first-rate artist. It looks rather more like the product of a commercial firm working from photographs, just the sort which would provide portraits for corporate settings. Was there such a firm or firms in Glasgow c. 1910? If not, that surely existed in Edinburgh.

Marcie Doran,

Lady Elsie Robertson Arrol’s will dated 24 July 1953 does not mention any works of art.

Jacinto Regalado,

The more I look at it, the more I think this picture is after a photo, which implies this would not have been by any "name" artist, and that it would be especially difficult to identify who painted it unless there is some sort of signature.

Marcie Doran,

Perhaps the photography studio was ‘Elliott and Fry’ of London. A "recent portrait" in the September 1904 issue of 'The Magazine of Commerce' shows Sir William Arrol at about the same age. I’ve attached the image in case the link doesn’t work in Europe.

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ICE Scotland Museum,

In the light of contributions above I have now removed the reference to Joseph Henderson in the museum's catalogue for the portrait.