A Question of Attribution

Two Portraits of Major Patrick Campbell, Auction 24 November 2016

CopelyAttributed to John Singleton Copley | Portrait of Major Patrick Campbell |
Oil on canvas, 30x25in. | Sold for £23,750*


This painting of a British officer, recently removed from a Scottish private collection, has long been attributed to John Singleton Copley and is said to be a portrait of Major Patrick Campbell. Potential confirmation of the identity of the sitter is born out by a similar painting of a British officer, with the same face, also said to be a portrait of Major Patrick Campbell, now in the de Young Collection, San Francisco. This was previously attributed to Copley before losing that attribution in 1972.

I have unearthed information about both pictures, which suggests that it might be possible to attribute both paintings to Copley. The reasons put forward in 1972 by the renowned Copley scholar Jules Prown for concluding that the San Francisco painting was not by Copley were chiefly based on problems of style and dating. In a letter from him to the museum, dated 13 September 1971, he expresses the opinion that the "picture differs from Copley's style in its muted and soft coloration, the gentle treatment of the background and the absence of the strong value contrasts that are virtually a Copley trademark."

This of course, is entirely true when considering Copley’s career as a portraitist in America. His London paintings, though, are very different in style. So the question of the date and the place at which the work was executed becomes crucial. To ascertain the correct date at which Copley might have painted this work it is necessary to look at the identity of the sitter and his history, along with the provenance of the painting.




To begin with the latter, the San Francisco painting was put up for sale in 1927. It had been purchased by J Rochelle Thomas, then trading in the family business of The Georgian Galleries in King Street London, from Burwood House, Esher, Surrey. As much is stated in an advertisement in the Connoisseur magazine for October 1927. It also states that the view is of Barcaldine Castle, Campbell’s ancestral home and makes reference (correctly) to his marriage in January 1781. Burwood Park, Esher Surrey, was purchased in 1927 by the 1st Lord Iveagh (Cecil Guinness), who died that same year. It is possible that the painting was purchased by Iveagh, along with the house, from the previous owners, the Askew family, that the Askews sold it off when the house went to Iveagh, or alternatively that it had been installed at Burwood by Lord Iveagh and was sold either by him or after his death on 7 October 1927, by his trustees. Given the timing of the advert, one of the former seems more likely.


Connoisseur Ad Featuring the San Francisco Portrait


It is clear from the advert that by this time the painting had been consigned by the Georgian Galleries to New York for sale, presumably on account of it being thought to be by Copley. Bought by the renowned collector Warner S McCall of St Louis, it was subsequently sold by the John Levy Gallery of New York to Mr and Mrs Edmond Herrscher and presented by them to the de Young in August 1933. I have not yet been able to trace its path between the late 1920s and the time at which it was painted.




It should first be said that there were a great many officers named Campbell in the British army in the late 18th century and that among these Patrick was a particularly favoured Christian name. This does not make it easy to pin down the sitter. But as good a starting point as any is with the traditional attribution.

Patrick Campbell of Barcaldine, the supposed sitter in both portraits, was the third son of Duncan Campbell of Barcaldine and Glenure (d 1784), a lawyer. He had four brothers and a sister. From the Campbell family papers it would appear that Patrick’s father, Duncan, fell out with three of his other sons, all of whom who joined the military and died while in service. In 1763, at the end of the Seven Years War, aged 16-17 and having spent some months in training at a private military academy near London, Patrick Campbell was a compulsory 'reduced' half-pay lieutenant, keen to re-join the regular army. His uncle, the wealthy Scottish businessman Robert Campbell, who was based in London at the time of Patrick's 'reduction', suggested that the boy might be found a commission in a regular regiment —but his father Duncan thought otherwise; a regular commission was expensive. Patrick was thus called back to the Highlands and after much pulling of patronage strings, in 1767 his father found him the tenancy of a forfeited farm, from where Patrick operated a cattle-droving partnership. Patrick's ambition, however, was always to return to the army. Eight years later, in 1775, he finally managed to achieve this when aged around 28, for the cost of a quota of recruits. Made possible by his raising a Highland ‘levy’ of infantrymen, he purchased a commission in Colonel Simon Fraser's newly formed 71st Highland Regiment, with the rank of captain.

I believe that the San Francisco picture might have been painted for Patrick Campbell to mark his being commissioned into the army in 1775. It seems possible that his wealthy uncle Robert, who had backed the idea all along, might have paid for it and I suspect that it would have hung in Robert’s house in London. Furthermore, Campbell’s tricorne hat lies on the ground. Might this possibly be symbolic of the challenge he had thrown down to his father, who was opposed to his joining the army? The view of Barcaldine Castle of course looks nothing like the castle today. It had been abandoned in 1735 and fell into ruins (being bought back by the Campbells in 1896 and rebuilt). The landscape though does seem to marry up with that around Barcaldine and has a look of the west Highlands about it. That said it also has something of the Roman Campagna and this too would work with ascribing it to Copley in 1775, when the influence of Italy was fresh in his mind.

Having purchased his commission, possibly as early as April 1775, Patrick might have had as long as a year in London before the regiment sailed in April 1776 and I believe that it would have been during this time that his portrait now in San Francisco would have been painted.
The fact that the portrait might have been painted in London and not in America, as has previously been presumed by students of Copley, including Prown, would explain its style. Copley’s style changed completely in London where he arrived in 1774 before setting off for the continent, where he remained until September 1775. On his return, according to the scholar of Copley’s English style, Emily Ballew Neff, he aligned himself with the Reynolds camp, being put up for election to Reynolds’ Royal Academy. He would thus have been working in London at his new studio in George Street from October 1775, at precisely the same moment that Patrick Campbell was there as a newly commissioned officer. We know that Copley was looking at the work of Reynolds at this time and certainly his subsequent work bears evidence of this.

There is no doubt that the smaller of the two paintings of the major (the Scottish portrait) is by the hand of an artist who has absorbed the teachings of Reynolds. Such an opinion has recently been expressed by Professor David Mannings of Aberdeen University, a world authority on Reynolds, who also offered the opinion that the painting might easily be the work of Copley. For relevant comparisons of light, shade and handling see Copley’s Mrs Seymour Fort of c1778 in Connecticut and Clark Gayton, Admiral of the White of 1779 in the NMM Greenwich. In the latter the background also has similarities to the Scottish painting.

We know that Copley exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1776 and later that year became an associate member. The following year he showed his paintingThe Copley Family (a group portrait featuring himself), which also bears comparison with the San Francisco painting. As Neff puts it: ‘Copley loosens his brushwork, softens his lines and draws attention to his status as a gentleman connoisseur, not of the New England type he had earlier deplored, but of the London type to which he had long aspired.’ Neff also says that his painting of Major Hugh Montgomerie 1780 was one of only two full length portraits of officers painted by Copley in England. Surely though the San Francisco portrait might be a third and the earliest. The pose is a cross between the Apollo Belvedere and the statue of Octavian in Rome in the adlocutio pose adopted by commanders when addressing their troops, as depicted on Trajans Column, which also echoes the soldiers we see in the background. Having just been in Rome, Copley would have been acutely aware of such examples of antique sculpture.




So how do we happen to have two paintings of Major Campbell? The answer might lie in Campbell’s story.

In the spring of 1776, Fraser’s Highlanders, now the 71st foot, mustered at Glasgow and Patrick was sent with them to America, arriving in August 1776 at New York. Doubts have been raised as what appear to be dark blue or even black facings on the officer’s coat in both paintings, as the facing colour of the 71st was white. One authority however has stated that it was the practice among Highland officers to choose to wear dark blue facings (a curious custom if true for blue facings were worn by Royal prerogative). We do know though that, although he does not wear the short Highland regimental version of the red coat, the man depicted is an officer in a Highland regiment as he wears his sash on his left shoulder. Only Highland officers were granted this privilege, other officers wearing their sashes around the waist. Thus, from the outset, the sitter is a conundrum.

We know that Patrick Campbell of Barcaldine commanded the Grenadier company of the 71st and that General Howe ordered the formation of a fourth composite Highland grenadier battalion, under the command of Major the Hon Charles Stuart, 43rd Regiment of Foot and that it comprised a company of the 42nd and two companies of the 71st, one of which was Campbell’s. Interestingly, the facing colour of the 42nd Highlanders was dark blue. During its brief existence the 4th British Grenadier Battalion was active in the 1776 campaign in the New York area, from 22 August 1776 to 16 September 1776. Campbell’s first action would have been the landing on Long Island in the first wave of the amphibious assault, when the 4th Grenadier battalion formed part of Howe’s right flank attack. The Grenadiers also landed on Manhattan Island and supported the Light Infantry and 42nd Highlanders in the Battle of Harlem Heights, New York.

Might not the smaller, Scottish portrait celebrate Campbell’s involvement in the assaults of the New York campaign? It shows a howitzer (probably French or American) and in the background what appears to be a siege gun, but the landscape is not specific. It seems to me possible that with Campbell’s success in America, the second portrait might have been commissioned at the smaller scale to send across to him, the larger San Francisco painting remaining in his uncle’s house in London.

It might also be the case that the face in the smaller picture would have been modelled on that in the first as well as preliminary studies made from the original sitting in 1775. We know that Copley painted a posthumous portrait of the mother in the group portrait of The Pepperell Family in 1778, using sketches he had made while she was still alive. David Mannings has also pointed out that it was Reynolds’s practice to paint some smaller portraits which could be transported on board ship. I have identified one other portrait by Copley with exactly the same dimensions as the Scottish portrait, in which the sitter is depicted full length, in similar proportion to the landscape as in the Scottish portrait. This is the portrait of John Wombwell, which was sold at Sotheby’s New York on 29 January 2009.


John CopleyJohn Singleton Copley | Portrait of John Wombwell


John Wombwell was born in 1737, the son of Roger Wombwell a Glasgow merchant and brother of Sir George Wombwell, 1st baronet (knighted 1778). John is recorded as having been a merchant at Alicanti in Spain in the 1770s, but we know that he was living in London by 1788, having married in 1783. It seems likely to me that the Wombwell portrait might have been painted by Copley for export to Spain as the sitter prepared to take up residence there, around 1775, when he was aged 38 and this fits perfectly with the date of the Scottish portrait of Major Campbell. If this was the case, however, before the painting could have been taken out to him, Patrick Campbell had died.

By early October 1776, the 71st Grenadiers had suffered badly from disease. Back, on this account with his parent unit, Campbell then continued to fight in the war and rose to the rank of Major, being promoted in January 1781. Apparently he sold his farming interest in the Scottish Highlands to purchase this Majority. It was presumably around this time that he met the wealthy Quaker heiress Sarah Pearsall, who had a family background in trade. The two were married on 1 January 1781 and had one son, named after Patrick’s father Duncan.
Patrick’s health however, had been compromised by his military service, and he left the army to settle in New York, where he died in September 1782, a wealthy man in his late thirties, with a wife and son who remained abroad.

This of course, is all dependent upon the sitter in both portraits being Patrick Campbell of Barcaldine and not another Patrick Campbell. For it has also been suggested that the Patrick Campbell who tradition has given as the sitter in both portraits, was an officer in the 45th foot (confusingly, having himself transferred from the 71st) and this would be in keeping with the dark blue facing colour, although not with the presence of the left shoulder sash. This second Patrick Campbell would take the location of the Scottish portrait to the British attack on St Lucia in 1778. It has also been suggested that the Highland sash might have been his means of denoting his origins in a Highland Regiment. Clearly more research needs to be done and to date the mystery of Captain Campbell remains unresolved.




We do know that the Scottish portrait of Major Campbell was offered for sale by the Walkinshaw family of Edinburgh at Dowells auction house, Edinburgh in July 1937, catalogued as:

Lot 129
Artist Unknown
Captain Campbell

It was purchased at that time for £25 by Doig, Watson and Wheatley, the Edinburgh dealers and by 1950 was in the collection of Colonel RM Guild at Ellersley Road, Edinburgh. It has remained in the family ever since. This might suggest that it was Doig, Watson and Wheatley who gave it the attribution to Copley. How exactly it came into the possession of the Walkinshaws remains uncertain. However, a recently discovered letter in the possession of the present owners gives its previous provenance as being the same as the San Francisco portrait in that it too was removed from Burwood in October 1927 and purchased by Mr Rochelle Thomas. If this was indeed the case it must then have been acquired by the Walkinshaws before being sold ten years later in 1937 to Doig, Wilson and Wheatley, who then according to the same letter, sold it on to Colonel Guild a month later in August 1937.

*All prices include buyer's premium



British & European Paintings

Auction | 24 November 2016 | 11:00am


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