A Good Pair of c.1870 English School Provincial Oil on Canvas Portraits of a Gentleman & His Wife


Origin: British
Period: Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1870
Canvas Heights: 30 inches
Canvas Widths: 25 inches

The large unframed British school depictions of a gentleman and lady, shown half-length and painted in oils on canvas, presumed husband and wife, survive from the middle to latter part of nineteenth century Britain.

The pictures are in tired condition though prove very decorative. They suffer from losses with small sections of flaking to each and a couple of areas of re-touching. The canvas of the lady has a small puncture hole. They both show even amounts of craquelure to their surfaces and remain un-cleaned and un-framed and are apparently unsigned. Verso they are stamped with CR1514 and CR1614 respectively and both show the stamp; “Prepared by Charles Roberson, 51 Long Acre, London’. There is also a Christies Auction House stencil to the male portrait reading 162EN.

Spotting a Christie’s stencil is a good indication of a work’s potential importance, and the alphanumeric cipher of the type shown here has been in use almost since Christie’s founding in 1766, originally applied to the backs of pictures with a brush, before stencilled stock numbers were introduced. Every Christie’s stock number matches a unique record in the Christie’s Archive, a legendary repository of detailed information on provenance and prices for every picture sold in the company’s almost two-and-a-half centuries. From this stencil in this case the male portrait picture (and probably the female) were consigned to auction on 15 August 1927 to Christies but apparently they did not go on to sell it so this is the only record found for the entry.

From 1828 Charles Roberson was in partnership with Thomas Miller, trading as Roberson & Miller (1828-1839) at 51 Long Acre. Roberson & Miller’s trade sheet listed watercolours in cakes and in boxes, Roberson & Miller’s prepared lead pencils, drawing papers etc, bladder colours for oil painting, ‘prepared cloths and tickens’, prepared panels and millboards, ‘hatchment cloths’, chalks, ‘brushes and pencils’, varnishes, oils and sundries. Artists using Roberson & Miller’s colours included Andrew Plimer, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Hamilton Kerr and Samuel Palmer whilst Roberson & Miller canvases were also used by J.M.W. Turner.

The artworks, both on dark grounds with scarlet and amber middle sections respectively, show a middle to elderly aged gentleman in a dark suit, white shirt and black cravat. His firm and steady gaze is serious but one can sense a humility, the portrait wanting to convey a masculine astuteness.

The lady, probably slightly younger than her husband, wears a dark dress with lace bonnet and ribbons with long gilt necklace. She is fairer skinned than her husband, probably taking in less port wine we suspect, but she shares the same steady gaze, though exuding more of a sense of kindliness, one can sense a motherly, nurturing disposition at play.

Both portraits are clearly designed to present the sitters in a favorable light, honorable and strong but kindly and charitable at the same time.

Once cherished, then forgotten; now surely deserving of admiration once more, the glory of old, a dream.