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Unknown man, formerly known as Sir William Quiller Orchardson

1 of 18 portraits of Sir William Quiller Orchardson

Unknown man, formerly known as Sir William Quiller Orchardson, by Sir William Quiller Orchardson, circa 1860 -NPG 3166 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Unknown man, formerly known as Sir William Quiller Orchardson

by Sir William Quiller Orchardson
Oil on canvas, circa 1860
10 7/8 in. x 8 5/8 in. (275 mm x 219 mm) overall
NPG 3166


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Inscriptionback to top

On back of outer frame, inscr. top left: ‘East Right hand / top 8’; and top centre label: ‘W.Q.Orchardson RA [torn] / himself see letter / confirming this from [lost]’.
On back of top stretcher inscr.: ‘W.Q.ORCHARDSON (Early) / By himself / see letter’, with signature to left: ‘Arthur Kay’;
label on lower stretcher: ‘W.Q.Orchardson / by himself / Stu?’[illegible].

This portraitback to top

This portrait was presented to the NPG in 1943 from the collection of the late Arthur Kay, whose widow wrote, ‘I have a little self portrait by Orchardson, which I want to present to the National Portrait Gallery in memory of Arthur, if you would care to have it.’ [1]

The lower stretcher bears an old torn label: ‘W.Q.Orchard / son by himself / Shu [or Stu]...’ (rest illegible). The upper stretcher is inscribed ‘W.Q.ORCHARDSON (Early) / By himself / see letter’ together with the signature of Arthur Kay. The back of the frame is similarly inscribed; according to Henry Hake, NPG Director, who saw the portrait in Edinburgh in July 1943 before arranging its transport to London, the inscription continued ‘see letter confirming this from Mrs Orchardson’. [2] Hake asked if the NPG might have this letter, but it was not received, apparently being no longer among Kay’s effects.

Following the Trustees’ acceptance of the work in November 1943, Hake was in contact with the director of the National Gallery of Scotland, who replied:

The portrait has a superficial resemblance to Orchardson. It has a drooping moustache and dark hair, but, from my recollection of the portraits which we have and with which, unfortunately, I cannot make a comparison, my impression is that Orchardson’s head was more pointed in shape, wider across the forehead and his hair curlier. On the whole I should have some hesitation in accepting the attribution as a self portrait by Orchardson. [3]

Accordingly, at a later date the work was reclassified as a portrait of an ‘unknown man, formerly known as Sir William Quiller Orchardson’.

However, the mis-identification merits some consideration. Although NPG 3166 does not unequivocally resemble other likenesses of Orchardson, whose chin is usually shown as more tapering and eyebrows more arched, the straight nose, hairline and slightly unruly hair are comparable with other portraits. The collar, tie and coat are in keeping with those worn by Orchardson, for example, in the portrait by John Pettie (NGS PG828), which includes a near-identical necktie. (During the 1860s, Orchardson and Pettie shared a house in Fitzroy Square, London.) [4] The support and framing of the work are old, and it appears to date from well before 1900. If it represents Orchardson, a date of around 1860 seems likely.

Of the five recorded self-portraits of Orchardson, none is listed as unlocated (see ‘All known portraits’). Of the same number of recorded portraits by other artists, only one is currently untraced – an oil by Charles Moxon Quiller Orchardson, son of William Quiller Orchardson, which was exhibited at Glasgow in 1901 and is mentioned in Orchardson’s Dictionary of National Biography entry in 1912. Although he retained a youthful look well into middle age, [5] the present work can hardly be a portrait of Orchardson from life around 1900, when he was in his late sixties.

Although it is not known when Arthur Kay acquired the work, it is evident from his inscription that the sitter’s identity (as Orchardson) and authorship had been authenticated by ‘Mrs Orchardson’. Kay clearly accepted the identification and was no doubt familiar with other portraits of Orchardson in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. [6] However, ‘Mrs Orchardson’, his source of information, was probably not Orchardson’s widow (Lady Orchardson from 1907), who died in 1917, but the wife of one of Orchardson’s four sons. If she was in fact the widow of his eldest son, artist C.M.Q. Orchardson, [7] then the work could possibly depict him, not his father; it would then be an unrecorded portrait, or self-portrait, of C.M.Q. Orchardson, mistakenly identified as the Royal Academician by Arthur Kay. However, the age of the framing seems to indicate a period before Orchardson junior was active.

The identification therefore remains plausible but unconfirmed. The portrait’s association with Orchardson is, however, strong enough to merit its inclusion with others of him.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Letter from Katharine Kay to H.M. Hake, 16 Mar. 1943, NPG RP 3166. Hake was a personal friend of the Kays. Arthur Kay (1861–1939) was a businessman and artist manqué who over six decades built a large art collection. His widow, whom he married in 1928 after the death of his first wife, was the Glasgow-trained artist Katharine Cameron (1874–1965), sister of painter Sir David Young Cameron. By 1909, Kay had for 20 years been a director of Arthur & Co. Ltd., a major wholesaling firm in Glasgow, and belonged to the Burlington Fine Arts Club, the Soc. of Antiquaries and the Royal Glasgow Inst. of Fine Arts. At this date his collection was notable for early Dutch painting and Japanese lacquer ware, but it came to encompass many eras and schools. When sold in 1943, it included 252 pictures attributed to a wide range of artists from Boudin to Zurburan, Reynolds to Couture, and 40 drawings by Daumier, Degas, Manet, Monet, Guardi, Brueghel, Tiepolo and others (Christie’s, 8–9 Apr. 1943, total of 291 lots). It included some works by fellow Scots but nothing by Orchardson. The auction catalogue in the NPG Library is annotated, probably by Hake, whom Katharine Kay asked to attend the sale. In a small number of cases the annotator queried some attributions and identifications.
2) Letter from H.M. Hake to K. Kay, 3 Nov. 1943, NPG RP 3166.
3) Letter from Stanley Cursiter, NGS to H.M. Hake, 12 Feb. 1944, NPG RP 3166.
n4] Note on Orchardson’s election as ARA, ILN, 29 Feb. 1868, p.224.
5) See anecdote about looking too young to be married, at age 56, in Gray 1930, p.267.
6) Two by Pettie (NGS PG828, purchased 1913 and NGS PG875, bequeathed by the sittter’s widow in 1917) and two busts by E.O. Ford (NGS PG915, purchased 1920 and NGS PG1092, presented by the sitter’s family in 1928).
7) C.M.Q. Orchardson studied at the RA Schools in the 1890s, exhibited at the RA 1896–1914 and died in 1917, in his early ’40s.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders to front, dark hair, drooping moustache, wearing dark coat and red tie against reddish-brown background.

Provenanceback to top

Arthur Kay; his widow Katharine Cameron Kay, by whom gifted in 1943.

View all known portraits for Sir William Quiller Orchardson