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25 September 2015, 09:52
Dear Professor Marshall,
Thank you for your enquiry. I have checked the print carefully, and it is certainly a puzzle. It is pasted onto another sheet, so its back is no longer visible. On the back of the mount is the information that it is a portrait of J. Clerk-Maxwell, and was presented in 1933 to the NPG by Messrs Macmillan the publishers. Having followed this up, I have established that it was part of a group of 102 engravings made in this gift. We therefore have to decide whether Messrs Macmillan gave us the wrong information, and had mixed up portraits of their authors. Given that Clerk-Maxwell died in 1879, it is easy to see that this could well have happened.
I have changed the database to say the identity 'Unknown sitter, formerly known as James Clerk Maxwell'. I kept the name in the title because, while the identity is under discussion, making it 'unknown sitter' would make the image hard to find without the D number. We would welcome any more contributions to this discussion from anyone who can give us the correct identity.
Prof Robin Marshall FRS
16 August 2015, 14:56
The portrait NPG D2977 is definitely not James Clerk Maxwell as a cursory glance will reveal.
Charles Henry Jeens did a series of engravings to accompany a series of articles in the journal Nature. The articles were called "Scientific worthies" Each subscriber to Nature received a quality print of the engraving, i.e. not bound within the journal. James Clerk Maxwell's scientific worthy biography appeared in 1881 after both his and Jeens' death and the engraving was done by G J Stodart. This is the 3rd portrait you have here. The sheet issued by Nature carries the text in script "Nature Oct 27 1881" above the image and the text "James Clerk Maxwell Engraved by G J Stodart from a Photograph by Fergus of Greenock" i.e. not a stipple engraving by Fergus. Fergus were one of several photographers in Greenock (36 West Blackhall St) and were not engravers as far as I can tell.
So who is the person in the 2nd of your portraits here? It has the date 1875 and Stodart signed and dated the portraits he did for Nature and all the ones I have seen were published in the same year that he signed. Of the three scientific worthies covered in 1875, Gabriel Stokes, Sir Charles Lyell & Charles Wheatstone, this is even lesst a portrait of any of them. And anyway, the Stodart engravings are easily findable; 100s were printed.
At the same time, Stodart was also engraving portraits for the "Golden Treasury" series published by MacMillan. So this might be a poet which is not my strong point.
I would suggest looking at the print itself. It might have another name in pencil on the back etc.
There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.
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