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British picture restorers, 1600-1950 - O

An online resource, launched in 2009, selectively updated twice yearly. Last updated August 2019. Contributions are welcome, to Jacob Simon at [email protected].

Introduction Resources and bibliography

Added March 2018
Charles O’Neil, 67 Newman St, Oxford St, London 1823, 68 Newman St by 1826-1840, 33 Golden Square 1846-1850, 17 Golden Square 1856, 2 Palace Garden Villas, Kensington 1861. Artist, picture dealer and picture cleaner.

Charles St John O’Neil (c.1786/8-1865), sometimes found as O’Neill, married firstly Regina Madeline Coppin in August 1814 at St James, Westminster, and they had two sons, born in St Petersburg, Charles St John O’Neil (1815-57), named after his father, and Henry Nelson O’Neil (1817-80), the historical genre artist. Both were christened at the British Chaplaincy, St Petersburg, in August 1822 (IGI, ‘Family Search’).

Charles St John O’Neil senr was born in Dundee in about 1788, according to the 1861 census (though the record of his birth remains to be traced and he has been described as Irish). Quite what he was doing in St Petersburg, c.1815-22, remains to be ascertained. He exhibited a marble bust at the Royal Academy in 1826, giving his address as 68 Newman St. From this address he donated a ‘Ribera’ Martyrdom of St Sebastian to the Royal Institution of Scotland in 1834 (National Records of Scotland, NG3/4/15/6). He had earlier donated three painting to the Manchester Institution (Morning Post 26 June 1833). Charles O’Neil, very probably the father, restored pictures for the Royal Institution in 1847 and 1848 (see below). All references in this history to Charles O’Neil are to the father unless otherwise stated. It is only between c.1836 and 1857, that is between the son coming of age and his early death, that there is a degree of uncertainty. However it is not clear whether all the addresses given above relate to the father rather than the son.

Charles O'Neil’s second wife, Anne O’Neil, compiled A Dictionary of Spanish Painters which he publishedfrom 68 Newman Stin 1833; she died in 1836 (The Times 27 September 1836). He married again the following year to Claudia Smith. Charles O’Neil, picture dealer of 33 Golden Square, probably the father, was made bankrupt in 1850 (London Gazette 2 August 1850); he was recorded at this address from 1846.

In census records Charles O’Neil can be found in 1841 in Marylebone, as an artist age 50 (ages were rounded down to the nearest five in this census), living with his son Charles O’Neil junr, a merchant, age 25, and in 1861 at 2 Palace Garden Villas, Kensington, an artist painter, born Dundee, by now age 73, with his third wife Claudia Matilda, age 48, his son Henry by his first marriage, age 44, and two children by his third marriage. He has not been traced in the 1851 census but his wife, described as a picture merchants’ wife, and three children can be found in Ealing. In 1856 he was at the address of the picture liner, John Peel (qv), and he may have had some link with Peel perhaps. He died in the Kensington district in 1865 with his age given as 79, suggesting that he was born in 1786, a little earlier than implied by the 1861 census.

It would seem to have been Charles O’Neil junr who was made bankrupt in 1842 as a result of a partnership dating to 1837 with Robert Salkeld of Fontmell Magna, Dorset, and George Somerville Digby of Bishop's Caundle, Dorset, as ship owners and ironfounders at the Brinder Works, near Margam, Glamorgan, a bankruptcy case which dragged on for years (London Gazette 21 October 1842; final entry, 24 April 1849; see also The Times 3 December 1842 for an informative report). Again, it would seem to have been O’Neil junr who obtained a provisional patent in 1856, his address given as Golden Square, together with Archibald Reid, of Sidmouth St, Regent Square, mineralogist, for the invention of ‘improvements in treating metallic ores to obtain copper’, a patent which subsequently lapsed (London Gazette 28 November 1856).

In 1851 the two brothers, Henry, described as artist painter, age 34, and Charles junr, picture dealer, age 35, both born Russia, were living at 6 Garway Road, Paddington, and Charles was still at this address at his death in 1857.

Activities as a dealer: It is possible that Charles O'Neil was dealing in pictures from Bath as early as 1823, if he can be identified with the ‘Charles O'Neil, Esq. (who is leaving Bath)’ whose collection of pictures was offered for sale at auction by Messrs Stafford & Booth in April 1823 (catalogue in British Library). In any case, as early as December that year he was buying pictures at auction in London, when his address was given as 67 Newman St (auctioneer, Edward Foster, see Getty Provenance Index, Br 2514).

From 1823 until 1852 numerous pictures were sold at auction in London by the auctioneers, Edward Foster, later Edward Foster & Son, with the vendor given as ‘O’Neil’ or, from 1833-40 and in 1850, specifically as ‘Charles O’Neil’. The pictures on sale in 1833 were advertised as coming from the collections of the King of Naples, Lucien Bonaparte, the Marquis of St Jago and the Dominican convent of Madrid, and from other continental private sources (The Times 12 June 1833). The pictures for sale on 2 May 1838 were described as coming from Spain (Frits Lugt, Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques, vol.2, 1953, no.15043).

Activities as a restorer: When Charles O’Neil was in Edinburgh to value the Torrie collection, he won the commission to repair Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s recently damaged Finding of Moses (now National Gallery of Scotland) in the face of competition from two Edinburgh businesses by offering to restore the painting at his own expense. The lining work was done by the Edinburgh restorer, James Walker (qv) for £12. O’Neil’s gesture appears to have paid off for in June 1848 he was paid the considerable sum of £85 for restoring the three great Genoese Van Dycks in the collection (NG3/2/1). For this episode, see National Archives of Scotland, NG 3/1/1, Royal Institution minute book, pp.458-9 (information from Helen Smailes), and NG3/2/1, NG3/5/50/31.

William Oram, Haymarket (opposite the Little Theatre), London 1763, Hampstead 1776.Architect and landscape and architectural painter.

William Oram (1711?-1777) possibly trained as an architect but turned to landscape painting. ‘Oram’ was a buyer at picture auctions at Dr Mead’s sale in 1754 and Van Haecken’s in 1758 (‘Sale catalogues of the principal collections of pictures..., 1711-1759’, 2 ms vols, V&A National Art Library, 86.OO.18-19). He was Master Carpenter in the Office of Works from 1748, a post he held until his death in 1777. In his will, made 4 January 1776 and proved 17 March 1777, William Oram of the parish of St John, Hampstead, left his estate to his wife, Elizabeth.

Oram restored Verrio’s work at Hampton Court Palace and Laguerre’s at Buckingham House, London (Croft-Murray 1970 p.251). At Hampton Court, with Stephen Wright, he put in a claim to the Treasury for a sum of £320 to be ‘imprest’ to them, writing on 4 September 1750 that they had ‘begun to repair the painting on the Kings Great Stair Case’ (National Archives, Treasury, T 1/340/61); the actual cost was £590 (see H.M. Colvin (ed.), The History of the King's Works, vol.5, 1660-1782, 1976, pp.182, 472, for the Office of Works and Verrio’s paintings).

Found a mistake? Have some extra information? Please contact Jacob Simon at [email protected].