The second in a series of blog entries focusing on conservation “interventions” as recorded in the holdings of the Frick Art Reference Library Photoarchive is this portrait of an engaging young woman, her son, and their serene spaniel.
When the painting was offered for sale by Christie’s, London, in 1924, it was attributed to the British artist Sir William Beechey (1753–1839) and the young boy draped in vaguely classical attire was sitting in his mother’s lap and playfully reaching toward the dog. The two subjects were identified by an inscription at the upper left that read, “J. T. P. B. Trevanion, & his Mother, 1785.” The Cornish politician John Trevanion Purnell Bettesworth-Trevanion (1780‒1840) inherited the estate of Caerhays (or Carhayes) in 1801 and is famous for commissioning John Nash (1752–1835) to rebuild the manor house as a Gothic-style castle. His father was John Bettesworth and his mother, the purported sitter in this painting, was Frances Elinor Tomkins of Pembrokeshire, who died in 1821. The painting was photographed by the London firm A. C. Cooper, which documented lots offered for sale at Sotheby's and Christie's throughout the twentieth century and sold both negatives and prints by subscription. The Frick Art Reference Library owns more than 10,000 of the company’s negatives and has digitized the entire collection, which is available through the Frick Digital Image Archive and ARTstor.
Two years later, the portrait again appeared on the London art market in a drastically altered state (see illustration). The painting had been “restored” and the young boy and inscription painted over, possibly to make the image more attractive to potential buyers. The conserved portrait was re-attributed to Gilbert Stuart (1775‒1828) and the sitter re-identified as Charlotte Coates (d. 1845), who married Stuart on May 10, 1786. The photographers of A. C. Cooper were on hand to document the altered image and a new negative was sent overseas to the Library. When the portrait appeared on the art market a third time in April 1961, the young boy had been restored to his mother’s knee, although the inscription remained missing. Once again, the firm of A. C. Cooper photographed the painting (see illustration), which was—amusingly—described in the sale catalog as “unfinished.” Although the restored face of the young boy appears less modeled than in its original state, the woman’s alert gaze and luminous countenance fortunately remains intact.
For additional information regarding the portrait’s history, please consult the reproduction's library catalog record.
Attributed to Sir William Beechey (1753–1839), Mrs. Trevanion, Her Son, and a Spaniel, 1785 (original state). Oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 24 1/2 in. Unlocated.
Attributed to Sir William Beechey (1753–1839), Mrs. Trevanion and a Spaniel, 1785 (after first restoration). Oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 24 1/2 in. Unlocated.
Attributed to Sir William Beechey (1753–1839), Mrs. Trevanion, Her Son, and a Spaniel, 1785 (after second restoration). Oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 24 1/2 in. Unlocated.