Disputed Likenesses

13th August 2021

A curious dispute over two portrait miniatures was brought before a London magistrate in June 1824 and subsequently reported in the newspapers. Mr Jones of Stoke Newington was charged with riotous behaviour against the miniature painter Walter Stephens Lethbridge, then residing above a baker’s shop in the Strand.

The story goes that Lethbridge had been commissioned by an elderly maiden lady to paint two likenesses of her for an agreed fee of £11. Before the portraits were completed, the 78-year-old lady, ‘as rich as she was venerable’, met 40-year-old Mr Jones, fell in love and married him. Upon completion, the portraits were duly sent to the lady but, despite numerous requests, the artist’s bill was not paid. Mr Jones meantime claimed that the portraits were not good likenesses and so were ‘not liked’. Lethbridge stated he was willing to alter them as he did not wish the lady to ‘lend her grace to the grave, and leave the world no copy’. But the miniatures were not returned to him so, running out of patience and needing the money, Lethbridge issued a writ.

On the day in question, Mrs Lethbridge had just learned from her doctor that she had breast cancer so no doubts tensions were already running high in the Lethbridge house when Mr Jones burst in and accused the artist of being an ‘infamous scoundrel’ and a blackguard. A war of words broke out with Lethbridge accusing Mr Jones of ‘fortune-hunting’ in Margate. Jones then claimed that Mrs Lethbridge punched him in the chest whereupon he threw open a window and yelled ‘Murder’! A neighbour rushed in closely followed by a constable who brought both men before a magistrate.

Having listened to both men’s accounts, the magistrate expressed surprise that a man of Jones’s ‘personal capacities’ should accuse a sick woman of assault and bailed him £40 to keep the peace. Not prepared for such an outcome and so not having enough funds on him, Jones was taken into custody until his new wife came his rescue later that evening. One hopes that Lethbridge was then also paid in full for the portrait miniatures.

Lonely Hearts in 1802-1805

1st June 2020

Dating websites may feel like a modern day concept but the idea is far from original. In post-revolutionary France it was the custom for such personal advertisements to be pasted in public places. Amongst them were the fortune-hunters . . .

“A young man, without actual fortune, but having a person and education fit to appear in any company, and an amiable character, such as may please any reasonable and sensible woman; of respectable parents, who were formerly very rich, and are still at their ease, but have a numerous family; aspires to hope that he may find, a lady generous enough to seek his acquaintance, choose him as husband, and share her fortune with him.”

“A young lady aged eighteen, fresh and beautiful as a new blown flower, and endowed with all the graces and talents which increase the charms of beauty, but without fortune, in consequence of disasters which have happened to her parents, is offered by them to a man of sensibility who would share with her a decent existence.”

and the fortune owners . . .

“A lady aged thirty-two, but who might pass for twenty-seven, having a plump and fresh person, a widow without children, with education, morals, and possessing some agreeable talents, desires to be united to a bachelor aged between thirty-five and forty two, of a tolerable exterior, and good health, with at least five thousand francs of patrimonial income in the neighbourhood of Paris. This lady …  has since realised her fortune, which amounts to one hundred and twenty-five thousand francs, which she means to lay out in land.”

“An amiable lady, entering into the autumn of her age, of a lively disposition, good education, and irreproachable manners, worth between twenty-five and thirty thousand francs wishes to marry a bachelor aged between forty and fifty, with a revenue between three and four thousand francs, health, and good morals.”

and the rather more desperate . . .

“A lady wishes to be united to a bachelor of an extremely mild and polite character, capable of attachment and attentions to a woman of whom nature has neglected the personal attractions, and has even afflicted with deafness, but endowed with a feeling soul and a generous spirit. Nor would she propose, in contracting the sacred bonds of marriage, to purchase the compliance and cares of her husband, but would only ally herself with one who could prove a decent existence . . . of an age between thirty-five and forty-five.”

SOURCE: Recollections of Paris in the Years 1802-3-4-5 (pub. 1806)

Henry Readhead (Redhead)

26th May 2020

Little is known about the silhouette artist Henry Readhead who was working during the 1790s. His style of painting is distinctive but yet there are only a handful of known examples of his work. Where there has been provenance or sitters have been named, there is a link to Yorkshire so it’s possible that he may have had northern connections.

His profiles are reverse painted on convex glass in an accomplished and detailed style. The face is painted in solid black with the hair and attire painted in transparency with individual brush strokes visible. The bracketed bust-line is a consistent feature. When he signed his work, Readhead added his studio address –  54 Upper Norton St, Fitzroy Square, London. Norton Street was popular with painters and sculptors — Richard Wilson, the landscape painter and Sir David Wilkie, the Scottish painter both has studios there during the 1770s and 80s. … (show more)