Brothers in Blue

Mary Ellen Best (1809-1891)


The two little boys in these portraits were friends of the artist, possibly even playmates of her own children. Sensitively painted, they show the elder boy standing, eyes averted, with his cap tucked under his arm and the younger boy sitting looking more relaxed as he plays with his marbles on the table.

The daughter of a prominent Yorkshire doctor, Mary Ellen Best was encouraged to paint from an early age. She took painting lessons at Mrs. Haugh’s school in Doncaster and later at Miss Shepherd’s school in Bromley. She was remarkably talented and painted detailed interiors of the houses and cottages she knew well, scenes on the streets where she went walking, as well portraits of her family and friends. She was a discerning and frequent traveller, undertaking three Continental tours before she married and settled in Germany. A unique collection of her watercolours were sold in New York in 1983; these formed the basis of a book that chronicled her life and her art.

The portrait of the younger child is signed along the bottom left edge – Mary Ellen Best delt; the other portrait has an indistinct inscription on the backing board – Anthony ?? / drawn by his / sincere friend / Mary Ellen Best / in his 13th year. Although differing in height, the portraits are set in matching gilt wood frames. The portraits have some age-browning; the smaller frame has some edge chips and a stable horizontal crack along the inner top edge.

Item Ref. 6529

Size: framed, 210 x 192mm ; 185 x 171mm