Friday, 7 October 2016

Portrait by Richard Evans identified (almost)

A major commission by Richard Evans,  his portrait of Admiral Sir Edward William Campbell Rich Owen  (1771 – 1849), first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1827,  has been rediscovered. Actually it had been hiding unattributed  in plain sight in the collection of the museum  in Evans' native  Shrewsbury,  under  the title of  "Portrait of a Naval Gentleman".

Admiral Edward Owen by Richard Evans

Admiral Owen  was born in Newfoundland in 1771, the son of a Welsh Naval officer called William Owen, who has an unusually clear and interesting Wikipedia entry:
Captain William Owen (1737–1778), born in Glan Severn, Montgomeryshire, Wales, of a family of Welsh gentry. He was youngest son of David Owen of Cefn Hafod, Montgomeryshire. He was a member of the Royal Navy and lost his right arm from a wound suffered during the Seven Years' War off Pondicherry when supporting the British East India Company forces in 1760. Not content with the half pension he was receiving, he served as an impress officer. After the war, Owen contacted a former fellow officer, Lord William Campbell, who had recently been appointed governor of Nova Scotia. Late in 1766, Owen travelled with Campbell to Halifax. The following year, as payment for his work in aid of Campbell, he was awarded a large parcel of land. The grant, which included three of his nephews as grantees, was Passamaquoddy Outer Island in Passamaquoddy Bay. In 1770, Owen renamed the island Campobello Island after Lord Campbell; he also took into account the Italian meaning, "fair field", of the new name.
In England, Owen spent some time in Shrewsbury, where he was sworn a freeman of borough on 5th October 1764, and, by then a Captain in the navy, served as Mayor in 1775-76, following which he returned to service in India.  Owen was killed, accidentally,  in Madras, India while carrying dispatches from India to England.
 Owen left on his death two surviving natural sons via Sarah Haslam (latter named Sarah Bagshaw). His eldest son was Edward William Campbell Rich Owen and his younger son was William Fitzwilliam Owen. The latter became sole owner of Campobello Island in 1835 and settled there.
Although Admiral Owen's father was mayor of Shrewsbury, his own connections to the town were rather slight, as William Owen set up Sarah Haslam and his sons in a house near Manchester. A detailed outline of Edward Owens's life can be found on the  History of Parliament website.

Nevertheless, Shrewsbury thought it worthwhile to honour him with a civic portrait. It is mentioned in Henry Pidgeon's " Memorials of Shrewsbury" (1837), amongst a list the paintings due to be installed in the new Guild Hall:
The following portraits, presented to the late corporation, will decorate the walls of the new building : —King Charles I. Charles II. William III. George I. George II. George III. Queen Charlotte, Admiral Benbow (a native of Shrewsbury), the Right Hon. Lord Hill (by Sir William Beechy), and Admiral Owen (by R. Evans, Esq. a towns man). The two latter portraits possess life and spirit in their execution, and are justly esteemed most faithful resemblances of these illustrious heroes and fellow-citizens.
The portraits of Benbow and Hill are both in the collection of the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, so it would make sense to look for Evans' depiction  of Owen there. And the museum's "Portait of a Naval Gentleman" - shown wearing what certainly looks like the regalia of a Knight of the Order of the Bath - seems the only possible candidate

Despite good cirumstantial evidence for the identification of the painting, one slight problem remains: the naval gentleman doesn't look much like the one painting of Owen in the public domain, painted by HW Pickersgill in the year before the admiral's death. In this he looks very pale and worn, in contrast to the massive rubicund figure shown in the portrait at Shewsbury.

Admiral Owen byHW Pickersgill
Fortunately, though, there is a much closer resemblance to an engraving of him as a much younger man, used as the frontispiece of  the first volume of Abraham Crawford's "Reminiscences of a naval officer, during the late war"  (1851). He is only named in an illegible scrawled facsimile signature, and detached from the book this depiction of Owen would be completely unidentifiable. His identity is, though,  confirmed by the declaration  on the title page that memoirs are "embellished with portraits of Admirals Sir Edward Owen and Sir Benjamin Hallowell Carew". The engraving of Carew forms the frontispiece of the second volume and there are no other illustrations.

Crawford gives an extensive biography of Owen, which  includes some reminiscences of his striking physical appearance. He remembers from his first meeting:
My new Captain was a man somewhat turned of thirty, with light hair and a fair complexion; having an open and cheerful countenance, with bright blue eyes that bespoke at once intelligence and good-nature. His figure was tall and commanding, with a frame of vast power and strength, exhibiting in his person the semblance of one of those Saxon Thanes who led his followers to the conquest of Britain.
Of the period during which the portrait was painted, Crawford  writes:
When the Lord High Admiral resigned his office, in 1828, Sir Edward Owen became one of the Board of Admiralty which was then formed, with Lord Melville at its head; and in December of the same year he was appointed Commander-in-Chief on the East India station. On my return from the West Indies, in the spring of 1829, I found him at Spithead with his flag on board the 'Southampton,' on the eve of starting for his destination. I immediately got a boat, and went on board to see my old and valued chief I found him, as he always was, kind and affable, and glad to see an old shipmate; and I rejoiced to see that though he had grown much stouter, and years had rounded his person, they had not dimmed the lustre of his eye, nor damped the ardour of his vigorous and ever-active mind.
This bulk is tactfully indicated in Evans's painting.

So why the "almost" in the title of this post? Well, the painting's title on Art UK, and presumably in the museum's records, has recently been changed to "Sir Edward Owen Fisher Hamilton (1854–1944), KCB (?) ". Oh well.

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