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This June 2021 Curation highlights twelve Art Detective discoveries in public collections across the UK.


Unfortunately we can only highlight the work of a few individuals and give a flavour of the kind of updates we receive every week. Thank you to everyone who contributes!

12 artworks
  • Sketch of a young airman identified as Roald Dahl

    The Barber Institute suggested that this unattributed portrait of a young man in RAF uniform at the City of London Corporation might be a sketch for Matthew Arnold Bracy Smith's portrait of the young Roald Dahl in RAF uniform, which had been on show at the National Portrait Gallery in 2014 ('Colour, Light, Texture: Portraits by Matthew Smith and Frank Dobson'). Smith painted Dahl in 1944 when he was in his late 20s and a flight lieutenant in the RAF, flying Hurricanes in the Mediterranean and North African theatres of war. The portrait resulted from Dahl’s admiration for Smith, whose work he had seen in a London gallery. Smith also painted Dahl’s wife Patricia Neal (though in 1954).

    Roald Dahl (1916–1990) c.1944
    Matthew Arnold Bracy Smith (1879–1959)
    Oil on canvas
    H 61 x W 44 cm
    City of London Corporation
    Roald Dahl (1916–1990)
    © by permission of the copyright holder. Photo credit: City of London Corporation

  • A wartime love story

    Elin Jones first acted on a hunch that this might be an early war-time portrait by the war-artist, commercial artist, teacher, author, art therapist and television presenter, Adrian Hill. The brushstrokes reminded her of those in an old book in her childhood home, ‘The beginners book of Oil Painting’ by Adrian Hill. Elin's research revealed that Mary Anderson was based in the 2nd Red Cross Hospital for British Officers in Rouen, France during the First World War. Adrian Hill, who trained at St John's Wood School of Art and served with the Honourable Artillery Company from 1914, visited messes and drew the officers. One was Mary Anderson's fiancé, Lt Col Denis Ramsay Akers Eley DSO, who requested this portrait of his future wife.

    Mary Grant Lang Eley, née Anderson (1893–1980) in Red Cross Uniform 1917
    Adrian Keith Graham Hill (1895–1977)
    Oil on board
    H 32.7 x W 24 cm
    Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum
    Mary Grant Lang Eley, née Anderson (1893–1980) in Red Cross Uniform
    © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum

  • Artist (and eye condition) identified

    Kieran Owens identified this presumed self portrait of artist 'J. A. Gray' as a study of a 45-year-old man with Myxoedema, painted by a resident surgeon of St Bartholomew's Hospital, John Alfred Gray. The condition that Gray has depicted is described in the literature as 'a swelling of the skin and underlying tissues giving a waxy consistency'. From 1883 to 1887, John Alfred Gray was assistant Medical Officer at St. Mary's Infirmary, which was part of the Islington Workhouse. This portrait is likely to be of one of his patients. From 1888 to 1893 Gray worked for the Amir of Afghanistan.

    Patient, Aged 45, with Myxoedema 1887
    John Alfred Gray (1857–1929)
    Oil on canvas
    H 45.5 x W 35.5 cm
    St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum and Archive
    Patient, Aged 45, with Myxoedema
    Photo credit: St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum and Archive

  • Attributed to Fermo Ghisoni

    This portrait used to be catalogued as 'style of Scipione Pulzone'. Stefano d'Occaso, an Italian art historian working in Mantua, informed us that this portrait of Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga at Blairs Museum should be attributed to Fermo Ghisoni, a studio assistant of Giulio Romano, and dated circa 1555. Our Volunteer, Alistair Brown, added that several copies of this work exist, including an autograph version in the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua.

    Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga (1505–1563) c.1555
    Fermo Ghisoni (c.1505–1575)
    Oil on canvas
    H 95.7 x W 72 cm
    Blairs Museum
    Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga (1505–1563)
    Photo credit: Blairs Museum

  • Not Switzerland, but Wales

    It was thought that this snowscene probably showed Switzerland in wintertime. Elin Jones, who has helped other UK collections to identify Welsh views through Art Detective, sent convincing evidence that it depicts Llyn Dinas, a lake in Snowdonia just to the north of Beddgelert. The artist was a cousin of Dorothy Pilley, who was a renowned female mountaineer and charter member of the ‘Pinnacle Club’ (1921). Dorothy mentions in her 1935 book ‘Climbing Days’ a holiday in 1914 to a cottage in Snowdonia near Beddgelert and Llyn Dinas with her aunt Clara and cousin Elsie. She kept a diary, which was illustrated on occasion by Elsie during this holiday and at other times.

    Lake Dinas c.1919
    Elsie McNaught (1886–1987)
    Oil on board
    H 25.4 x W 34.9 cm
    The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds
    Lake Dinas
    © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

  • Date from an artist's diary

    The National Library of Wales and Art UK are grateful to Robert Meyrick for sharing new information from Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe's 1929 diary, loaned by the artist's estate. The entry for Saturday 22 June 1929 reveals that because it was raining, he resorted to painting a self portrait in his motorcycle helmet and coat. He was pleased with the small canvas, which he continued working on all weekend, laying it aside only to take a spin on his motorbike and do some weeding. It would have been painted in his studio (a shed in the garden) at 34 Nicholson Avenue, Hurdsfield, Macclesfield.

    Self Portrait 1929
    Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe (1901–1979)
    Oil on canvas
    H 24 x W 19.5 cm
    Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
    Self Portrait
    © estate of C. F. Tunnicliffe, OBE, RA. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales

  • The only painting by Kaltenmoser in a UK public collection

    Andrew Shore noticed that this orphan artwork was signed and dated bottom right. Alistair Brown found another version on the art market, in reverse, 'A Fortune-Teller in the Living Room of a Clock Maker' (1835) attributed to Kaspar Kaltenmoser. Art UK's high-resolution image confirms that this version owned by South Lanarkshire Council is signed and dated 'Kaltenmoser / Munchen 1845'in his usual style.

    The Fortune Teller (A Family Group at a Spinning Wheel) 1845
    Kaspar Kaltenmoser (1806–1867)
    Oil on canvas
    H 37 x W 28.8 cm
    South Lanarkshire Council
    The Fortune Teller (A Family Group at a Spinning Wheel)
    Photo credit: South Lanarkshire Council

  • Orphan work attributed to Catherine Ouless

    Martin Hopkinson proposed that the artist might be Catherine Ouless, since she painted two other Principals of St Hilda's College, Esther Burrows in 1927, and Winifred Moberly in 1929. Further research by Art UK found a faint signature that conformed to Ouless's and an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that cites an Ouless painting from 1927 at St Hilda's. The collection agreed that the evidence favoured attributing the work to Catherine Ouless and dating it 1927.

    Christine Burrows, Principal (1910–1919) 1927
    Catherine Ouless (1879–1961)
    Oil on canvas
    H 90 x W 70 cm
    St Hilda's College, University of Oxford
    Christine Burrows, Principal (1910–1919)
    © the artist's estate. Photo credit: St Hilda's College, University of Oxford

  • Ruins identified as Lindisfarne Priory

    Nick Lewis told us that this is a view of Lindisfarne Priory. The two distinctive windows at the top of what is the west front of the the old church are arrow loopholes, which were added for defence from potential Scottish attacks. Varley was on Holy Island in 1808 as part of his Northumberland tour and painted the castle several times.

    Ruined Abbey
    John Varley I (1778–1842)
    Pencil & wash on paper
    H 20 x W 28.5 cm
    Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library
    Ruined Abbey
    Photo credit: Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library

  • Helpful iconography

    Until recently this bust was thought to depict Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801–1890). Jacinto Regalado pointed out that it was neither Newman, nor any other cardinal, but a pope. Cardinals do not wear ermine trim, neither do they have the papal tiara embroidered into their vestments, as in this bust. Further, an image of the sitter's right profile looks very much like a photo of an older Leo XIII, while the papal arms in image #7 on Art UK also match those of Leo XIII. The collection agreed about the iconography and likeness, and added that Pope Leo XIII was responsible for appointing John Henry Newman.

    Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903)
    unknown artist
    Marble
    H 28 x W 19 cm
    Abbotsford, The Home of Sir Walter Scott
    Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903)
    Photo credit: Abbotsford, The Home of Sir Walter Scott

  • Artist's quarter

    This painting was attributed to a Geoffrey C. Nelson, but Cliff Thornton thought that this work might have particular significance. When William Roberts, a founding member of the Vorticists, recorded a small colony of artists quartered around this spacious cobbled-stoned hay market, he mentioned Bernard Meninsky, John Flanagan, Colin Gill, and Geoffrey Nelson. An online search on the artist's name brought up a link to the National Portrait Gallery's 'Tell us more' portal, where Nelson's nephew, Michael Lawrie Nelson, had commented on his uncle's work. Luckily we were able to contact Mr Nelson, who gave us his uncle's dates and helped us to attribute other works by his uncle on Art UK by sharing material from his own collection.

    Cumberland Market c.1913
    Geoffrey Nelson (1893–1943)
    Oil on canvas
    H 50 x W 73 cm
    Ferens Art Gallery
    Cumberland Market
    Photo credit: Ferens Art Gallery

  • Art Detective calling!

    Art Detective Volunteer Alistair Brown suggested that this might be by David Pugh Evans. The collection agreed on the similarity, so we wrote to Evans at his home in Edinburgh, only to hear that it was not one of his. Art UK then tweeted about it, eliciting a response from ex-Duncan of Jordanstone artist Angus McEwan, who shared it on his Facebook page. Chris Kelly, a fellow student of Angus's, said he recognised it as the work of Paul Kirkwood, who graduated in 1982. Paul worked in the next booth to Chris. Unfortunately, we have been unable to contact Paul Kirkwood, so if this helps word to reach Paul or his family we would be delighted to hear.

    Telephone Booth c.1982
    Paul Kirkwood (active 1980s)
    Oil on canvas
    H 91 x W 124.5 cm
    University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection
    Telephone Booth
    © the copyright holder. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection