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Victorian Art and Artists (4)
Biography of Barnett Samuel Marks, and provenance of a portrait of George McCulloch
On our website we have an article about the 'McCulloch Collection of Modern Art', which featured at the Royal Academy Winter Exhibition, London, in 1909. Click to go to the McCulloch Collection overview and menu
In the Broken Hill Art Gallery, which is located in New South Wales, Australia, there is a portrait of George McCulloch, the owner of the art collection, which bears a close resemblance to the bronze plaque which was once on his memorial at Brookwood Cemetery (stolen in the 1970s). See reconstruction of what the memorial may have looked like, opposite. Click image to enlarge.
The portrait of George McCulloch is attributed to an unknown painter named Manks, and over the years we have attempted to identify him for the gallery.
Circumstantial evidence now leads us to believe that the painting of George McCulloch in the Broken Hill Art Gallery may well be by the Welsh portrait painter Barnett Samuel Marks (1827 - 1916) who latterly lived not far from George McCulloch in Kensington and painted many eminent people.
This article describes our reasons for attributing the painting of George McCulloch in the Broken Hill Art Gallery to Barnett Samuel Marks and includes a short biography of the latter.
In March 2008, following some correspondence about the Scottish painter James Coutts Michie, we were sent an image of the portrait of George McCulloch in the Broken Hill Art Gallery by the gallery manager Bruce Tindall (ref 1), see opposite.
The relevance was that Coutts Michie had married McCulloch's widow in London in 1908.
The painting of George McCulloch was gifted his widow, by Mrs Coutts Michie, in 1928 and the event was reported in the Barrier Miner newspaper (ref 2).
To quote from the newspaper,
Thursday 26th April 1928:
The exact identity of the painter, thought to be 'Manks', was however a mystery and Bruce sought our help to identify exactly who the painter might be. Despite many enquiries we were unable to find a Victorian artist named Manks.
Nearly eight years elapsed before we realised that we had seen a similar painting by British actress and miniaturist Mabel Terry Lewis (see below), whose father had been an amateur artist.
The Art Gallery of South Australia now holds the two 'miniatures'; one of George McCulloch and one of his wife Mary painted by Mabel Terry Lewis; these were donated to the Art Gallery of South Australia by George's widow Mary in 1928 (ref 3).
Comparing the portraits you will see that the miniature by Mabel Terry Lewis was almost certainly painted from the larger painting now in the Broken Hill Art Gallery, raising the question who painted the original, how did Mabel in London get to copy it, and how did the miniatures come into the possession of George McCulloch's wife?
The answer is probably that George McCulloch, his wife, the painter and Mabel Terry Lewis knew each other, circulating amongst London based artists and galleries.
Also in the Art Gallery of South Australia is a portrait of Jewish merchant Jacob Montefiore (1801 - 1895) whose family was prominent in the founding of the colony of South Australia. The South Australia Register newspaper records that he presented his portrait to the city of Adelaide in 1885. It was painted by Barnett Samuel Marks, and has a similar colouring to the background of the painting in the Broken Hill gallery (see more about below).
The Jewish encyclopedia records that in 1885, at the request of the directors of the Art Union Gallery of Adelaide, Jacob sat for the artist B S Marks, the portrait being hung in that gallery.
Jacob Montefiore, who died in 1895, latterly lived at 35 Hyde Park Square not far from George McCulloch at 184 Queens Gate, and his brother who died in 1893 had lived at 36 Kensington Gardens Square.
On the tombstone of Jacob Montefiore in the Novo Jewish cemetery Mile End Road is the inscription:
This is mentioned as both George and Jacob appear to have a connection with Australia, the painter Barnett Samuel Marks and retirement to London.
Mabel Gwynedd Terry Lewis (1872 - 1957) is recorded in history as a British Actress, and it largely goes unnoticed that she had also been a painter of miniature portraits.
Her father Arthur James Lewis (1824 - 1901) had been a wealthy businessman, amateur painter and musician, while her mother Kate Terry was a well-known actress.
The 1901 England census (ref 4) records Mabel living in London at 49 West Cromwell Road with a parlour maid, cook and housemaid, not far from George McCulloch at Queens Gate.
Clearly, having three servants, she was reasonably well off.
George McCulloch's house at 184 Queens Gate, Kensington, was not completed until 1896 (ref 5), Mabel's father died in 1901 and she married Captain Ralph Cecil Bates in 1904. Given also that George's beard is white in these portraits and he died in 1907 we guess that the miniature by Mabel Terry Lewis may have been painted circa 1901.
The next question is how and when did she see the larger painting from which she painted the miniature of George McCulloch's portrait.
Not being able to find an artist named Manks, we considered signatures which might be mistaken as Manks and thought 'Marks'. Searching the England census (ref 4) and Dictionary of Victorian Painters (ref 7) we came across Barnett Samuel Marks as the most likely painter.
The 1901 and 1911 England census (ref 4) record Welsh portrait painter Barnett Samuel Marks living at 10 Matheson Street Kensington, a short distance from the homes of George McCulloch and Mabel Terry Lewis. A comparison of George McCulloch's portrait with others painted by Marks (ref 8) shows a marked similarity in the backcloth.
Barnett Samuel Marks and his daughter Anne are recorded in the Dictionary of Victorian painters thus:
(Despite being mentioned above, we have seen no evidence that Barnett Samuel Marks exhibited paintings at the RA although a contemporary, Henry Stacy Marks, did.)
A much more detailed account of Barnett Samuel Marks' life can be found in the archives of University College London which seems to be largely based on information in Who's Who. To quote:
It seems Barnett Samuel Marks was not a rich man and mainly earned his living by painting portraits for the eminent and wealthy; being a Freemason he would have been able to establish a good network of contacts. Perhaps through them or possibly a direct approach he had offered his services to his near neighbour, George McCulloch.
Painter and Freemason Barnett Samuel Marks latterly of 10 Matheson Road, Kensington died on 6th December 1916. His executors were Constance Isabelle Marks, spinster, Michael Herbert Marks, a member of the Stock Exchange, and Percy Leman Marks, an architect - three of his six children (ref 9). You will find him listed in the Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo Jewish History (ref 10).
Several examples of his work can be found on the BBC Your Paintings website, including a self portrait, the original of which is held by Ealing Central Library. Click to see paintings of Barnett Samuel Marks.
Based on the above circumstantial evidence, we have come to the conclusion that the painting of George McCulloch in the Broken Hill Art Gallery was very likely painted by Barnett Samuel Marks possibly about 1900.
However we know that historians of art would ideally want to see a paper trail linking Marks to either George or his wife to be firmly convinced, and that of course we don't have. So do please contact us if you work in the art world and know where such evidence might be found!
This article was first published on our old website 123-mcc.com
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Last updated 15th October 2018