Decommissioned from one museum and long “for sale” at a dealer, the portrait of William Ellis Gosling by Sir William Beechey is a star at the El Paso Museum of Art. Now viewers from far and wide can see some up close & personal views of the young babe who became the eldest brother of my diarist Mary Gosling. Click on the picture to watch a short (2 minutes) film on YouTube.
A while ago I found the image of the Beechey portrait of “Master Gosling” (William-Ellis Gosling, Mary’s eldest brother) at the website linked in the post below – but only tonight did I read its (lengthy) descriptive article about this work, Beechey’s children’s portraits, and the Gosling family portraits. Be advised: some of the information in the article is incorrect. (There were two Mrs Goslings: the woman who paid for the portraits was the Hon. Charlotte (de Grey) Gosling; the woman who gave birth to these children was Margaret Elizabeth (Cunliffe) Gosling. Mary Cunliffe was Eliza’s elder sister who married Charles Joshua Smith’s great-uncle, Drummond Smith.)
So a great surprise in store once I reached the end of the article: the double portrait – of Mary and her sister Elizabeth – had been sold through Sotheby’s in 1958:
The book from which information was taken (a Beechey biography by William Roberts*) is incorrectly interpreted; as mentioned below: all three sons, both parents and the double-portrait of the two girls were executed by Beechey – a total of six works.
Of course I’m seeking a peek at this portrait. Any information about its whereabouts would be most appreciated! Send me a photo and I’d have to devise you some out-of-this-world reward…
[*a comment on the Robert’s book: this is the same biography from which the accounts [below] were taken – it was published in 1907 and could NOT have information about a sale that took place in 1958, although the third citation in the website article would make you read it that way.]
In corresponding with Kate from Norfolk, the comment came up about a famous artist who reportedly painted the eldest Gosling son. Pity the artist died a couple years before the boy was born… (This artist, however, does have a connection to earlier family members; but that is a story for later).
So I mentioned to Kate that there is one portrait of William-Ellis I did know of, and had actually seen an online image of: Sir William Beechey’s “Master Gosling,” painted c1800 and exhibited in that year.
Beechey had a lengthy connection with the William Gosling family. An old biography (published 1907) of the artist places the Goslings in his studio, sitting for several portraits – parents and children. The diaries of Emma Austen puts her there, visiting the studio in company with them, in 1820. So where are these portraits??
According to the biography by William Roberts, “Master Gosling” was ‘the first of a number of members to sit to Beechey; the other Gosling portraits will be found in the Account Books of 1817, 1820, and 1823.’ According to those account-book pages, the Goslings paid the following:
In 1817 –
Apr. 11 Of Mrs. Gosling (as half), for a half-length of her two daughters and three-quarter of her own 105£ 0s. 0d.
Aug. 8 Of Mrs. Gosling (as last payment), for the Miss Goslings, and three-quarter of Mr. W. Gosling 105£ 0s. 0d.
Apr. 21 Of Mr. Gosling (first half) 26£ 5s. 0d.
Mar. 26 Of Mrs. Gosling, for Mr. Robert Gosling (last half) 26£ 5s. 0d.
Feb. 24 Of Mrs. Gosling (as half), for Mr. Bennett Gosling 31£ 10s. 0d.
A three-quarter portrait would be one not showing hands (so, head and upper torso); a half-length length – a more costly portrait – would include that much more of the body (typically, everything but the feet!); a full-length, of course, would mean head to foot – as in the portrait of Master Gosling (and was the most expensive to commission).
Therefore, all SEVEN members of the family seem to have sat!
Here is how I read the account books: A portrait of Mrs Gosling’s two daughters must preclude her own biological daughter, Charlotte (born c1810 and still a child); so the two painted were Mary and her elder sister Elizabeth. If Mrs Gosling paid for a three-quarter portrait of herself, then the three-quarter of the Mr W. Gosling, matching hers as to size, purchased in August was of William Gosling, esq., the father. Oldest children, sons and daughters, were designated Mr or Miss. Thus the eldest son would be Mr Gosling, a younger son Mr Robert or Mr Bennett; the same for the daughters – Miss Gosling would indicate Elizabeth, Miss Mary or Miss Charlotte the younger sisters.
(When the eldest sister married, however, the next eldest took her title. There is an amusing little anecdote about Maria Smith, the baby of the Smith of Suttons family, who obviously had taken umbrage at her sister for writing and addressing the letter MARIA SMITH rather than the now correct MISS SMITH; these little courtesies mattered!!)
It would seem that William-Ellis paid for his own (it is the only one designated ‘of Mr Gosling’).
It is interesting that all three of the boys get portraits of their own; but the two girls share one together. Yet, in this instance, it seems appropriate – and here’s why. In her diaries (and Mary has left a travel diary and seven diaries after her marriage) she never once refers to her sister Elizabeth by name, always she is ‘my sister’. Speaks volumes about the close ties these two shared, doesn’t it?