Portraits of a Young Hero:
Two Versions of Robert Field's
"Portrait of Lieutenant Provo William Parry Wallis"
by Barry Lord
| 2 | 3
1 Henry Piers, Robert Field: Portrait Painter in Oils, Miniature and Water-Colours
and Engraver (New York: Frederic Fairchild Sherman, 1927), pp. 128,
129, cat. no. xxv. We are told that the portrait was "bought as one of' Admiral Harper' at a sale in England in 1917, with a box marked 'Commander
Geo. Harper, R.N.' It was therefore supposed that George Harper was the
sitter's name; but he was of later generation and never rose to flag-rank."
It was equally an assumption that the sitter's name should be Harper at
all. Nonetheless, Piers proposes that the sitter must be Commander John
Harper, who was of flag-rank in 1813, and concludes by remarking that "George
Harper was doubtless his son."
2 R. H. Hubbard, The National Gallery of Canada Catalogue of Paintings
and Sculpture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960), vol. III,
Canadian School, p. 82 (5057). Here Piers's shaky hypothesis is formalized
as "ex coll: Commander George Harper (sale, 1917)."
3 Piers, loc. cit. Piers admits that the painting "portrays
a very handsome young officer in frock or undress uniform, with fall-down
collar and blue labels. Only one epaulette is shown, although a commander
then wore two." Field was hardly a painter to flatter a sitter by dropping
twenty-odd years from his age, as inspection of the rest of his cool, analytical
oeuvre bears out; nor is it likely that the Commander himself
tore off one of his lapels before sitting for Field.
As for Harper's whereabouts in 1813, the National Gallery's
catalogue (loc. cit., n. 2) says "at Halifax," repeating Harper's
itinerary according to Piers. Piers had referred for authority to the obituary
for Harper (7 July 1855) in The Times (London) and William Richard
O'Byrne's Naval Biographical Dictionary (London: John Murray, 1849),
pp. 465, 466. Yet O'Byrne, after describing a notable engagement in the
English Channel on 23 September 1812, in which Harper participated, continues:
"He next, in the early part of 1813, proceeded to the Adriatic "Piers
had followed O'Byrne to this point, but then proceeds to say, instead,
"He must have been at Halifax on a special mission when the portrait was
painted." Nothing in O'Byrne - or in The Times, for that matter -
corroborates such an assumption.
I am indebted to Mr E. C. Russell, Executive Officer of the Directorate
of History of the Department of National Defence (Canada) for calling
my attention to John George Marshall's Royal Navy Biography (Supplement No.3;
London: Longman, 1823-1830), pp. 326, 345, ill which there is a
detailed account of Harper's service in the period 1812-1813, based on Harper's
own letters. According to this account, Harper had been appointed to the
command of H. M. S. Saracen in August 1812. On 23 September he led
it into the encounter on the English Channel. By February 1813 (pp. 332,
333), Harper and the Saracen were in the Adriatic Sea, and continued
in action there, without respite, until 1814 (pp. 333, 343, passim).
Any "special mission" to Halifax would have had to take place in January
1813 when Harper must have been provisioning in England for Mediterranean
service. Such a mission would have had to involve the Saracen
and its company or Harper or both; but there is no record of Harper's
being replaced temporarily on the Saracen, or of the Saracen's
sailing across the Atlantic in January 1813. Mr Russell, in a letter
to me dated 25 January 1966, said that he had confidence in Marshall's
facts and that "in this work
there is no reference to Harper being at Halifax before 1816."
4 J. G. Brighton, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Provo Wallis,
A Memoir (London: Hutchinson and Company, 1892), p. 96.
5 Barry Lord,
"The Finding of the 'Father of the Royal Navy'," The Atlantic Advocate,
vol. 58, no.5 (January 1968), pp. 54-56.
6 J. C. Webster, Catalogue of the john Clarence Webster
Canadiana Collection (Pictorial Section) New Brunswick Museum (Saint John:
The New Brunswick Museum, 1939), cat. no. 1, p. 320 (1776). No date is given
for the copy, but Mr Richard Lindo, formerly Curator of Canadian History
at the New Brunswick Museum, was kind enough to send me photocopies of four
letters to Dr Webster: one from Admiral Phipps-Hornby, Lordington House,
Emsworth, Hampshire (dated 15 September 1927); and three from the
Reverend A. H. C. Edlin, The Vicarage, Bodicote, Banbury, Oxfordshire (dated 16 September 1927; 26 December 1927; and 5 February 1928).
All four letters would indicate that Miss Messer's copying was done in 1928. These
letters were not discovered, unfortunately, until after my trip to
England. They would certainly have expedited my search for
the missing "original."
7 Piers, op. cit., pp. 141, 142, cat. no. LI11. Here Piers,
basing his guess on the proportions of the wood-engraving, even estimates
the size of the unknown painting as "30 x 25 or 24 x 20 ins." Both the
National Gallery's portrait and the Reverend Edlin's portrait are, in fact, 30 x 25 inches.
8 Brighton, op. cit., pp. 230, 231.
9 A letter to the Admiralty from Viscount Howe, dated 16 September
1776, appoints "Provo Wallis" master shipwright in the Naval Yard at
New York. A later request for confirmation of the appointment is dated
9 June 1779, while a note on the back of a later letter, dated 20 June
1779, indicates that there had been a further letter from Lord Howe
to the Admiralty dated 13 February 1777 - A certification that "Provo Wallis"
had not yet received any salary for his position as master shipwright
is dated 30 September 1780, and there is a request by "Provo Wallis" for
pay dated 13 October 1780. (MSS ADM / B. P. / 1, 1780, Library, National
Maritime Museum, Greenwich.)
10 The kind cooperation of the Reverend P. A. M. Edlin has been of
immeasurable help in only research. His letters to me (dated 19 April 1969
and 6 September 1969) include details of provenance.
Probate of the Will and Codicils of Admiral of the Fleet Sir
Provo William Parry Wallis, G. C. B., dated 26 April 1892 (extracted by Raper,
Freeland and Tyacke, Solicitors, Chichester) gives "all my pictures prints...etc." to Dame
Jemima Mary Gwyn Wallis, the Admiral's second wife. In
case of her death, it reserves annuities in trust to her nephew, the Reverend
George Montgon Lery Norris, South Cove, Wang ford, Suffolk.
Dame Wallis died on 28 February 1894, and a letter from her solicitor
Sir R. G. Raper (of the firm Raper, Freeland and Tyacke, Solicitors, Chichester),
dated 17 August 1894, advises the Reverend Norris of the sale of real estate
and "the residue of his [Admiral Wallis'] personal estate," - the rest to
be held in trust for the Reverend Norris. There is no specific reference
to any of the three paintings in question in any of the legal documents
or correspondence concerning bequests.
II Details of the will affecting the National Gallery's portrait
as well as the two portraits now in the possession of the Reverend Edlin are given in the previous
note. Dame Wallis, the Admiral's second wife,
appears to have left an unspecified part of her personal effects to the
family of her brother, Sir Belford Hinton Wilson. One of Wilson's sons,
Belford Randolph, acted on 13 April 1894 as Dame Wallis' executor. Another of his sons, Robert Belford Wallis, kept the name
very much in his family:
he called one son Robert Provo Wallis, and he included "Wallis" alone in
the names of three others.
Various living descendants of the Wilson family still own memorabilia connected
with the Admiral - for example, a snuff-box which has engraved upon it "Johns
to Wallis I Boston Bay I June 1, 1813." Mr Eric Gill, of Sparks and
Son at Arundel, recalls that his warehouse once held "a great many paintings"
for one of Robert Belford Wallis Wilson's sons, Alleyne Wallis, who sold
them all to unspecified dealers about 1920. Descendants of the Wilson family
recall, too, that another of Robert Belford Wallis' sons, Belford Alexander Wallis, had a painting sold in London while he was fighting in France
from 1916 to 1918. The painting is said to have brought about £ 1300 - but
it is thought to have been a portrait of Simon Bolivar. Further research
must be done on these paintings, and on material relating to the provenance
of the National Gallery's portrait between 1892 (when Brighton saw it in
Wallis' home) and its sale in 1917. No reference other than Piers has yet
been found for the latter sale.
12 Piers, op. cit., p. 129.
13 J. Russell Harper, Painting in Canada: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966), p. 100.
14 Harper, op. cit., p. III.
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