“Portrait of a family”

“Portrait of a family all standing in a garden” 1730s, attributed to Charles Phillips.

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My aunt passed on this black and white copy of a family portrait painting along with the names of those depicted. Unfortunately she does not know where she first got it from and, up until recently, I had no idea if the original painting still existed and, if so, where it might be.

In what seemed likely to be a fool’s errand of an attempt to track the painting down, a couple of months ago I posted the black and white picture on Instagram. Thanks to the quick attentions of a friend who understood better than me a trick of the internet, a “Google Images” search instantly produced a coloured version of the painting! Suddenly Susannah’s father’s family were brought to life in front of me – with their lively pet spaniel – Amazing! Along with the colour picture came the information that it was sold by Sothebys in New York in 2004 as “Portrait of a family all standing in a garden”.

Dalbiac colour portraitFullSizeRender (23)

This slightly naïve portrait depicts my 6 X Great Grandparents and their children – dating from the early-1730s – all looking a little stiff, formal and pointy, standing in front of quite a grand landscape. Susannah’s grandfather, James (originally Jaques – see signature below), who came over in the hamper, is on the right and his wife, Louise de la Porte, is sitting down with a protective arm round her youngest daughter, Martha.  Susannah’s father is the smaller boy standing in the middle.

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Rather beautiful signature of James [Jaques] Dalbiac Senior, Susannah’s Grandfather who was smuggled to England in a hamper.
James Dalbiac Senior and his two sons became highly successful silk weavers and silk and velvet merchants. They are all wearing wonderful early 18th century clothes and, if the Dalbiacs specialised in silks and velvets, here they all are wearing gorgeous examples.

Charles Phillips, the painter to whom it is attributed, painted a number of family portraits (see here: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/search/actor:philips-charles-17081747/page/2), placing the families in landscapes attached to their properties. Although at around this time the Dalbiacs were living in 7 and then 20 Spital Square, London, it is possible that they owned a house in the country at this time which I have yet to track down. It is a large painting and it is easy to imagine it hung over the fireplace in a panelled drawing room in their Spital Square house. The National Portrait Gallery website says that Charles Phillips was “a successful portrait painter who was popular with the nobility” and their employment of Phillips is therefore symbolic of the Dalbiac’s climb to success and social integration in the English capital.

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2o Spital Square, London. Demolished c.1964.

It did feel amazing to have tracked the painting down to this century – but also a bit strange to think that someone has this painting and has no idea who all the people are.

If you don’t know who the picture shows, you cannot know what lay ahead for them. James and Louise had at least 28 grandchildren, but to us the number who died can only seem shocking as many of them did not survive to adulthood. For example, Susannah’s uncle James, the taller boy, had at least 9 children; 5 were boys, but out of these 5 sons, only one seems to have had children and they were all girls.

1st Jan 1776
Tuesday 2nd January, 1776: “Papa & Cousin James Dalbiac went to Town before Dinner”. Cousin James, one of the 5 boys mentioned above, married Maria Barnard in 1779 and they had at least 9 children.

Susannah’s Aunt Louise, on the far left of the picture, who was married to Jean Lagier Lamotte for 57 years (!) and lived in Wanstead, north east London, had 12 children, 5 of whom died and only two of whom produced families. And, of course, Susannah’s father’s first child, Pierre, died as a baby and his first wife, Susannah’s mother, died at the age 35, quite possibly in childbirth, when Susannah was 6.

What lives they led and what griefs they bore.

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For what it’s worth, I have been in touch with Sothebys in New York to see if they can contact the purchasers of the painting in case they are interested in having further information about the portrait and the people it portrays.

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