Saturday, June 4, 2022

Possible Portrait of Professor Owen

This painting by an unknown artist, painted in an unknown year is labeled on both Art UK and the Wellcome Collections library as “Sir Richard Owen (?)”. Though I have some doubts as to the identity of the sitter.

Wellcome Library no. 45766i

When consulting the references portion of the Wellcome Library entry I was only able to find one source for this painting being acknowledged and that was in the rather wordily titled

“Christopher Wright et al., British and Irish paintings in public collections, New Haven and London”

And sadly this is both out of print and I have not been able to gain access to it online. I suspect, however, that it wouldn’t answer my main concern about the provenance of this painting.

Which is that it doesn’t look much like Sir Richard Owen at all.

In fact, to me, it resembles Robert Owen the welsh philanthropist more than it does the biologist. Though I have no further grounds for thinking it's Robert Owen than that I've seen the two confused before.

(I was unable to find a definite source or bigger version of this painting. Although it was done by John Cranch)

(Natural History Museum, London)

(‘Portrait of Sir Richard Owen As a Young Man’ - Lancaster City Museum)

With examples of younger portraits of Richard Owen there are some notable differences in facial features to that of the unknown portrait, the hair is also seemingly lighter. Though this does not match younger paintings of Robert Owen either.

And the skull being held does point in the direction of someone involved in the medical field or natural sciences. Richard Owen was likely professor of comparative anatomy at St. Bartholomews at the time the portrait was painted. If it is indeed of him.

Without the artist's name and further examples of their work, there is no way to know if the sharp highlights in the hair are representative of the individual painter's style or if they just weren’t particularly good at drawing likenesses. So without more detailed information, I can’t come to a solid conclusion.

I would love to know the reasoning behind why this is thought to be Sir Richard Owen, as I may be missing insight that someone more well versed in identifying portraits has.

But as it stands, I suspect the portrait is of a different individual.