L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Friday, October 7, 2016

John Gubbins Newton and His Sister, Mary Newton, by Robert Burnard, circa 1833

This unusual and remarkably accomplished painting - quite striking in the precision of its draftsmanship and descriptive detail and in its clarity of tone and color - was long attributed to other artists. There were strong arguments for assigning the work to both the expatriate Swiss animal painter Jacques-Laurent Agasse (1767–1849), who had studied with David, and to the Scottish portrait and history painter John Zephaniah Bell (1793–1833). In preparation for an exhibition in 2001, though, the painting was cleaned and the signature of the quite obscure Cornish artist Robert Burnard was found lurking in the background: "R. Burnard pinxit"

I love the unexpected detail of the scattered flowers and petals.


 Robert Burnard (1799 or 1800, Laneast, Cornwall, - 1846 or 1847, or 13 April 1876), British artist and house painter. Born the son of Richard Parnell Burnard and Elizabeth, née Westlake, he was first employed as a house painter. But he also soon began a side career as a - self-taught - portrait painter and traveled around Cornwall and nearby Devon painting children and animals. He married Jane Chapman in 1822. They had four children, but in 1831 his wife and eldest son died, and the following year Burnard married Eliza, née Stodden; they had ten children together. The family emigrated to South Australia in October of 1839. After a particularly difficult voyage, they settled in Plympton, Adelaide, where Burnard continued his work as a house painter and painter of portraits and still-lifes. The date of his death is unclear. An article in the South Australian Register of 1847 refers to him as "departed". But confusing the issue is that his eldest surviving son, another Robert Burnard, lived a life pretty much identical to that of his father's, and also had a career as an artist, producing exactly the same sorts of paintings. So the later date of 1876 might refer to either father or son.

This is a rather interesting article, with a well-done critique of the work and biographical data of the artist.


The subjects of the portrait are Mary and John, the only children of John Newton and his wife Charity, née Gubbins. The family resided at Millaton House at Bridestowe, in Devon. Mary was born 26 January 1823, and her brother John 17 February 1826. The younger John would die at Millaton House on 6 September 1847 at the age of twenty-one. The estate - and the painting - were inherited by the son of the elder sitter Mary Gubbins Newton and her husband Dr. John Butters Ashford. The Millaton estate was sold in 1924, but the painting remained in situ until 1955, when the house was sold again. It is now in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art.

Millaton House at Bridestowe, Devon in two vintage photographs.
A recent image of Millaton House.


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