Art/ Collection/ Art Object

William Archer Shee (1810–1899), the Artist's Son

Sir Martin Archer Shee (Irish, Dublin 1769–1850 Brighton)
ca. 1820
Oil on canvas
30 x 24 3/4 in. (76.2 x 62.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914
Accession Number:
Not on view
William had two older brothers, George (1800–1879) and Martin (1804–1899), and three sisters, Anna, Mary, and Eliza Jane. In 1843 he married Harriet, daughter of George Harcourt and widow of Colonel William Cubbitt. Their three children, the painter’s only grandchildren, were Mary, Martin, and Harriet.

When the picture came to the Museum, it was attributed to John Opie and called Portrait of a Boy. In 1923 Lieutenant Colonel Sir Martin Archer-Shee wrote to the Museum identifying the artist and the sitter and noting that the principal version had been sold by William in the 1890s and was in the Royal Academy, London (The Artist's Son, 1820, 30 x 25 in.). Archer-Shee also suggested that the present painting, if not by his great-grandfather, might be by the sitter’s brother Martin, an amateur artist. There is no other evidence to indicate that this might be the case, and the picture seems worthy of Archer Shee. There are drying cracks in many areas, and the glazes, which have darkened, are sensitive, so that the old varnish cannot be removed.

A replica was sold at Christie’s, London, on March 27, 1981, no. 135 (30 1/4 x 25 in.).

[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
[Fischer Galleries, Washington, D.C., until 1905; sold to Jesup]; Mr. and Mrs. Morris K. Jesup, New York (1905–his d. 1908); Maria DeWitt (Mrs. Morris K.) Jesup, New York (1908–d. 1914, as Portrait of a Boy by Opie)
Lieutenant Colonel Sir Martin Archer-Shee. Letter to Harry Wehle. April 4, 1923, identifies the sitter as his grandfather, William Archer-Shee, either painted by William's father or copied by his brother Martin; states that in the 1890s the sitter sold the principal version of his portrait to the lady who gave it to the Royal Academy.

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 224–25, no. 110, ill. (color).

The original portrait may have influenced Lawrence, whose Master Lambton (1825; private collection), in a similar pose, was painted five years later.

Portraits of Shee's children Martin and Mary may still be in the hands of descendants. A portrait of a boy with a rabbit, which might represent his son George, was owned at one time by Newhouse Galleries, New York. Photographs of all these portraits are in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
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