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]