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A Lonsdale Portrait of William Southwell

Seeking information on:

   • Portrait of William Southwell by James Lonsdale (1777-1839)

In September 1813 a ”Portrait of Mr. W. Southwell, the inventor of the Patent Square Piano Forte, with additional keys” by the distinguished portrait painter James Lonsdale of 8, Berners Street, London was displayed at the Liverpool Academy of Arts’ Fourth Annual Exhibition in the Union Newsrooms. 

Despite extensive enquiries, we have been unable to identify the present whereabouts of this portrait.

Update 2 September 2013

A recently discovered copy of the diary of Jane Cook, née Robins, a relative by marriage of the ‘Southwell Brothers Photographers Royal’, held in a private archive in America,1 provides fascinating new insights on a number of members of this branch of the Southwell family. Most interesting of all, an entry in 1904 gives not only a description of William Southwell’s appearance in a portrait of him, but its location in that year – extract below:

‘A portrait of him [William Southwell Snr.] still exists, now in the possession of his great grand-daughter Ida Perrin. He looks out from the picture from under a chestnut coloured wig, has an aristocratic nose, and a curved upper lip, features which have re-appeared in several of his descendants.’

Ida Southwell Perrin, née Robins, (1860–1953) was the daughter of Elizabeth Southwell (1825–1908) and Edward Cookworthy Robins (1830–1918), a noted architect of his day. Better remembered today as ‘Mrs Henry Perrin’, Ida is well known in her own right for her exquisite flower paintings as the illustrator of the book British Flowering Plants (1914), Vols I – IV. She was also a talented portrait painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy. Tragically, both her children died in early adulthood in 1919 within a short time of each other and her only direct descendent was a granddaughter, Moyra Perrin (1918–1999). Miss Perrin, a very wealthy lady, died unmarried in London in 1999 and if, as seems likely, she inherited the portrait from her grandmother, it may still have been in her possession at that time. That portrait may however be different to the one by Lonsdale.

Additional Update July 2023

By chance, in 2019 the author noticed a portrait offered for auction sale in the USA that bore a considerable resemblence to Jane Cook's description of his appearance, (click on the link above to view the image on the right of the screen, as you look at the page). But unfortunately the auction house was not able help me with any information about either the seller or purchaser. It's intriguing to speculate whether this might indeed be the missing portrait of William from Miss Perrin's home - though this may be additional to the Londsdale portrait, since William was much more elderly in 1813 than this person.

If any American colleagues may be able to shed any light on the present whereabouts of this portrait, it would be lovely to hear from you!

Regarding Jane Cook's description, it is worth mentioning here too that the lips of the gentleman in this portrait appear very similar to those of one of William's great granddaughters, Selina Oakes, nee Southwell (daughter of William Southwell Junior), as painted by her husband Frederick Oakes Devereux, and reproduced on the Brighton Photographers site.

Please contact me if you can help ...

1 The diary of Jane Cook, a sister-in-law of both Elizabeth and Louisa Southwell, daughters of William Southwell junior and wives of Edward Cookworthy Robins (architect) and Alfred Robins respectively. Particular credit and thanks are due to David Cripps of Tasmania for his tenacious work in locating and obtaining a research copy of this document. Mr Cripps, a descendent of Frances [Southwell] Cripps (daughter of William Southwell senior), has for many years maintained a particular interest in the Perrin branch of the family.

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