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Identifying Russell’s petite fille aux cerises

29 November 2017

Russell frame Vikery

In my recent post about the evolution of taste in pastels, I mentioned how important national schools have been, so that the English undervalue Perronneau, while the French reciprocate by ignoring Cotes. But by the end of the nineteenth century, John Russell had become a collectable name in Paris (albeit usually spelt with one l). There is no doubt that a major contributor to this was the presence in the Louvre, since 1869, of Russell’s Petite fille aux cerises. Copied dozens of times, and reproduced infinitely more often, her latest appearance is in the delightful new issue of the Dossier de l’art (no. 254) devoted to pastel, where the work is one of the chefs-d’œuvre to which a double page spread is devoted by Thea Burns in an excellent overview of the medium before 1800. Is it a portrait or a genre piece, the author asks, adding “aucune identité n’a été proposé pour ce charmant modèle.” The only reference cited for this pastel is to Camille Dorange’s 1990 article devoted rather curiously to Russells that happen to have been in French collections.

There is of course a far more abundant bibliography some of which you can find in the Dictionary of pastellists (just Google, or put into the search box, J.64.172; in the print edition it’s listed on p. 473 among the unidentified sitters), but until now confusions have persisted which are not discussed in the Dossier. As so often with Russell, these problems arise from George Williamson’s slapdash approach to cataloguing in his 1894 monograph. The pastel is signed and dated, but the date is no longer legible (at least not when I last saw it), so Williamson read it as 1780 since this allowed him to identify the Louvre pastel with the Girl with Cherries which Russell exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1781 (no. 372). That pastel was in all probability the one included in the artist’s posthumous sale, London, Christie’s, 14 February 1807, Lot 27, with the same title. Having made that conflation, it follows that the owner who left the picture to the Louvre must have bought the pastel as a collector. “M. Henry Vikery” appears on a label at the top of the frame, in larger type than the artist gets, in spelling which will raise the eyebrow of any English speaker, whether Brexit-voting or not. Geneviève Monnier, in her 1972 catalogue of the Louvre pastels, followed this narrative, as did I in earlier editions of the Dictionary.

In doing so we dissented from Maurice Tourneux’s 1908 article in the Revue de l’art ancien et moderne: always unwise, as Tourneux was a far more careful scholar than Williamson. He read the date as 1798, and told us more about the donor, a “M. Henry Vickery” who had died in Arsonval, leaving this pastel to the Louvre, and which the minister had been told orally depicted the donor’s mother. Of course this is the sort of legend that so often turns out to be fantasy, but in some cases can provide the vital clue: the starting point has to be to obtain the biographical details and test them for plausibility.

Immediately we see a problem: Williamson tells us that the pastel was in the artist’s posthumous sale, so (we infer) it can’t have descended in the sitter’s family. Further research on Vickery (see, for example, the entry in the otherwise useful Les Donateurs du Louvre) adds nothing to our knowledge beyond a further forename, Alfred Henry: but there the trail goes cold. There is no Alfred Henry Vickery to be found. And so the story died with the obscurity of this man.

Now that we know the answer, the steps I set out below will seem obvious, but they have been remarkably resistant to discovery. The first step was to examine the état civil for Arsonval, which does indeed record the death, not of Henry Vickery, but of “Alfred Dehenin Vickery”, aged 47:

VickeryAD death

As we shall see neither of these data is strictly correct. But the de Hénin looks particularly plausible since his wife, Joséphine Vangraefschepe, has a distinctly Belgian sounding name. We also find that “Alfred de Hénin-Vickery” appears in a deed in the Archives nationales (a part payment of 10,000 francs for a property in Bièvres in 1851), so this is the name he used. We can trace back their marriage, which took place at St Clement Dane’s in London, in 1855:

VickeryAD marriage

And from that we get Alfred’s father, Joseph Pace [recte Paice] Vickery. (There is another false trail here with a Joseph Pace Vickery and the widow of a soldier in the Coldstream Guards, but that is irrelevant.)

Vickery père was born in Lincolnshire in 1786 and died in Paris in 1858. In 1813 at St Marylebone he married a Mary Hall: a common enough name, not defined much more narrowly by the presence of witnesses including a Thomas and an Eliza Hall, nor by a friend, Cecilia Charlotte Jackson (although she was easily traceable to the future wife of a baronet; she was born in 1794):

Vickery Joseph Paice mariage 1813

The trail went cold until I found that Alfred’s real name was not Dehenin, nor Henry, but Dehany:

VickeryAlfred Dehany birth Somerset 1819

That allowed me to connect Mary Hall with the family of Thomas Hall, a wealthy sugar planter in Jamaica, who married a Mary Dehany. To proceed to the answer (which is confirmed by Mary Vickery’s name appearing as a legatee in her aunt’s will), the pedigree I have established is as follows:

Thomas Hall (1725–1772) of Jamaica ∞ Mary Dehany ( –1763)

Mary (1747–1815) ∞ Richard James Laurence (1745–1830)

Hugh Kirkpatrick Hall (1749–1788) of Bowden, Cheshire

William Hall (1750–1805) ∞ 1773 Mary Reid (1750–1794)

Mary (1784–1836×58) ∞ 1813 Joseph Paice Vickery (1786–1858)

Alfred Dehany Vickery (1819–1868) ∞ 1855 Joséphine Vangraefschepe

[From William’s liaison with Mrs Catherine Jones of St Johns, Worcester]:

William Jones Hall ( –1814)

Catherine Jones Hall ∞ 1829 George Bowles

Sarah (1755– )

Thomas Hall (1757–1839) ∞ Eliza Humfreys (1762–1800)

Eliza Ann (1789–1831)

Dehany (1759–1822sa)

Thus the “petite fille aux cerises” is, if the Vickery legend is to be believed, Mary Hall, the daughter of William Hall and Mary, née Reid, baptized at St James, Jamaica, 3 May 1784. In all likelihood the date on the pastel was 1788 (Williamson and Tourneux each getting one digit wrong), a date I find entirely plausible stylistically.

It is also highly plausible that the Hall family were clients of Russell. Despite the artist’s fervent Methodism, several other Jamaica planters were among his sitters. The Halls were interested in portraiture: Benjamin West famously depicted the petite fille’s aunt, also Mary Hall (later Mrs Richard Lawrence: but not to be confused, as she is in some sources such as the British Museum database, with the flower painter, née Mary Lawrence, who married Thomas Kearse in 1814) in the guise of Spenser’s Una in 1771:

WestB Mary Hall as Una 1771 Wadsworth Atheneum

William Hall, the petite fille’s father, was born on the family’s numerous plantations in Jamaica, but sent back to England to be educated at Eton. Extensive family correspondence is available in archives at the University of California at San Diego, which has made numerous documents available online. William returned to Jamaica on his father’s death in 1772, and the following year he married a Mary Reid. Among their numerous plantations was the Round Hill estate at Montego Bay. Records indicate fairly extensive lists of slaves, some of whom absconded (as seen from newspaper advertisements). Their only daughter, the petite fille, was born in 1784, and soon after they returned to England definitively, settling in Worcester (where William’s father Thomas had been born in 1725, and where Russell would make numerous trips throughout his career). Here Mrs Hall died in 1794, and was commemorated in a superb monument gracing the cathedral, the masterpiece of William Stephens:

mary-hall-monument

An excellent blog post by a local historian fleshes out the rather curious background to William’s will, proved in 1805, after he died having moved to Bath. There were substantial provisions for William’s two illegitimate children by one Catherine Jones: it seems that William maintained two establishments while his wife was still alive, on different sides of the river in Worcester (Mary at Bevere, Catherine at St John’s). The petite fille was then living at Queen Street West, St Marylebone (probably with her uncle Thomas), while her half-siblings lived with their mother who had moved with William to Hatfield Place, Bath. There seems to have been no enmity between the children: when Catherine Hall Jones married in 1820, her guardian issuing the bans was Mary’s husband Joseph Paice Vickery.

The petite fille was a wealthy heiress, inheriting the residual share of her father’s fortune, including a provision of £12,000 secured on the Worcester estate in Jamaica. That legacy became the subject of legal proceedings not concluded until the 1860s. Neither Joseph Paice Vickery nor his son seems to have had paid employment, and reports in 1844 that Joseph held £5000 of forged Exchequer bills may account for his emigration to France, where he lived at 44 rue de l’Ouest, Paris 14e before his death in Hesse-Homburg. His estate was valued at less than £300. There is nothing to suggest that the Vickerys were art collectors, and it is far more probable that this was indeed a portrait de famille.

We don’t know when Mary Vickery herself died: she is named in litigation documents in 1836, and predeceased her husband. But we do I think know, with reasonable confidence, that the Louvre pastel is a portrait of a girl who fitted perfectly into Russell’s clientele, and is an excellent example of his work at the height of his powers.

Postscript – 7 December

An eagle-eyed reader, Tim Clarke, has drawn my attention to the fact that Worcester has a long history of growing cherries. The Cherry Fair in Bewdley is located very close to Kidderminster where John Russell was also recorded on his numerous visits to the area.

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