Lancaster Maritime Museum has added two important local portraits to its fine art collections thanks to a £1,500 grant from The Art Fund
, the UK's leading independent art charity, and £2,500 from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council/Victoria & Albert Musuem Purchase Grant Fund.
A portrait of Abraham Rawlinson (1709 to 1780) of Grassyard Hall, Caton by artist George Romney (1734 to 1802) and a portrait of his wife, Ellenor Godslave Rawlinson (1716 to 1766), painted by an unknown artist, will go on public display in early 2010 after minor conservation work has been carried out.
The truth behind these paintings and their links to Lancaster can now be revealed after a great deal of detective work was undertaken by Stephen Sartin, curator of art for Lancashire County Museum Service.
The Rawlinson family were one of the most prominent merchant families operating in the 18th century in the North West. They were chief ironmasters at Backbarrow producing iron for export and shipbuilding and also dominated the West Indian trade at Lancaster.
The portrait of Abraham is thought to be one of three commissioned by his son-in-law, William Lindow in 1771-72. The others can be found in the Tate Gallery in London and Meols Hall in Southport. The depiction of Abraham's wife in the second portrait is quite different and appears to be painted at a much earlier date. After further investigation, we know the two portraits were intended to hang together in the Lindow's Lancaster home. However, whilst the portrait of Abraham was painted from life when he was in his sixties, the portrait of Ellenor is actually a copy of an earlier painting as she had died in 1766.
Michelle Cooper, assistant keeper at Lancaster Maritime Museum said: "We are grateful to The Art Fund and the MLA/Victoria & Albert Purchase Grant Fund for their support enabling us to acquire these paintings. The portrait of Abraham Rawlinson is an outstanding work painted by George Romney, one of the greatest portrait painters of his time. As a pair they represent one of the most powerful merchant families in 18th century Lancaster. They will go in display here at the Maritime Museum to help tell the story of Lancaster's 'Golden Age' when merchant trading with the West Indies helped to make Lancaster the 4th largest port in the country."
A spokesperson from The Art Fund said: "These finely executed portraits also function as important historical documents, highlighting Lancasters colourful history as a centre for trade. It is entirely fitting that the works should go on display side by side at the citys Maritime Museum, where they will be appreciated by locals and visitors to the area for years to come."