Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The re-discovery of a Blackheath philanthropist and a sitter in a portrait by Hugh Goldwin Riviere

If you have recently entered the Early Years Room, by the reception desk, at the Conservatoire you will have most likely noticed the impressive portrait of an elegant woman hanging over the fireplace. This woman was painted by the eminent portraitist Hugh Goldwin Riviere in 1908.

Hugh Goldwin Riviere, Julia Lindley, 1908.
Hugh Goldwin Riviere, Julia Lindley, detail of signature and date at lower right, 1908.

When I first arrived at the Conservatoire just over a year ago it was believed that the painting depicted a woman who acted like a maidservant in the early years of the music school. There was even a label at the reception desk highlighting this although there was no identity of the sitter.[1] Looking through the archives it became apparent, that if the label was correct then the identity of the sitter could be Miss Mary Botting Lady Superintendent of the Conservatoire. This was confirmed by my colleague Alex when she discovered that in the insurance dating from 2006 it was identified as ‘Mary Botting painting’. Initially I thought that this was the correct identification and was quite proud to think that I had solved a mystery rather quickly.

Although the more I thought about it, the identity of the sitter troubled me. Mary Botting, from all descriptions, effectively ran the Conservatoire singlehandedly. The main question was how someone in her position could be able to commission a portrait by such an esteemed painter. Riviere painted some of the elite society figures of the early twentieth century in London.[2] Botting certainly would not have moved in these circles. Later a photograph of Mary Botting surfaced, from the Blackheath Illustrated Review 1896 – 97. This photograph, taken more than 10 years before the painting was completed shows that Mary Botting looked nothing like the portrait being older than the depicted sitter.[3]

Portrait of Miss Mary Botting, Blackheath Illustrated, 1896-97.

Whilst looking through the Committee Meeting Minutes an interesting entry leaped out at me. In March 1937, after the death of a Miss Julia Lindley on 15 January 1937[4], the Blackheath Conservatoire was offered as a part of her bequest a Steinway Grand Piano, and £1000 to help students who could not afford tuition. At the same meeting it was also noted that Miss EJ Lindley had presented the Conservatoire with Julia Lindley’s portrait.[5] Unfortunately there was no mention of the artist of the portrait or when it was painted.

Notes regarding Julia Lindley's bequest and offer of her portrait,Committee Meeting Minutes January 1937, p.150.

So who was Julia Lindley? Julia Lindley was born in Hamburg in 1856, the daughter of the well-known engineer, William Lindley. She is recorded in the 1881 census as living in Shooters Hill Road with her occupation classified as ‘Annuitant’.[6] Jumping forward 20 years to the 1901 census, her address changed to 74 Shooters Hill Road, Blackheath, SE. At this time she was listed as the Head of the Household and her occupation as Private Means. Her ‘companion’ Miss Dall is listed as a visitor to the house on this occasion although additionally in this and the next census in 1911 she is also listed as a member of the household.[7]

That Julia Lindley was a great philanthropist is something that is still well known today. In addition to her generous bequests to the Conservatoire she bequeathed £1000 to the National Gallery and to the Royal Observatory.[8] The preceding bequests apart Julia Lindley was a life member of The Royal Geographical Society from 1893[9], a subscriber to the Annual of the British School at Athens in 1897, and a life member of The Royal Archaeological Institute from 1913.[10] In addition to her bequest to help students who struggled to pay their fees she also provided support for students during her lifetime.[11] Needless to say that she was a great benefactor of the arts and someone who took a great interest in cultural pursuits.

Letter from Edith Dealy to Miss EJ Lindley, 8 February 1937.

The next and perhaps most important clue comes from the letter written to Miss EJ Lindley by Edith Dealy, Mary Botting’s successor, on 8 February 1937. In the letter Dealy thanks EJ Lindley for the kind offer of the portrait and states:
‘As a benefactor of the Conservatoire our Committee Room seems a very suitable home for her portrait, & we shall value it with grateful appreciation for her many kind acts.’
As mentioned earlier the portrait hangs in the Early Years Room which was the Committee Room in the 1930’s.[12] It is nice now to be able to know the name of the sitter and be able to acknowledge the generosity of one of Blackheath’s great philanthropists, Julia Lindley.

[1] The text of label was as follows: ‘Conservatoire Curiosities: Who is the lady in the painting? Well to be truthful, we don’t know. However, the traditional story is that she was the first ‘Lady Caretaker’ of the Conservatoire. Part of her job was to look after the tutors, which included making them afternoon tea. If you look closely in some of the teaching rooms, you can see a little buzzer. The story goes that the tutors would press this and then she would bring in their tea!’
[2] NPG archive features the following portraits of eminent public figures by Hugh Goldwin Riviere: Sir Jeremiah Colman, Lord Lister and Miss Peggy Wood.
[3] ‘New Schools: The Blackheath Conservatoire of Music’, Blackheath Illustrated, 1896-97, p. 69. I originally discovered the photograph in the scrapbook of Edith Dealy housed in the Trinity College Library, Greenwich.
[4] The Committee discussed the death of Miss Julia Lindley, Thursday 29 January 1937, and reported that the secretary had written a letter of condolence to her companion Miss Dall. Committee Meeting Minutes, p. 150.
[5] The meeting took place on 4 March 1937. Committee Meeting Minutes, p 151.
[6] Julia Lindley was 25 years old and the head of the Household was William Lindley. The address they lived at was 10 Shooters Hill Road. Annuitant is someone who is receiving benefits of an annuity (inheritance?).
[7] The listed occupants of the house in the 1901 census were (with ages): Jane Ewart 64, Julia Lindley 45, Emma E Pipe 33, Jane F Dall 31 and Annie E Jacklin 25. In the 1911 census they were as follows: Julia Lindley 55, Rose Whitelong 45, Jane Farmer Dall 41 and Annie Elizabeth Jacklin 35.
[8] The initial discussion about the bequest to the National Gallery started in August 1937. Thanks to Ceri Brough at The National Gallery for this information. The Observatory, A Monthly Review of Astronomy, Vol. 60, June 1937, p. 1, discusses the bequest.
[9] Royal Geographical Society List of Honorary Members, Honorary Corresponding Members and Fellows Corrected to 30 September, 1921, p. 54.
[10] The Royal Archaeological Institute List of Members 1933, p. 401.
[11] In a letter dated 15 December 1928 Edith Dealy thanks Julia Lindley for her support for the student Guy Jarrett.
[12] Thanks to my incredibly knowledgeable colleague Mary Moore who pointed this out to me recently.

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