To date we have had the deaths of three wives, at least two, being under suspicious circumstances, an attempted poisoning followed by the sudden death of his godmother, plus an assault and possible relationship with an underage girl.
Life really was proving complicated for Joseph and at the end of January 1845, his son Louis, a mere five-years-old died, following an adverse reaction to a vaccination, but, given the suspicious deaths of the others I simply had to double-check the death certificate, just in case!
Joseph finally left Norwich, but not the county as instructed and towards the end of 1845, at St Andrew’s church at Sprowston & Beeston Norfolk, Joseph, a widower, now married for the fourth time. Wife number four, being Sarah Ann Nickalls,[i] daughter of William and his wife, Mary who were silk weavers; with his daughter, Pauline Emma, standing witness to this union. Rather unusually and decidedly annoyingly, the space in the register where Joseph father was to be named the space was crossed through, leaving his origins still no clearer.
The following year, for a change, Joseph found himself in court yet again, this time it was at his instigation, he was suing a gentleman from Lakenham, a Mr Alfred Massey, over the payment for a horse, but the case was dismissed as there was insufficient evidence.
In 1847 Joseph and his fourth wife, still living in Norfolk, produced a son, John Louis (1847- 1904), who they later had baptised in 1855 in London where they had eventually returned to. Curiously, it was John Louis who went on to become a landscape artist and remained in London until the end of his life.
As to where Joseph and the family had disappeared to around the 1851 census, remains a mystery, they simply vanished from the radar. Around Christmas of 1851, Joseph’s eldest daughter, Eliza was married in Norwich, so she obviously remained there after her father and stepmother had moved back to London. His daughter, Pauline, had by 1853 married[ii] a military surgeon in Liverpool, having described her father on the marriage entry simply as an artist.
Joseph Meek Paul was living in Suffolk in 1851[iii] and the following year he sold all the furniture from a reasonably substantial property at Halesworth, Suffolk which he had inherited from Mr James Meek, who had, with his wife Elizabeth, raised him. In 1855 he was to join the army as a lieutenant, eventually married and went out to India, not returning until the late 1880s accompanied by his family. Caroline also married in Liverpool in 1856[iv] and again confirmed her father to be Joseph, an artist, so Joseph clearly worked as an artist his entire life.
Joseph then reappeared some ten years later on the 1861 census,[v] living a relatively quiet life, as an animal painter, in Rugby, Warwickshire, still with his fourth wife, Sarah Ann and their youngest son, John Louis.
They must have moved there sometime before 1859 as Messrs. Cooke & Son were advertising his animal paintings for sale in nearby Leamington Spa that year.[vi]
His son, Napoleon[vii] remained in Norfolk working as a plumber, glazier and ornamental painter, but he had suffered from a lung disease for several years which could well have been caused by working with lead, when he died in September 1861, aged just thirty.
There was no sign of Joseph for a further ten years until he appeared on the census return for 1871.[viii] By this time he had returned to London where he continued as an animal painter along with his youngest child, John Louis, now a landscape artist, who went on to marry three years later, confirming on the marriage entry that his father’s occupation as that of an artist.
The 1881 census[ix] confirmed that Joseph was still living at Ebury Street, London, with Sarah Ann, who said she was from Norwich and that he was from West Wickham, Hampshire, however, there appears to be no such place as West Wickham in Hampshire, so it begs the question as to whether he was trying to avoid detection or was simply mistaken.
Also on the 1881 census was Joseph’s son, John Louis[x] – but he was describing himself as a landscape artist, a term never used by Joseph to describe himself. Joseph’s other son, Charles, didn’t follow his father into the art world, but became a fishmonger and publican and died in Norwich in 1882.[xi]
In 1884, Joseph’s fourth wife of almost forty years, Sarah died,[xii] leaving a will with a small estate worth ninety pounds, which is about six thousand in today’s money, their son, John Louis was named executor and sole beneficiary but not until Joseph had died.
A year later, on 25 March 1885[xiii] a marriage entry appears in the parish register for Heigham, near Norwich for Joseph Paul, widowed, aged seventy-one, an artist, to a Miss Emma Cattermole, who was only twenty-five.
Joseph obviously returned to his native Norfolk to marry for a fifth and final time. Although, on this occasion, it has to be said, Joseph Paul was as economical about his true age as he had been about where he was born, he was in reality, much closer to eighty which seems slightly late in life to be contemplating yet another marriage, especially to such a young woman, begging the question, did he have something of a predilection for young women all along or did he marry her as someone to care for him in his old age?
This marriage was only to last a couple of years, as in May 1887 Joseph Paul died. The newspaper headlines described him as ‘An artist with five wives’.
An inquest was held at St Pancras regarding his death, aged eighty-three, lately residing at 53, William Street, St Pancras. Hannah Paul, a young woman of thirty-five, although she was really only twenty-seven, said that she had been married to the deceased for two years and was his fifth wife. The press got her first name wrong as it was actually Emma and she went on to marry again a few years later.[xiv]
‘He used to earn a great deal of money, but since she had been married to him, he was in rather reduced circumstances, but too independent to appeal to his children for help. They, however, occasionally, voluntarily assisted him. He had said that if he got much poorer, he should take some chloral and put an end to his life; but she did not think he had done so. He suffered from chronic gout. He expired suddenly in bed early one morning. Dr Maddison, who was called in, and who had since made a post-mortem examination, stated that death resulted from syncope when the deceased was suffering from enlargement and weakness of the heart. The jury returned a verdict accordingly’.
Joseph was described by his wife, Emma, as an animal painter and someone who was extremely fond of his art. The one thing that remained consistent throughout Joseph’s long life was that he painted both people and animals, but there is no indication of having ever painted landscapes which is the main subject matter that he had been known for and most of the artwork I have included in the article have been paintings of landscapes, attributed to him.
Joseph Paul was laid to rest at Camden cemetery on 12 May 1887.
His son, John Louis Paul remained in London where according to the 1891[xv] and 1901[xvi] census he was still an artist and sculptor, he died in 1905, leaving four grown-up children – Florence, William, Dora and Daisy.
So why is his life of importance? Well, if you thought Joseph Paul’s life was complicated, his art was even more so. The art world has attributed many pieces of art to him, and accused him of being a forger, with many of these paintings attributed to him being landscapes and overwhelmingly they were painted in Norfolk, with only a few exceptions.
It does rather beg the question as to whether the landscapes of Norfolk and London were genuinely painted by him? The London scenes attributed to him, are clearly copies of earlier works, some in a similar style to those by Canaletto and Samuel Scott. These are believed to be fakes by Joseph, who, it has been asserted, ran a fake art workshop in London, producing old masters.
Given the questions raised about his life and the questions raised about the deaths of those around him, it does seem feasible that there was something fairly questionable about his artwork too but was he really a forger? who can say. The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC has the following snippet of information about Joseph, quite how true, remains unknown, but given the somewhat complicated life he led, it’s not beyond the bounds of probability.
… he and his assistants turned out forgeries of Constable, Crome, and other East Anglian painters, and of Samuel Scott and other painters of old London views.
The Royal Photographic Society Journal, Volume 55 of 1915, wrote the following, which could arguably be a subtle reference to Joseph Paul, although he wasn’t actually named
He was a great actor, a great singer, a great gambler, a great rogue, and a great fool
This quote was perpetuated by Clifford and Clifford in their 1968 book ‘John Crome’ and again by John T Hayes.
Looking at all the available evidence though, landscape painting was the domain of his youngest son, John Louis Paul. So, were the landscape paintings attributed to Joseph Paul really painted by his youngest son, John Louis Paul, and was it his son and not the father who was the forger? The latter would make much more sense.
To add to the equation, of course, there was another artist around during that period, Sir John Dean Paul, who was reputed to have painted mainly scenes of rural Suffolk, including Willy Lott’s Cottage, famously painted by John Constable, plus one or two paintings of dogs and several scenes of central London.
Sir John Dean Paul, an affluent London banker, was regarded as a talented artist, but one who merely painted as a hobby, he much preferred collecting works of art and there appears to be nothing to place him in Norfolk or Suffolk, which possibly means that several paintings of animals and landscapes in Norfolk/Suffolk which have been attributed to Sir John Dean Paul, were actually by Joseph Paul or his son John Louis.
Many works were unsigned, a few simply signed J. Paul. These could have been Joseph Paul, or his son John Louis Paul or even Sir John Dean Paul. Far more work is required by an art expert to unravel this art mystery. As to whether some of the paintings could be regarded as forgeries or merely stylistic copies is another question entirely, but at least now we know more about his complex life.
[i]Norfolk Record Office; Norwich, Norfolk, England; Reference: PD 211/11
[ii]Liverpool Record Office; Liverpool, England; Reference Number: 283 LUK/3/3
[iii] 1851 Census. Class: HO107; Piece: 1796; Folio: 390; Page: 8; GSU roll: 207445
[iv] Liverpool Record Office; Liverpool, England; Reference Number: 283 BRI/3/7
[v] 1861 Census. Class: RG 9; Piece: 2212; Folio: 80; Page: 15; GSU roll: 542936
[vi] Leamington Spa Courier 09 July 1859
[vii] 1861 Census. Class: RG 9; Piece: 1215; Folio: 99; Page: 15; GSU roll: 542776
[viii] 1871 Census. Class: RG10; Piece: 112; Folio: 99; Page: 2; GSU roll: 838766
[ix] 1881 Census. Class: RG11; Piece: 101; Folio: 46; Page: 10; GSU roll: 1341023
[x] 1871 Census. Class: RG10; Piece: 112; Folio: 99; Page: 2; GSU roll: 838766
[xi] England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995
[xii] FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915
[xiii] Norfolk Records Office, PD 522/12
[xiv] South Wales Echo 12 May 1887
[xv] 1891 Census RG12; Piece: 208; Folio: 9; Page: 12
[xvi] 1901 Census Class: RG13; Piece: 104; Folio: 73; Page: 3
Lane Scene in Suffolk Joseph Paul (1804–1887). The Whitaker