Art Detectives: Anne Birch by George Romney

The portrait of Anne Birch is housed at the Phoenix Art Museum and is described by them as

George Romney’s depiction of Anne Birch reveals why his portraits were so in demand. Elegantly dressed, seated languidly on a bench in a dark glade that opens tantalizingly to a distant, sunlit view, Anne holds a flute in one hand while resting her head gently on the other.

But who was Anne Birch?

Anne Birch Phoenix Art Museum
Anne Birch Phoenix Art Museum

The portrait by George Romney came to my attention recently on social media and apart from her name, the artist and the approximate year it was painted, 1777, little if anything, seems to be known about the sitter, so it was time to do a spot of investigating to see what, if anything, I could find out. Given the instruments in the painting it would appear that she was perhaps a talented musician, but so far nothing has come to light to support this. Music would have been a subject that young ladies like her would have been instructed in, so maybe she excelled in this area.

The portrait is believed to be that of Anne Birch nee Clowes, the daughter and only child, therefore heir apparent, to William Clowes Esq, of Huntsbank, Manchester and his wife Elizabeth, nee Neild, who were married in 1738. Anne was baptised 18 October 1743 in Manchester, making her about 34 when the portrait was painted, although in my opinion the sitter looks much younger, which makes me question whether it could have been painted slightly later and be of her eldest daughter, also named Anne.

So far it hasn’t been possible to establish exactly who William Clowes was, but he was described as being ‘the fourth brother of the House of Clowes, who afterwards settled in Broughton‘.  I have however, managed to establish is that William died 15 February 1772, aged 68 and was buried in Manchester Cathedral.

Manchester Cathedral courtesy of http://www.speel.me.uk/index.htm
Manchester Cathedral courtesy of http://www.speel.me.uk/index.htm

William was clearly affluent, as when his only daughter married on 18 October 1764 the newspapers reported the marriage:

The Leeds Intelligencer Tuesday 30 October 1764
The Leeds Intelligencer Tuesday 30 October 1764.

So, we now not only have a family for Anne, but also a husband, John Peploe Birch, Esquire. According to this newspaper we know that Anne was not only beautiful, but also very wealthy, making her, at that time, an ideal candidate for marriage. It appears that the two families knew each other though, so could this have been the marriage of two houses possibly?

Anne’s father William, appears to have had some familial connection with the manor of Broughton Old Hall, Manchester, could this have been where his money came from, but what about her husband, who was he?

John Peploe Birch was born 1742 and was the son of Rev Samuel Peploe, Chancellor of Chester and Warden of Manchester and his first wife, Elizabeth Birch.

John was later to benefit from the demise of his uncle Samuel in 1752, at which time he inherited the estate of Garnstone, Weobley, Herefordshire, which was left  in trust for him until he reached the age of twenty-one, to be granted to him if he adopted the surname Birch, which he duly did, retaining Peploe as a middle name.

A series of picturesque views of seats of the noblemen and gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland. With descriptive and historical letterpress by Morris, F. O. (Francis Orpen), 1810-1893; Fawcett, Benjamin; Lydon, A. F. (Alexander Francis)
A series of picturesque views of seats of the noblemen and gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland. With descriptive and historical letterpress by Morris, F. O. (Francis Orpen), 1810-1893; Fawcett, Benjamin; Lydon, A. F. (Alexander Francis)

John and Anne moved to Barnstone which was where they spent the rest of their lives, but whilst in London they also had another home on Curzon Street, Mayfair. During their marriage they had three known children, Anne (1765-1846), Mary (1769-1830) and Samuel (1774-1845).

In 1767 John was appointed High Sherriff of Herefordshire, but as to whether he had an occupation seems unclear or was he simply landed gentry spending his time managing his estate?

John lived until 1805, leaving his estate to his beloved wife Anne, who lived until the age of 76. Both John and Anne was buried at Weobley, Herefordshire.

Anne left a will in which she provided for her three children, Anne who was by that time married to a Daniel Webb, Mary who remained unmarried and Samuel who had married the daughter of Sir George Cornewall, but she described her legacy as being ‘what little I have’. What little she had amounted to about £6,000 (about £300,000 in today’s money), but this is probably far less than she had hope to leave.

Although still little remains known of their life together, this at least sheds a little more light on this beautiful portrait.

Sources

The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure … Volumes 12-13. Page 126

The Episcopal See of Manchester by Samuel Hibbert

Memorials of St. Ann’s church, Manchester, in the last century by Charles Wareing E. Bardsley

Manchester, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1573-1812 (Cathedral)

13 thoughts on “Art Detectives: Anne Birch by George Romney

  1. sylvia wright

    I am distanly related to ths family. My 3rd great aunt, Eliza Theophila Debonnaire Metcalfe, 1835-1909 married Daniel Peploe Webb (post Peploe), 1829-1887 on 22nd June, 1860 at St George’s, Hanover, Square, London.
    She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe, 4th Bt and Felicite Anne Browne.

    Felicite Anne Browne was the granddaughter of Capt. Samuel Swinton, RN and Felicite-Jeanne Le Febure. They assisted in the escape of some of the French nobility during the Reign of Terror. Baroness d’Orczy loosely based her story of the Scarlet Pimpernel on the life of Samuel and his wife.

    (The Debonnaire’s were Huguenots, arriving in England after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. They originated from St Quentin, Marne, France)

    Daniel Peploe Webb was the son of Rev. John Birch Webb, 1801-1869 and Annnie Molyneux, 1806-1880

    Rev. John Birch Webb was the son of Daniel Webb 1769-1828 & Ann Peploe Birch 1765-1846

    I think it is a portrait of Anne Peploe Birch. She was married in 1790 when she was 25 years old, just at the height of Romney’s fame.

    Regards, Sylvia

    Liked by 3 people

  2. ironrailsironweights

    I definitely agree it’s the younger Anne, it seems very unlikely that the young lady in the portrait is 34 years old or anything close to that. To me she looks more like middle to late teens, so the 1777 date only has to be off by a few years.

    Peter

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marilyn Livingstone

    Hi,

    Very interesting (as ever) article about the Romney protrait. Re her father, William Clowes. have you explored the possibility that he may have been from or had Irish connections. From memory there were a number of Clowes of gentry level status in Ireland in 17th/18th century. Sorry to be vague, but it has been over 20 years since I did work on Ireland.

    All the best,
    Marilyn Livingstone
    ________________________________

    Like

  4. Rupert

    Unfortunately the portrait cannot be of Anne Birch’s daughter Anne b. 1765 because from family miniatures we know that her husband Daniel Webb had brown eyes and most of her children had blue eyes which means she must have had blue eyes too! Also Romney’s sitter book exists which tells us his portrait of Anne was definitely painted in 1777.
    Interestingly Romney painted various members of the Cornewall family of Moccas who were close friends and neighbours of the Birches at Garnstone; Kitty Cornewall was painted as a child with her brother and she would later marry Anne Peploe-Birch’s son Samuel Peploe. Arthur Devis the Lancashire artist painted an earlier generation of the Peploe Birch family and he was an early mentor to Romney and may have introduced him to the Peploe Birches.
    Miles Nield of Manchester was a very wealthy merchant and his property including Hunts Bank House eventually descended to Anne Peploe Birch.
    The Peploe’s of Garnstone got into serious financial difficulties towards the end of the late 19th century, at which point the estate and portrait were sold by my great grandfather, but he would never discuss the details with either his children or grandchildren. The estate was sold to the Verdin family and they had heard that the most valuable portrait in the house had been sold off to America around 1890 by the Peploe’s .
    We also still have pictures of the family of Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe in the family.
    Hope this is of interest!

    Like

  5. Rupert

    Actually just looked again at your very good reproduction of the portrait and she does have blue eyes after all – so perhaps it is the daughter!!
    I have only ever seen poor quality versions before.

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    1. Sarah Murden

      Thanks you so much for your comments. I can’t be certain as to whether it’s Anne senior or Anne junior, but she looks too young to be Anne senior, unless there was some creative licence employed! Thank you so much for the additional information about the family, how interesting, and probably does explain how this portrait ultimately found its way to Phoenix Art Museum.

      Like

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