Art Detective: the portrait of Catherine Clemens and her son, John Marcus Clemens

This post is very much about art and family connections, but I have a slight query with this first one, which is a miniature by Richard Cosway, that I first came came across on social media.

Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland Museum of Art

Being a big fan of miniatures, especially those by Cosway, I wanted to find out more about the sitter and her child, but with no real success, as yet, despite contacting The Cleveland Museum of Art, who own the miniature , and according to their website it is dated c1800 or possibly c1790.

They directed me to further information on their website which described the portrait, but it still provided no clues as to  who this Catherine Clemens or her son were. They were unable to tell me anything more and recommended I should buy their the book, British Portrait Miniatures: The Cleveland Museum of Art, which would tell me all I needed to know. I duly did this, in anticipation of it learning about these two people. However, when it arrived, like their website, it told me about the miniature, absolutely nothing about the sitters, so whilst, I am still not certain of my findings, I do now think I know know who they are, so let’s see where it leads and maybe one of my readers can shed some light on the mystery.

The online book, Portrait Miniatures: the Edward B Greene Collection, tells us it was painted c1790, so assuming the child was about five at the time, the gap between the website and their online book is quite a large gap given the appearance of the child.

Firstly, despite having read everywhere that Catherine and her son were named Clemens, I believe that somehow, over time, their surname has lost the letter ‘t’ and that it should be Clements. Why do I think that?

I began my search looking for anyone in the world named John Marcus Clemens who would have been born around 1785 – 1800, with a mother named Catherine, and not a single person appeared, despite a variety of searches, which struck me as very strange.

There was, however, a John Marcus Clements, born in 1789 in Dublin, to parents, Henry Theophilus Clements and his second wife, Catherine née de la Poer Beresford. It strikes me that this is ‘our’ Catherine and her son, but proving it is far more difficult.

If am I correct, then Catherine (1761-1836), was the daughter of John de la Poer Beresford (1737-1805), an Irish statesman, Barrister at Law, First Commissioner of the revenue board, Knight of the shire for Waterford, and second son of Marcus, Earl of Tyrone

A watercolour portrait of John Beresford, M.P. by Richard Crosse. Gallery of Ireland
A watercolour portrait of John Beresford, M.P. by Richard Crosse. Gallery of Ireland

and his French wife, Mademoiselle Anne Constantia de Ligondes, who died towards the end of 1772, when Catherine was about eleven, leaving John with nine children to raise and needing a new wife as quickly as possible to help with his offspring.

Along came his second wife, and stepmother to Catherine, the celebrated beauty, Barbara Montgomery (1737-1788), who was immortalised in art, as one of the Montgomery sisters (Barbara, Elizabeth and Anne), in the famous painting by Joshua Reynolds, ‘Three Ladies Adorning A Term of Hymen.’

Reynolds, Joshua; Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen; Tate

John and Barbara were married in 1774 and went on to produce a further eight children, so 17 known children in total – that was quite some family to support.

Returning to Catherine, in August 1778, aged just 16, she married, and married very well, her husband being the widower, Henry Theophilus Clements (1750-1795), son of Nathaniel Clements (1705-1777) and his wife, Hannah Gore (1710-1781).

Nathaniel Clements and Hannah Gore

Nathaniel had risen through the political ranks to become the main financial manager of the British and Irish Government in Ireland and Minister for Finance from 1740 to 1777.

The Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, Dublin dated 1849 by Henry Newton. Royal Collection Trust
The Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, Dublin dated 1849 by Henry Newton. Royal Collection Trust

Nathaniel was appointed to the office of Chief Ranger of the Phoenix Park and Master of Game and built the Ranger’s lodge to his own design in 1751, which is now Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the President of Ireland.

Phoenix Park
Phoenix Park

He also had an extensive property portfolio, including Abbotstown, County Dublin, estates in County Leitrim and County Cavan and was a developer of property in Georgian Dublin, including part of Henrietta Street. Nathaniel was described one of the richest commoners in Ireland.

Henry Theophilus and Catherine settled into married life and produced at least seven known children, several of whom died young, but it is their son, John Marcus who appears in the miniature by Cosway with Catherine.

Just four years before the birth of Catherine’s son, John Marcus, we have a portrait of her, which is now at the Lady Lever Gallery, ‘in the style of Thomas Gainsborough’. This portrait seems to have originally simply been title ‘Portrait of a Lady’ but subsequently identified as Catherine. As we can see here, she would have been aged just 24. Having contacted the gallery they very kindly sent me more information about this portrait which does in fact dispute that it was Catherine, rather that it was more likely to have been Henry Theophilus’ first wife, Mary Webb, who died c1777. It is difficult to age her, as the fashion of the day dictated that women wore hair powder, which perhaps makes her appearance seem older than she was was.

Gainsborough, Thomas; Portrait of a Lady; Lady Lever Art Gallery

In 1788, just one year before the birth of John Marcus, when Catherine was aged 28, her portrait was painted again, this time by George Romney. We know this to be Catherine from Arthur Chamberlain’s book of 1910, George Romney, which confirms that:

Among his portraits of 1788 were Mrs. Clements, a half-length, sent to Dublin.

To have been painted by such famous artists tells us that Catherine was not only regarded as a beauty, but that the family must have been very affluent.

The couple had eight known children, their first being Anne Barbara, born just a year after her marriage and named after Catherine’s mother and her stepmother.

Just as an aside, another of their children, Selina (1780-1805) went on to marry Sir William Mordaunt Sturt Milner (1779-1855). When I came across his name, it rang very distinct, if distant bells.

With further investigation I soon realised that he was the great nephew of Dame Mary Lindsay (née Milner), who was Dido Elizabeth Belle’s stepmother. This was not an avenue I was expecting to travel along for one minute, and it just goes to what a very small world it was at that time, with so many of the upper class being related by marriage.

Catherine’s husband, Henry Theophilus died in 1795, as did one of their sons, but Catherine lived until 1836.

Her will, as you can see, was exceptionally brief, just seven lines, in which she stated that she wished to be buried near her daughter, Selina, at Harrow Road (Kensal Green Cemetery). However, Selina was buried in 1805, at Bolton Percy, Yorkshire, home to the Milner family so that makes Catherine’s request somewhat strange, unless the Selina she named was her granddaughter who died 1834 and who was buried at Kensal Green, which would make more sense.

Her will confirmed that her surviving son, was a colonel in India, this would have been Henry John (1781-1843) who we see below in a portrait by Martin Cregan.

Colonel Henry John Clements by Martin Cregan. Sold by Christies
Colonel Henry John Clements by Martin Cregan. Sold by Christies

The son in the portrait with Catherine, John Marcus, having died two years previously, in 1834. John Marcus left a widow, Catherine Frances nee Wentworth, daughter of Godfrey Wentworth Esq. of Woolley Park, Wakefield, Yorkshire and two surviving sons.

Catherine specifically asked that her son Colonel Clements, to ‘see that Harriet Cogan does not want, until her bother returns from India when he will be able to take care of her should she be alive.’ Unfortunately, it is not clear from Catherine’s will who this Harriet was, it may be another of Catherine’s children, but so far, I can’t find any Harriet Clements married to a Mr Cogan, so another mystery.

To finish, I thought it would be interesting to group all three portraits said to be of Catherine together, to see whether they were all of the same person. I am not convinced.

We know for certain that the middle one, by Romney is definitely a Mrs Clements and is confirmed as such not only by the reference in the book, but also from the portrait itself, in which the sitter has a letter on her lap with the name Clements on it.

As stated earlier, the Lady Lever Gallery have not been able to confirm the attribution of their portrait, but a leading art expert, Dr Alex Kitson, doesn’t believe it to be a Gainsborough, either, leaving yet another mystery to unravel.

Sadly, despite the book by Cleveland Art Museum, providing no information about the sitters, I still can’t say for certain that I’m correct, but I am pretty certain that there was only ever one Catherine Clements living at that time with a son named John Marcus, and that was Catherine Clements – with a ‘t’, so I can only conclude that it must have been the woman in the one in the centre and to the right of that group.

If anyone else can find a Catherine Clemens with a son named John Marcus Clemens, do please let me know.

16 thoughts on “Art Detective: the portrait of Catherine Clemens and her son, John Marcus Clemens

    1. sylvia wright

      Dear Debra Debonair
      Is your family originally French Huguenot?
      I have Debonnaires in my family tree.
      Regards, Sylvia

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  1. sylvia wright

    Dear Sarah

    My grandfather’s 2nd wife’s first husband was the great nephew of Marcus John Clements.

    His dates were 1789-1834. He lived at Glenboy, Co. Leitrim, Ireland. He was the son of RT Hon Henry Theophilus & Catherine Beresford

    If you need any more information, please contact me.

    Sylvia

    sylviamcclintock@hotmail.com

    Get Outlook for Androidhttps://aka.ms/AAb9ysg ________________________________

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    1. Sarah Murden

      Hello Sylvia, I do love your family, I seem to keep inadvertently writing about them, and thank you, will keep you posted of any developments 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah Murden

      Thanks Sylvia that’s a really useful website and one I always check as part of my research and can occasionally add new information to 🙂

      Like

  2. Isil

    Although the first painting of the lady (three images together) is different from the other two, there is great similarity in the shape of the face, nose line and eyes in the three figures, as well as compared to the miniature. They look like the same lady to me. Congratulations on the search.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah Murden

      Thank you Isil. Hopefully at some stage there will be a definitive answer, it’s confusing as there were two Mrs Clements, so it’s feasible that Henry Theophilus simply had a ‘type’ and that both his wives looked similar 🙂

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      1. sylvia wright

        Sarah
        I’m in touch with my stepgrandmothers daughter, so I’ll ask her, and also ask her to ask her brother, the present Marcus Clements.

        Regards Sylvia

        Like

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