19th century portrait by R W Withers Lee, 1885
A portrait of an elderly gentleman by the artist Robert William Withers Lee (1861-1929), signed and dated 1885. Withers Lee's works have sold aT both Christies and Bonhams in recent times.
Withers Lee was born in Thornhill, Yorkshire in 1861. At the time he was born Robert William Lee and by 1871 he was living at the Grammar school in Thornhill where his father was the master of grammar who was described as an undergraduate of Dublin University.
in 1883 he married in Chorlton in Lancashire. By this time the 'Withers' had appeared in his name. It is not clear why, perhaps to make himself sound grander?
In 1884 Wither Lee was still in Manchester, and in October of that year was advertising 'drawing and painting classes' at 33 King Street, Manchester.
By 1885 Withers Lee is presenting a portrait, an oil painting, of Very Rev Canon O'Toole to celebrate a golden jubilee in Salford, Manchester.
In 1889 scandal had affected Withers Lee as he was named in the divorce case of John Marshall and his wife. The Liverpool Mercury descibes the tail where Mrs Marshall introduced Withers Lee to her husband. Withers Lee, described as an artist asked for permission of Mr Marshall to paint a portrait of his wife. Mr Marshall was away in the Decemeber when the portrait was been painted and returned home to be told by a servant of the adultery that had occurred. Marshall denied having been cruel to his wife but admitted hitting her in the head with his hand. The divorce was granted.
In 1892 Withers Lee moved on from his position as 'master' at Broughton High School, Manchester and became the headmaster of Gresham House School on East Dulwich Road. In a newspaper advert at the time his former pupils were now amongst the 'first clergyemen, solicitors, engineers and other leading postions'.
Also in 1892 we know some of Withers Lee's other works were on display. The Croydon Advertiser describes one of his works, 'Christ or Pluto' as a 'handsome oil painting' and this was on show at the lecture hall of the YMCA in North End, Croydon. The portrait reappears at the seventeenth Spring Exhibition at the Corporation art gallery in Derby where it is described as 'clever picture replete with fine figure drawing entitled "Christ or Pluto" '.
By 1892 Withers Lee is described as being head of a school in Great Ormond Street, London where the fees were 30 s a term. When a Mrs Wright was taken to court for not sending her son to school, she claimed he attended Withers Lee's school and set out the fees she paid. This appeared to cause confusion for the court case which was then adjourned.
By 1897 Withers Lee was in demand. The Southern Echo describes how he was commissioned to paint a picture commemorating the laying of the foundation stone at Westminster Cathedral. The picture took him 18 months which the article describes as 'no wonder as there are no less than 700 portraits within the frame'. Withers Lee was described at the time as a young man who has painted many portraits.
By 1901 he was living at 35 A Addison Road, Kensington and employed at least 3 servants.
In August 1910, now described as an artist and picture valuer, Withers Lee was called by the defence in a court case as an expert witness. The dispute involved an artist painting a portrait for a Mr Moy by the artist a Mr Paxton. 20 guineas was paid for the painting by Paxton demanded 50 guineas. Giving evidence, Withers Lee stated that the painting was the work of an amateur valuing it at just 10-20 guineas.
By 1911 Withers Lee, now of Addison Road, Kensington, was back in court but this time taking action against a picture dealer Mr Davies of Berkley Square demanding the return of a painting or £40 which was its value. Judge Woodhall heard the case at the Westminster County Court. Mr Withers Lee was described as an artist of considerable capcity who painted portraits in the style of the Old Masters. The portrait in question was described as the 'girl with red hair'. Quite a few transactions had taken place between Davies and Wither Lee who was owed £492 (with inflation around £40k today). The case was finally withdrawn, Withers Lee was paid £12 and the picture returned Withers Lee was born in Thornhill, Yorkshire in 1862. At the time he was born Robert William Lee and by 1871 he was living at the Grammar school in Thornhill where his father was the master of grammar who was described as an undergraduate of Dublin University.
He died on 20th February 1929 leaving £105 (about £4,500 with inflation today) to his widow Mildred.
The portrait, pastel, is in its orignal frame by a Manchester framer also in King Street where Withers Lee was advertising lessons in 1884.. Whilst Withers-Lee exhibited in Manchester, he also exhibited in Liverpool, London and the Royal Hibernian Academy. It appears that he had Dublin connections as suggested by his father's time at university there.
Pastel and watercolour. Signed and dated.
Measuring: (Painting 17.9 x 13.4cm - Frame 37 cm x 32 cm)
England, Manchester, 1885