In 1912 pastel portraits of four members of the Champion de Crespigny family were sold by the art-auction firm Christie’s. The unnamed artist was listed as ‘British school’.
Without offering any authority for its identifications, Christie’s sale catalogue names the sitters as:
- Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, Bart., in grey coat and plum coloured vest
- Susanna, sister of the above, and wife of Sir Richard Sutton, Bart,. in white flowered cloak and straw hat
- Sarah, wife of Sir William Champion de Crespigny, Bart., in yellow dress with blue scarf
- Anne, wife of Philip de Crespigny, Esq., in white flowered dress, oval
The portrait of Anne is now considered to have been the work of an eighteenth-century Scottish portrait-painter, Katherine Read (1723 – 1778). It was sold most recently by Sotheby’s auction house in 2018. The other three portraits are probably by the same artist.
Last year on a visit to Kelmarsh Hall, the Northamptonshire country residence of the Lancaster family who were cousins of the Champion de Crespigny family, I took the opportunity to view the various de Crespigny and other family portraits on display.
The Kelmarsh collection includes oil-on-canvas copies of all four of the portraits sold in 1912. However, there are discrepancies between the names attributed to the sitters of the pastel portraits and those of the oil copies.
Kelmarsh Hall oil on canvas portraits of Claude, Susan, Mary, and Betsy de Crespigny
The first two portraits, Claude (1734 – 1818), the first baronet, in a plum-coloured waistcoat and Susan wearing a straw hat, are clearly copies of the pastels and there is no discrepancy as to who the sitters were.
Susan, Claude’s sister, was born 1735 and died in 1766, which means that her portrait was probably drawn before 1766. In 1765 Susan married Richard Sutton. It seems reasonable to suppose that this portrait was done about the time of her wedding.
The sitter of the third pastel portrait was identified in the 1912 Christie’s catalogue as Sarah (1763 – 1825), wife of Sir William Champion de Crespigny (1765 – 1829).
Kelmarsh Hall has a oil portrait said to be of Sarah, and in this she is wearing a blue dress with a yellow shawl not, as in the pastel, a yellow dress with blue scarf. She is very much younger than the other sitters.
Kelmarsh Hall also has a portrait of Mary (1747 – 1812), wife of Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny the first baronet. She is wearing a yellow dress with a blue shawl, as described in the 1912 catalogue. I think it more likely based on the description that the third pastel portrait in the 1912 catalogue is the portrait hanging at Kelmarsh and now said to be of Mary de Crespigny née Clarke.
Kelmarsh Hall: Lady Sarah Windsor (1763–1825) and Mary Clarke (1749–1812), Wife of Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, 1st Bt
Claude and Mary married in 1764. I think perhaps the first and third portraits were done not long after their wedding, maybe about 1765, at the time when Susan’s portrait was done. It seems likely that the 1912 catalogue misidentified the sitter as the wife of the second baronet. She was in fact Mary, wife of the first baronet. The Kelmarsh Hall portrait of Mary seems to be a better match to the other three portraits and thus likely to be a copy of the third pastel sold in 1912.
There is another possibility: the third portrait is of Sarah Champion de Crespigny née Cocksedge, the first wife of Philip Champion de Crespigny who was the brother of Claude and Susan. Sarah de Crespigny died in 1768. It may be that the 1912 catalogue description correctly identified the sitter as Sarah de Crespigny but misattributed the husband as William de Crespigny (1765 – 1829) instead of his uncle Philip de Crespigny (1738 – 1803). I know of no other portrait of this Sarah de Crespigny.
The fourth portrait, of Anne, has been offered for sale several times since 1912, most recently in 2018. This portrait was probably of Anne Champion de Crespigny, the sister of Philip and Claude, not of her mother, Anne Champion Crespigny née Fonnereau (1704 – 1782), wife of Philip (1704 – 1765). The woman in the portrait, probably drawn in the 1760s, is too young to be the senior Anne de Crespigny.
The pastel portrait sold most recently by Sotheby’s in 2018 and thought to be of Anne de Crespigny, and the Kelmarsh oil on canvas portrait said to be of Betsy de Crespigny née Handly. I am reasonably certain the painting at Kelmarsh Hall is a copy of the pastel portrait and is thus of the same woman – so is the portrait of Anne or of Betsy?
However, the copy of the portrait identified in 1912 and 2018 as Anne de Crespigny is identified at Kelmarsh as being of Betsy Hodges née Handly formerly Borradale, second wife of Philip Champion de Crespigny brother of Claude and Susan and Anne.
Betsy was born in 1743. In 1765 she married George Borradale, a clergyman. They were divorced in 1769 and Borradale died shortly afterwards. In 1770 or 1771 Betsy married again, to Philip Champion de Crespigny, who had been widowed in 1768. Betsy died in May 1772, not long after the birth of her son Charles Champion de Crespigny (1772 – 1774).
It is hard to know if the pastel portrait with a copy at Kelmarsh Hall is of Anne or her sister-in-law Betsy.
At the time of the 2018 sale of the pastel through Sotheby’s, the description of the work stated that there was an indistinct inscription on the reverse. The lot includes a photo of the reverse but I am unable to make out any inscription. Perhaps in the early 20th century the inscription was clearer and thus the attribution of the sitter as Anne de Crespigny was based on that inscription.
Philip Champion de Crespigny (1738 – 1803) had four wives: Sarah died 1768, Betsy died 1772, Clarissa died 1782 and Dorothy died 1837. Clarissa and Dorothy had their portraits painted by the fashionable artist George Romney. Philip was interested in portrait painting and it seems plausible that his first wife would have had her portrait done.
If the inscription on the reverse of the fourth portrait could be deciphered it might give more certainty as to who the sitter was. Similarly if the third portrait re-appears, an inscription would also give some certainty as to who the sitter might be.
I suspect that the 1912 catalogue was correct in the names of the sitters, that is the four portraits were of Claude, Susan, Sarah and Anne de Crespigny. Confusion may have arisen because the 1912 catalogue was incorrect as to who were the husbands of Sarah and Anne de Crespigny. It also may be that Kelmarsh Hall has misattributed the sitters of the portraits of Mary de Crespigny née Clarke and Betsy de Crespigny née Handley. Without further documentation I don’t think it is possible to be certain.