Chapter 1. The Case of the Unknown Actor.
An original early 19th Century drawing by Eugene Delacroix, you say, it must be worth millions? I think
Several years ago I received gratis a small quantity of engravings, photographs and prints from a friend of mine who was disposing of some of his long held property in anticipation of his inevitable demise: after all he was then in his early nineties.
photograph of actor John Martin-Harvey
An original drawing by Pierre-Paul Prudhon, it must be worth millions?
Among this treasure trove of images was an exquisite black and white conte portrait drawing on buff-coloured paper, of man with longish, unkempt hair and dressed in a 19th C high-collared coat, shirt and cravat. I was astonished by the quality and sensitivity of its execution and was reminded of similar works by the great French draftsmen of the early 19th C such as Prudhon, Delacroix and David. (Is it possible? I thought)
The drawing was unsigned, as often 19th Century drawings were, and on questioning my benefactor as to its origin, was informed that he had acquired it some fifty years earlier from a widowed friend, whose husband had been in the military. He recalled that he was told that the sitter was an English actor manager named Garrick, who appeared in a stage play entitled The Only Way.
Could this drawing have been done of Garrick, by the great Eugene Delacroix?
I began my research on the assumption that the sitter was indeed named Garrick and soon discovered a personage named David Garrick, who had been an English actor manager during the early 18th C. (so far so good, the period of sitter and draftsman match) Mr. Garricks profession had made him quite wealthy and extremely popular with the theatre going public of the day. His portrait was painted and drawn on numerous occasions by some famous artists of the period, such as Hogarth, Reynolds and Gainsborough. (my heart began to flutter)
However, try as I may, on reviewing these images I could not connect Mr. Garricks facial features visually to those rendered in the drawing, nor could I deduce that the drawing was a copy of an important painting of Mr. Garrick. In reviewing correspondence of Garrick I postulated (in a desperate attempt to connect Garrick to the portrait) that the drawing could be of Garricks father and sent a photograph to the National Portrait Gallery, London. I was summarily informed in writing, that this was not so, as the clothing in the drawing was early 19th C and not 18th C. (aw shucks)
Not to be dismayed I sent a photograph of the drawing off to The National Gallery, Ottawa and was told in a brief and polite letter, that the drawing could not possibly be 18th C and was most likely 19th C or later.(well that does it) I also discovered that portraits of Mr. Martin-Harvey, in theatrical costume and otherwise were contained in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Garrick Club, London
I decided (reluctantly) to change the focus of my research and concentrated on the other piece of information I was given by the former owner, that being the stage play entitled The Only Way.
I soon discovered the existence of an English actor manager named John Martin-Harvey, who was born c 1863 and died c 1944, and who had performed in a stage play entitled The Only Way; the first performance of which took place at the Lyceum theatre, London, in 1899.(ah well not by Delacroix, but perhaps a self-portrait?) Mr. Martin-Harvey, like his 18th C predecessor had been extremely popular during his day and indeed had accumulated considerable wealth. Ironically, Mr. Martin-Harvey, during his early theatrical days had aspired to be an artist and took drawing and painting lessons between theatrical performances.
In reviewing a small archive of Martin-Harvey memorabilia at the Toronto reference library I discovered drawings by him of considerably less quality than those of the draftsman involved in my drawing. It was therefore difficult to suggest that Martin-Harvey was the author of the drawing in my possession. (unfortunately)
The Only Way was a stage play based on Charles Dickenss, A Tale of Two Cities that was based on the French Revolution. Mr. Martin-Harvey in that play, played Sydney Carton, who as every schoolboy should know was the character who is hanged to save the life of another and is famous for the lines is it a far, far better thing I do.
Further investigation revealed that the National Portrait Gallery, also had in itís collection, a chalk portrait drawing of Mr. Martin-Harvey, by Charles Buchel. (could this portrait be by him?, aw well if not a Delacroix a Buchel will do) A drawing also exists (whereabouts unknown, as illustrated in John Martin-Harvey, Biography of an Actor Manager by Nicholas Butler) of Mr. Martin-Harvey in costume as Sydney Carton, by Marion Margaret Violet, Duchess of Rutland. Unfortunately, the Duchess of Rutland was not as accomplished an artist as the author of my drawing. The drawing by her is quite linear and shows very little if any attempt to model three dimensional form with the use of chiaroscuro ( light and dark), if I do say so myself.
The drawing I had showed a man in what appeared to be French 19th C costume. I contacted the author of a recent book on Sir John Martin-Harvey (he was knighted in 1921), by Nicholas Butler, sent him a photograph and was politely informed that the drawing was of Sir John Martin-Harvey in costume as Sydney Carton from The Only Way and was probably done after one of the numerous postcard publicity photographs which were circulated during the first quarter of the 20 th C. (hard to refute the undeniable evidence) These postcards containing images of Sir John Martin-Harvey in costume, from various stage plays were extremely popular and are today very collectable. Coincidentally, I later discovered, that a copy of the postcard showing Sir John in costume as Sydney Carton, appeared in the book. ( how fortunate!)