By Janet McNamara
Brentford and Chiswick Local History Journal 10 (2001)
When Boston Manor House was sold in July 1922, all its contents, including old masters and family portraits were sold and dispersed. Two family portraits are now back in the house, those of Christopher Clitherow (1666-1727) by Sir Godfrey Kneller and James Clitherow (1766-1841) at the age of 18, painted by George Romney. However, the original sales catalogue lists three Clitherow portraits by George Romney, so what happened to the other two?
One is known to have been sold for 110gns and acquired a few years ago by a descendant of the Clitherows living in East Yorkshire; the whereabouts of the third portrait is more of a mystery.
Last year the writer was sent a black and white photograph of this picture. This is in the Snite Museum of Art in Indiana. There is a label on the frame of this picture which says that it is Master Clitherow by George Romney. This looks like the same Master James Clitherow as in the portrait in Boston House, but the picture is different. Is this the third Clitherow Romney portrait as listed in the 1922 catalogue? The catalogue entry reads Portrait of a Youth, long hair, fullface, white neckerchief, brown coat with black collar standing which is a curiously vague description for a picture that is clearly labelled as being Master Clitherow.
Unfortunately it hasn’t yet been possible to trace the early history of the Master Clitherow picture. The first mention of it is in 1929 when it was in America in the collection of Howard Young Galleries, and then in the collection of Fred J Fisher from Detroit. Fisher’s widow presented it to the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, Indiana in 1951. The picture was shown in an exhibition of portraits at the University of Chicago in 1961 where the catalogue entry says the identity of the youth is not clearly established, which again seems strange given the label and the similarity to the portrait in Boston Manor House.