George I Period Three Quarter Length Portrait of Rebecca & John Curson Attributed to Michael Dahl


Vendor: Jason Clarke Antiques

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For sale, an early eighteenth century three quarter length portrait of Rebecca Curson and her son John Curson, London Wine Merchant, attributed to Michael Dahl.

This George The First period painting has an early twentieth typeface note pasted to the back stating the following, “Mrs Curzon & her son, his niece was Mary Spence, only child and heiress of Thomas Spence of Hurts Hall Suffolk who married Henry Thompson of Kirby Hall in 1743”.

The lineage of this family are distantly related to the Curzon of Kedleston family through a George Curzon, younger brother of John Curzon of Kedleston who inherited the family title. George Curzon of Kedleston was born (circa 1560) to Francis and Eleanor Curzon of Kedleston. Without the benefit of the title, his son Francis (1580-1658) divided from Kedleston circa 1610 and settled in Mursley, Buckinghamshire.

Records from Drayton Parslow in Buckinghamshire show that Francis Curzon’s second son was a Samuel Curson (1625-) who married an Elizabeth Stevens in the parish in 1648. It is at this point that the Curzon name changes from Curzon to the Curson spelling. Their son Samuel II (1659-1709) was born in Buckinghamshire but the family records there cease in 1658 after Francis Curzon’s burial. Samuel the second is recorded as having moved to St Dunstans in the West, London and became a successful Inn Keeper. It is supposed that a family connection with the successful Cranmer brewing family allowed for his success. The Cranmer family were related to Thomas Cranmer who was Arhcbishop of Canterbury during Henry VIII’s reign.

The inn was situated on Ram Alley just off of Fleet Street with access to the Inner Temple (Inns of Court) where his Uncle Henry Curzon also worked as a scrivener, no doubt a reason for him residing there. By the point of Samuel’s arrival it had cleaned up its reputation but was for some years known for its shady nature and was a refuge for criminals and debtors. Samuel the second was married in 1682 and their eldest son, Samuel the third (husband of the female sitter) was born in 1684. Samuel the second died in 1709 and was interred in St Dunstans in the West church. An accolade to his wealth and notoriety within the community.

According to marriage records Samuel the second would have been alive to see the marriage of his son Samuel Curson III to Rebecca Clark (the sitter) in St Dunstans in the West church in 1707.

Samuel Curson III left St Dunstans and resided in Aldgate after his marriage to Rebecca Clark (the sitter). He was a successful wine merchant in London until his retirement to Chelmsford and was certainly living there when Rebecca Curson was buried in St Matthew’s church in 1753.

Little is known of Rebecca Clark’s (Curson) heritage although she must have been a lady of some standing to have married the wealthy Samuel Curson III. Her wealth is apparent in the portrait given the clothing and the fact that the portrait was created is in itself a sign of their success. It is likely that the portrait was created during their time living in Aldgate, some eight to ten years after their marriage.

Created as a celebration of the couples’ first born son John Curson (later dubbed John Curson Esquire of Ipswich), the portrait shows him shortly after his birth in 1715 and the headdress and finery worn by the little boy was a common practice in portraiture of the period in order to show off wealth and to denote that he is the successor to the family dynasty.

John Curson (the boy sitter) was later a wealthy man. Like his father, he became a wine merchant and was the main beneficiary of not only his father’s will but also his uncle, Richard Curson of Richmond also a wine merchant. As a result of this, he owned numerous properties in Essex and in London.

He was certainly living in Ipswich by 1764 as his first wife Charlotte Torriano was buried there. He married again in 1765 to a Jane Milner however, he died without a successor in Blandford Dorset in 1793 supposedly whilst travelling.

Upon John Curson’s death, his brother Richard who had settled in America in 1759 was the main beneficiary of John Curson’s wealth. Richard himself was a hugely successful wine merchant in New York after being sent originally by his father Samuel to create trade links. Whilst on his travels, he married and owing to his new allegiances with the country and the revolutionary period that he lived in, he fled New York to Baltimore in order to avoid capture by the British. He later ran ships across the English coastal blockades.

His son, who was again named Samuel was not so lucky and was captured by the British in St Eustace whilst acting as a merchant there and although he avoided prosecution for treason, was killed shortly after during a duel regarding an illegitimate child supposedly born to him. A story that was much publicised in the American press during the period.

The surviving female Curzon line are still represented by the prominent Curzon Hoffman & Poultney families in the USA. Following Samuel’s death, the two surviving sisters, Elizabeth Rebecca Becker Curson (married Samuel Hoffman) & Ellin Moale Curson (married Samuel Poultney) worked diligently to reclaim part of the will left in England upon the death of their rich uncle John Curson (the child sitter) and were successful in their claim to numerous London properties and funds associated to him.

This painting has been directly purchased from the Meysey Thompson family previously of Kirby Hall in Yorkshire. The daughter from a previous marriage of John Curson’s second wife Jane Milner is the Mary Spence mentioned in the note on the portrait. She married a Henry Thompson who was heir to the Thompson’s of Kirby Hall. The family name changed to Meysey Thompson in the nineteenth century of which the 1st Baron Knaresborough was born. Sadly the title became extinct in the early twentieth century following the death of Henry Meysey Thompson and the family seat at Kirby Hall was demolished. The painting would have been sited at Kirby Hall from the death of John Curson until its eventual demise. Thereafter, the painting has been in family hands until this point.

The painting is thought by the Meysey Thompson family to have been painted by Michael Dahl, court painter to Queen Anne and although his dates in the UK are in alignment with the period of the painting, I can find nothing to quantify the theory. Given that it has been in the family since the death of John Curson in 1793 and the quality of the painting. It is fair to consider this as by his hand or his studio.

Michael Dahl was a Swedish artist born in Stockholm in 1659. Permitted to travel to further his studies he came over to England in 1682 where he was influenced by Robert White and more importantly, Godfrey Kneller. Having become acquainted with Henry Tilson whilst working in Kneller’s studio, Dahl and Tilson left England to travel on the continent to further their studies but returned to England in 1689. After this point, his reputation grew and by the start of the eighteenth century had painted the Duke of Somerset, Prince George of Denmark and also Queen Anne. Following Queen Anne’s death he was courted by George I to paint the two year old Duke of Cumberland but Dahl refused. This undoubtedly tarnished his reputation with the new Royal family but his success continued until his death in 1743.

A superbly executed early eighteenth century oil painting with direct family provenance.