Letters from the Past
“William Yellowlees, 1838
a very practical portrait painter.”
This month’s letter is a surprise. It was addressed to George Barker Esq., Springfield, Birmingham, who was apparently the leading solicitor in Birmingham at that time. He lived from 1776-1845, and was a benefactor to Birmingham. The Springfield in the address was the name of his house, and the district beyond it was later named after it. I found an image of his house, ‘Springfield’, which is now a guest house. (Fig.1)
first the London evening duty type, which in this case has the code letters EX at the top, the day at both sides of the month 7 AU 7 and the year, 1838, at the bottom of the circle. These evening duty postmarks were applied in the Inland section of the GPO on the outgoing mails. It was a very busy time as from as early as 1756 there were daily mails, (except Sundays) to all parts of the Kingdom and, at the height of the coaching era, 28 coaches left London each night carrying the mails. In 1828, Allen's History of London reported that the business of the evening mails was transacted from 5 to 8 pm, and on a certain day, fortyfour thousand letters were sorted and charged, checked and despatched by 105 persons in 45 minutes. The office had as many divisions as there were distinct Mails. The junior clerks sorted the letters and handed them to their chief clerk, who would check to see if it was single, double, franked, or properly charged if prepaid, and then marked the postage rate to be collected. The letters were then made up into bags, for the respective postmasters, with a list of the total amount charged, sealed, and handed to the guard on the appropriate mail coaches.
So, now to the very interesting letter about organising some portrait sittings.It would seem that Mr Barker wanted to immortalise himself and his family. I am really surprised at how organised this painter was, as the general perception of artists is one of living in a world apart from the mundane practicalities of life. (Fig.3)
click here for larger image
He then gave a personal recommendation for his previous work. (Fig.4) click here for larger image
“So that as little time as possible could be lost, if yourself or any of your friends who happen to know Mr Dawes of Leveretts, near Birmingham, were to call on him, you would see two of my portraits there - usually, I require 5 or 6 sittings, or if any of your friends that are likely to sit are Ladies, I might for them require 7 sittings – but if the sittings can be made pretty long, two hours or so, then the fewer of course will be required - I remain
William Yellowlees was a portrait painter. He was known during his lifetime as the “little Raeburn”, as he painted in a similar style, but only on small canvases. I could find only one image of him. This is a small self-portrait which is held under copyright by the National Gallery of Scotland. Born in Scotland in 1796, Yellowlees studied under William Shiels, the animal painter, before moving to London in 1831 where he was appointed cabinet portrait painter to the King’s brother, the Duke of Sussex. Surprisingly, there is no entry for Yellowlees in the Dictionary of National Biography, only a one-line comment that he painted an unsatisfactory portrait of Charlotte Waldie in 1824, and this picture was at Hendersyde Park, Roxburghshire, Scotland in 1859. He died in 1855.
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