- Museum number
Portrait formerly known as 'Mr Harper and Mr White' but now believed to be Robert Harper and his son, the Rev Samuel Harper, formerly of the British Museum Library. W.L., two gentlemen seated at a table on which are a bottle, two apples and two glassses. Both are dressed in wigs, coats and breeches. The subject on the l. points towards the viewer with his r. hand. The subject l. leans his arms on the table and grasps the bottle with his l. hand. Both eyes looking full. Oil painting on canvas.
- Production date
Height: 182 centimetres
Width: 153 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- [See Book of Presents 1947, No. 1]
This painting was donated by Mrs Stair (A M) Douglas, then a widow in her eighties, it having descended in her husband’s family. Some facts were established in a confusing series of letters between Mrs Douglas of Invergordon, Scotland, and the Museum’s Director Sir John Forsdyke but, since her husband and his parents were dead, Mrs Douglas had largely to rely on vague memories. The portrait is signed by Stephen Slaughter and dated 1747. Mrs Douglas stated that it was always referred to in the family as ‘Mr Harper (left) and Mr White (right)’. She had decided to offer it to the Museum, on account of a newspaper cutting (not on file) referring to the bequest by William White of funds used to construct the Museum’s White Wing in the 1880s. The Museum authorities, being initially ignorant of their history, accepted the painting on this basis. However research indicated that as White’s dates were 1800-23 it cannot be him. There are some vague references to a possible link between ‘Mr Harper’ and the Museum. Mrs Douglas submitted a pedigree (not on file) indicating that Mr Harper was a relative of her husband’s family. The Museum then speculated that that ‘Mr Harper’ might be a relative of the Revd Samuel Harper (c. 1732-1803) who joined the Museum in 1756 as an Assistant Librarian and become Keeper of Printed Books in 1765. The eventual consensus was that ‘Mr Harper’ (left) may have been his father Robert Harper (c. 1700-72). Samuel Harper’s son, Robert John (1764-1846) was deputy clerk to the Council of the Duchy of Lancaster.
The painting was accepted on 8 February 1947.
When the painting hung in the Director of the British Library's office, the old 'Panizzi Room' off the King's Library in the 1990s, it bore a label (removed when the painting was taken down and now in the Central Archives), which read 'Painted by Stephen Slaughter, c. 1740. Robert Harper, Master of the British Museum Library in 1761; and second son, the Rev Samuel Harper, Keeper of Printed Books, 1765-1803.' Robert Harper was mistakenly believed by the label writer to have worked at the British Museum but in fact was in Lincoln's Inn.
An identical painting was sold at Christie's in 2001. This too was signed by the artist Stephen Slaughter and dated 1746, whereas the Museum’s is dated 1747. The provenance of the Christie's portrait was given as George Granville Leveson-Gower, 5th Duke of Sutherland, Littleshall, Staffordshire, and by descent. Mrs Douglas mentions that her mother-in-law was the oldest daughter of John Wilson (d. 1839) of Barton under Needwood, Staffordshire.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
Rota House (East Residence)
Office of the Director-General of the British Library.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The painting was acquired on 8 February 1947. For the confusing story behind its acquisition see 'Curator's Comments'.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number