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Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.

A  portrait, its provenance and history...

Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.

A  portrait, its provenance and history...

The Rice Portrait of 

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William Daniel Legg

By Ellie Bennett

In 1985 the Rice portrait was relined and the process revealed a stamp on the back of the old linen

canvas. Duty was payable on linen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and each piece of

cloth was required to be stamped with the supplier’s name and district of residence. In 2007 the

portrait was relined again and the stamp was again revealed to read: Wm. Legg High Holbourn I

Linen.

 

There was an artist’s colourman named William Legg who traded from High Holborn for a short

period at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He appears in Kent’s Annual London Directory

for the years 1803-1806 and in Holden’s Triennial Directory and the Post Office London Directory

for 1805. However prior to 1801 William Legg was trading in Reading in partnership with his

brother John as a coach maker, painter and glazier. If the Rice portrait was indeed painted by

Ozias Humphry then it could not have been painted as late as 1801; Ozias Humphry ceased

to paint in 1797 when his eyesight, which had been deteriorating ever since a riding accident in

1771, failed him completely. It has been argued on the basis of this evidence that Ozias Humphry

could not have painted the Rice portrait. But there is another possibility of course - that William

Legg the colourman from Reading was not the William Legg that supplied the linen for the

canvas. Could there possibly have been another William Legg trading out of High Holborn and

supplying artists with linen canvas at an earlier date?

 

Such a proposition is not so unlikely as it may first appear. Because William Legg from Reading

was only trading as a colourman in High Holborn for a few years there are only two known linen

stamps attributed to him, both of which read W & J Legg/High Holborn/LINEN. These stamps are

therefore not the same as the stamp on the back of the Rice portrait; the spelling of ‘Holborn’

differs and there is no “J’ included on the Rice portrait stamp as there is on the other known stamps

of William Legg. It is not clear whether the ‘J’ on the stamp refers to William’s brother John. Poor rate records refer to a ‘John Legg’ at High Holborn in 1801 (pencilled in), in 1802 and 1803, but the land tax assessments record the previous occupant James Poole until 1803 and then a James Legg for 1804 and 1805. The identity of James Legg is not clear, there is no record of William and John having a brother called James. William Legg’s name does not appear in either the land tax or the poor rate books for 1801-1806.

 

So is there any evidence for another William Legg who might have traded in linen from the High Holborn area during the late 1780s? I have discovered one man who may indeed have done so, a certain William Daniel Legg.

 

William Daniel Legg was born in 1743 and baptised at St Sepulchre, Newgate Street, Holborn, London. His parents were Thomas and Mary Legg. A Thomas Legg married a Mary Thursby at St Sepulchre on 19 February 1739, probably then, this is William’s father and mother. Thomas Legg was a printer, stationer and carpenter from Deptford. In 1755, when he was fourteen years old, William Daniel Legg was apprenticed for seven years to John Norris of the Haberdasher’s Company. Norris is variously described in the records as a haberdasher and as a joiner. (Merchants in the eighteenth century were commonly pluralists utilising a variety of skills.) John Norris owned property at Cherry Tree Alley, Bunhill Row in London and traded as a ‘ready made linen draper’ at Cornhill, but his property was sold when he went bankrupt in December 1785.

 

William Daniel Legg had a brother, Thomas John Motley (sometimes Mottley) Legg, born in 1745. Motley is not a particularly common name. It also happens to be the name of the first wife of Jane Austen’s great uncle Francis Austen, the man responsible for commissioning the portrait. Anne Motley was the daughter of Thomas Motley of Beckenham, Kent . It is possible that Thomas Legg senior had a friend named either Thomas or John Motley and named his son after him. Naming a child after a valued friend or patron was common practice. It is also worth noting that Thomas Legg later mentioned in his will some property in Beckenham Lane, Bromley, not far from Thomas Motley’s Beckenham estate. This may, of course, be nothing but coincidence.

 

Thomas John Motley Legg was apprenticed in 1760 to the printer Halhed Garland. Garland had himself been apprenticed to the printer turned novelist Samuel Richardson who was so greatly admired by Jane Austen. As a young girl Jane may have borrowed Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison from Francis Austen’s second wife Jane (born Chadwick, later Lennard). Thomas John Motley Legg died suddenly in 1778. His father Thomas was now living at Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, Mayfair in the parish of St George Hanover Square. He, along with Alexander Grant of Mount Street and Robert Grant of White Rose Court, Coleman Street, London, are named in a document of the same date in which Thomas Legg applied for administration of his son’s property. Thomas John Motley Legg was buried in the family vault at St Paul’s, Deptford.

 

Like John Norris, William Daniel Legg is variously described as a haberdasher and joiner. He also had an interest in architecture, which at that time required no formal qualifications or training. He apparently obtained the patronage of Brownlow Cecil, the 9th Earl of Exeter and there are several building projects at the Earl’s estate at Burghley and at nearby Stamford attributed to him dating from the 1780’s onwards. His father’s will, written in 1790, describes him as ‘William Daniel Legg of Stamford in the county of Lincoln surveyor and architect’.

 

However William evidently also continued to trade in London as on 17 June 1797 he temporarily took over the apprenticeship of John Walters from the latter’s father Thomas Walters, a prosperous merchant in Shadwell, East London, who traded in ship’s biscuits, Irish provisions and sail cloth. (Sail cloth was made from the same or similar linen canvas as that used by artists for picture cloth. For more information on picture cloths see the National Portrait Gallery’s website.)

 

William Daniel Legg died in 1806 at Stamford and like his brother was buried in the family vault at St Paul’s church, Deptford. His father Thomas Legg had died five years earlier in 1801. William apparently did not marry or have children and I have not yet traced a will for him. But on 23 May 1806 the Stamford Mercury advertised an auction of his possessions to take place on 26 May 1806 and for five following days, which included over 400 books, a similar number of prints and ‘too great a variety of other valuable and good furniture to insert in an advertisement.’

 

Could William Daniel Legg have traded out of High Holborn in the 1780s? It is possible. His connections and origins were in the area and the streets of Holborn and High Holborn were one of the main trading areas for drapers in the late eighteenth century; the National Archives hold records for dozens of linen drapers trading here at the time. He was apprenticed for seven years by a haberdasher who traded just down the road at Cornhill and, despite his interests in Stamford, William Daniel Legg continued trading in London until at least 1797.

 

More research needs to be done. But the possibility cannot be discounted that in concentrating on the colourman from Reading we may have been looking at the wrong William Legg.

 

Ellie Bennett is a writer and researcher. She is currently writing a book on the portraits of Jane Austen.

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