John Delaval (1756 - 1775) as a Boy and an Attendant
William Bell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1740 - Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1794)
Art / Oil paintings
1770 (signed and bears date)
Oil on canvas
2311 x 1448 mm (91 x 57 in)
Place of origin
EnglandOrder this image
Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland
This portrait is one of a series, depicting Delaval family members, which now hang in the Gallery at Seaton Delaval. The sitter was the only son of Sir John Hussey Delaval (1728 – 1808) and Susanna Robinson (1730 – 83). The Van Dyck dress and blue sash suggest that he is shown as a competitor in one of the ceremonial archery competitions for boys that existed in the 17th and 18th centuries. His energetic gait in the portrait belies his weak and sickly constitution in life. According to tradition, he had a penchant for servant girls, and died in July 1775 when, having assaulted a housemaid, he was fatally kicked in the crotch. For most of his life, William Bell was a provincial painter in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This series of portraits is undoubtedly his masterpiece, showing him to have been a gifted and individual painter, influenced by Reynolds and Kauffman.
Oil painting on canvas, John Delaval (1756 - 1775) as a Boy and an Attendant, by William Bell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1735 - Newcastle ?1806), signed, bottom left: Wm. Bell Pinx.t and inscribed, bottom right: John Hussey Delaval Esq.r 1770 [very difficult to read, because of perished varnish]. Full-length portrait of a young man, standing, wearing a light brown Van Dyck dress witth blue sash and holding a bow. At left, an attendant, full-length, proffers silver-tipped arrows. They are in a landscape setting.
The only son of Sir John Hussey Delaval (1728 – 1808) and Susanna Robinson (1730 – 83). His energetic gait in the portrait belies his weak and sickly constitution in life. According to tradition, he had a penchant for servant girls, and died in July 1775 when, having assaulted a housemaid, he was fatally kicked in the crotch. He was buried in the church at Doddington, the interior of which, in his grief, his father had painted black. The mausoleum at Seaton, which Sir John had built for his son was never consecrated, as the Bishop of Durham had reputedly asked too high a fee. On Sir John’s death, the estates (including Doddington) passed to Sir John’s brother, Edward (1729 – 1814). Seaton was then bequeathed to his nephew, Rhoda’s son, Sir Jacob Henry Astley, 5th Bt. (1756 – 1817), and thence to his son, Sir Jacob, 6th Bt., re-created 16th Baron Hastings (1797 – 1859). The Van Dyck dress and blue sash suggest that he is shown as a competitor in one of the ceremonial archery competitions for boys that existed in the 17th and 18th centuries. The most famous of these were at Harrow, but there were others: e.g. at the University of St. Andrews. It is not known exactly where these pictures hung, although it seems most likely that they were in the Saloon (there is insufficient space in the Entrance Hall). The daughters are framed in a later and a simpler type of frame (c.1800) than those of Susanna and the two males. It seems possible that their frames were changed in order that they might fit into an alternative location. William Bell is little known for two reasons: that he was for most of his life a provincial painter, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and that for half a decade or more, from c.1770 to at least 1775 he was 'limner' – the term was as old-fashioned as the mode of employment – to Sir John Hussey Delaval (cr. Baron Delaval of Redford in the Irish Peerage in 1783, and Seaton Delaval in the British Peerage in 1786. Yet these portraits show him to have been a gifted and individual painter, and his London career was much more promising. He was – at the advanced age of 34 – the first student to enter the newly-founded Royal Academy’s Schools in 1769, and won a gold medal there for a painting of Venus Entreating Vulcan to forge Arms for Aeneas in 1771. It seems likely that he was related to Alexander Bell, who carved stonework at Seaton Delaval between 1764 and 1768, and who returned there in 1776 to build the mausoleum. That may have been the connection that brought William to Seaton Delaval, where he not only painted the four original whole-lengths, but also extended earlier family portraits to make a set with them. They all hang in the Gallery, along with the Astley / Hasting chairs and settees upholstered with the Tournament embroidery. Other portraits by Bell are in what is now the main repository of Delaval pictures, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire. After this activity for Lord Delaval, Bell retired back to Newcastle, and sank into provincial obscurity. He seems, towards the end of his life, to have became the friend of Thomas Bewick, the wood-engraver of Cherryburn (NT). (Amanda Bradley)
accepted in lieu of tax by H.M.Treasury and transferred to the National Trust in 2009
Seaton Delaval, The Hastings Collection (National Trust)
Marks and inscriptions
Bottom right: signed: Wm. Bell Pinxt. Bottom left: John Hussey Delaval Esqr. 1770 [ very difficult to read because of perished varnish] Frame tablet: JOHN DELAVAL, only son of John, Lord Delaval / B.1756 – D. 1775. / The last male heir of the Delavals. / WILLIAM BELL, 1775.
Makers and roles
William Bell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1740 - Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1794), artist