Taking pride of place on an easel in the Stone Hall is this charming charcoal portrait of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe as a young girl. We have never known the identity of the artist who created it or its precise date; but Mary’s birthdate and the age she appears in the portrait place its creation date around 1926-1930. Whenever groups are taken on tours of West Horsley Place we enquire whether anybody recognises the signature and might be able to help us identify it. To our complete delight one of our visitors at the Heritage Open Days weekend in September, Edward Scott, was inspired to go away and do some investigating for us. Thanks to his efforts we are able to announce that the work was created by French artist Étienne Adrien Drian, who was active in Paris during the 1920s when Mary’s father Lord Crewe was British Ambassador to France.
We asked Edward Scott about how he made the discovery,
“As an amateur genealogist I often have to work through old wills and other original documents, which are frequently written using one of the variations of the Secretary hand or another script. However, one also has to work through not only the individual’s writing, spelling and abbreviations, but their idiosyncratic flourishes too.
Sometimes the deciphering is easy and at other times almost impossible. However, I am a member of Rootschat (a family history forum) where you can ask for help from other members if you have a question. There are a few members who are really good at deciphering text. I felt that if we could take the same approach as an old document by working out the letters, the name would become apparent. What I didn’t bank on was that one of the members knew and liked the work of Drian. A quick comparison of signatures from other works by Drian with the portrait at West Horsley Place confirmed the identification. It took 64 minutes from posting my question to having the answer!”