Amanda Martin, Curator/ Manager, Isles of Scilly Museum
My bursary research focused on identifying the artists of three nineteenth-century portraits in the collection of the Isles of Scilly Museum; Mrs Saundry, Francis John Banfield (1822–90) and Anne Laity Banfield (1831–90).
Living in the Isles of Scilly means that the local press and the Internet are vital research tools and that study trips to galleries, archives and libraries involve an expensive helicopter journey before any detective work can start. Over the course of three mainland trips (December to March) I visited the Heinz Archive & Library, the Morrab Library with its fantastic archive of Cornish newspapers, Penlee House Gallery & Museum, the Royal Cornwall Museum (Truro) and the Lander Gallery (Truro). It was in every way a very rewarding experience, invaluable in terms of talking to staff and ‘picking’ brains. Whereas I drew a blank regarding these portraits at the Heinz Archive, I did find an image of a seventeenth-century governor of the islands that has been very helpful for historians studying the history of island fortifications. My London trip also gave me the opportunity to visit several museums/ galleries and to gain fresh insight into displays and presentation.
Following several hours of talking to gallery staff, random researchers, phone calls and Internet scouring, chance conversations put me onto the trail of firstly Robert Thomas Pentreath and secondly of one of his descendants. Dr J. Pentreath sent me details of the Pentreath oeuvre that he had researched and I was able to use his records to add to my own knowledge. Independent sources checked the known material and compared the styles and techniques to RT Pentreath’s work. Subsequent research showed that he had worked in the Penzance area, which fitted perfectly with the Scillonian sitters.
My research leads me to think that RT Pentreath painted both the Banfield portraits in the Museum’s collection. Unfortunately, I have no clues to the painter of Mrs Saundry, which appears to be a much less technically accomplished work and of uncertain origin.
My increased knowledge of our portraits and the mid-Victorian years strengthens my professional role, particularly in talking to researchers, and complements my private research into the history of the islands, giving me more confidence when making presentations about the nineteenth-century social history of the Isles of Scilly. People come to our museum from all over the world, often to research their family history. Being able to furnish as complete as possible a picture of 19th century Scilly is very important in my curatorial role in order to enhance the visitor experience. The bursary has also provided great networking opportunities.