Portraits - Attribution and Provenance
It may be no coincidence that John Ponsford was commissioned by Nicholas Pitts to undertake a portrait of Elizabeth Prettejohn Pitts in 1842 (the painting was completed in September 1842) so soon after the deaths in infancy of two of their sons. It can only be surmised that her husband Nicholas may have thought that it might be some consolation for her after the two tragedies; or it may have been simply a gift to celebrate a birthday or some other family event. In any case, the artist was a local man who had been born in Modbury and was, no doubt, well known to the family through social contacts. In fact the drawings and subsequent building of the extensions to South Allington House in 1839/40 were undertaken by two members of the Ponsford family of Totnes, Thomas and Lionel Ponsford. The portrait of Nicholas Pitts was commissioned and completed in July 1850 when Nicholas Pitts was 50 years of age, possibly to celebrate a landmark birthday. The portraits of Elizabeth and Nicholas and two other large family portraits (perhaps their two surviving sons) were mentioned in the will of Nicholas Pitts which he had prepared in 1862 and which was executed upon his death in 1870. The portraits were bequeathed with the house at South Allington by Nicholas Pitts to his wife, Elizabeth, for the duration of her life, and then, when Elizabeth died in 1877, to their younger son, Thomas Harris Pitts. Upon the death of Thomas Harris Pitts on the 12th December 1910 they were then bequeathed to Thomas’s son Charles Hugh Harris Pitts and upon his death on 5 July 1945 to his son William Nicholas Charles Harris Pitts and finally upon his death in 1991 to his son Peter Harris Pitts. Peter Pitts sold them to a dealer in Brecknock, Breconshire, Wales soon after the death of his father. They found their way to another dealer, Colin Rhodes Antiques in Yealmton, Devon, who sold them in 1999 to Frank Richmond of Goodwood House Antiques of Perth, Western Australia. Frank Richmond sold the portrait of Elizabeth Prettejohn Pitts to the present owners Ian and Myra Hillman of Busselton, Western Australia in 1999, and the portrait of Nicholas Pitts to Austin & Naomi Ainley, also in Western Australia at about the same time. The portrait of Elizabeth Prettejohn Pitts and the frame were fully restored to a very high standard by Greg and Melissa Guest, Guest Fine Art Services, Subiaco, Western Australia in the year 2000. The portrait of Nicholas Pitts was restored by an art restoration contractor to the Western Australian Art Gallery at about the same time. The painting of Nicholas Pitts was purchased from Austin and Naomi Ainley by Ian and Myra Hillman on 4 May 2008.