Two Unknown Paintings Send Art Detectives on Fascinating Journey

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] In a segment of Fake or Fortune? Perspective—”Two Unknown Paintings Send Art Detectives on Fascinating Journey” (58-minutes)—Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould search for the authors of two paintings. [The video was posted on YouTube on March 25, 2023, but the sleuthing events occurred several years earlier.] Bruce and Mould find out that Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray, previously named The Lady Elizabeth Finch Hatton, was painted by David Martin (c. 1778). The second painting, Two Negro Children with a Book, is identified as the work of Emma Soyer née Jones (1831), but they are unable to determine who the models were, although the documentary refers to the painting as depicting West Indian children.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was born in the Caribbean, but most historical accounts do not specify exactly where she was from. Her father, Sir John Lindsay was based in Port Royal, near Kingston, Jamaica, where he registered several other illegitimate children, but there is no mention of her place of birth. It is thought that Dido’s mother had been a slave on a Spanish ship captured by Lindsay. Although he was sailing through Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, and West Africa between 1757 to 1767, it is highly probable that Dido was also born in Jamaica.

Below the video, see a short account of Dido Bell’s life.

Hanging on a wall in Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland, is an 18th-century double portrait of two young women of high society. One is sitting reading a book whilst the other is passing by clutching a basket of fruit. Both are adorned with expensive silk dresses with pearl necklaces draped across their necks. In the distance, you can make out the Georgian cityscape of London, including St. Paul’s Cathedral. There is nothing unusual about the painting drawn by the Scottish artist David Martin, except for the fact that one of the women is black.

The young lady in question is Dido Elizabeth Belle who is captured in the portrait alongside Lady Elizabeth Murray, her seated white companion. In 18th-century British art, black people were often depicted as servants or slaves; it is highly unusual to see a black woman represented as the equal of a white woman. But as we shall discover, nothing about the life of Dido was usual.

Born in 1761 in the West Indies, Dido was the daughter of a young British naval officer called John Lindsay and an African woman named Maria Belle. It is believed that Maria was a slave aboard a Spanish slaving ship travelling across the Caribbean. Lindsay was the captain of the British warship HMS Trent, which was patrolling the coasts of Senegal and the Caribbean. Although historians are not entirely sure about how Lindsay and Maria met, it is thought his ship captured the slaving ship that Maria was on.

Historians have debated whether Lord Mansfield’s relationship with Dido swayed his position in any way but he ruled in favour of the ex-slave, declaring slavery to be ‘so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it.’ The landmark ruling is often remembered as the beginning of the end for slavery in Britain, although it would take until 1833 before it was completely abolished.

During her final years at Kenwood Dido undertook a very common hobby for a genteel woman at that time – supervising the estates dairy and poultry yard. However, her day-to-day changed through the 1780s as Elizabeth was married off and Lady Mansfield passed away leaving Dido to care for the Lord.

In 1788, Lord Mansfield died bequeathing Dido £500 with a £100 annuity. A few months later Dido married a French steward called John Davinier and the pair had three sons, which they raised in London.

For more information, see

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For more on Soyer and her painting, see and

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