Institutional Collection


Joseph Southall (1861 - 1944)

The Agate (Portrait of the Artist and his Wife), 1911

SKU: 5147

Signed with initials and dated 1911
Tempera on linen

Height – 98.4cm
Width – 48.8cm


Bt. Donald Hope at sale of the Estate of Mrs. A.E. Southall, Birmingham, 23 March, 1948, lot 44; bt. Richard Barrow, by descent.

Literature: Llewellyn, Sacha, and Paul Liss. Portrait of an Artist. Liss Llewellyn, 2021, p.253.

Exhibited: Liverpool, Autumn Exhbn., 1912, no. 736; Oldham, Spring
Exhbn., 1913, no. 24; Manchester, Joseph Southall, 1922, no. 32.

© estate of Joseph Edward Southall / National Portrait Gallery, London.

The loan of this painting to the National Portrait Gallery has been arranged by Liss Fine Art.

This striking self-portrait shows the artist and craftsman Joseph Southall with his wife, Anna Elizabeth (known as Bessie).They are standing together on a beach, most likely to be at Southwold, Suffolk, where they spent their honeymoon in 1903 and later enjoyed holidays together. Bessie is shown handing her husband an agate, a gemstone which can be found on the seashore in this area. Southall was born in Nottingham in 1861 but moved to Birmingham with his mother as a baby and lived there for the rest of his life. After some initial training as an architect, he began to concentrate on art and made a pivotal visit to Italy in 1883. After seeing the early Renaissance work there he became committed to painting in egg tempera. John Ruskin admired Southall’s early drawings and the artist became acquainted with William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. The influence of Morris and his ideas is evident in this portrait, which shows the couple wearing progressive dress. Bessie was herself an accomplished craftswoman, who worked on laying the gesso grounds for Southall’s pictures and in making the frames. Bessie’s act of handing the agate to her husband can be seen as a symbol of their collaboration, since the gemstone is used by craftspeople to burnish the gilding on picture frames. The painting has now been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery (where it has previously been on loan) as both a fine work of the Arts and Crafts movement and as a representation of two of its most dedicated disciples.

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Joseph Southall
1861 - 1944

Southall was
born in Nottingham of Quaker parents,
and was taken by his mother to Birmingham
when his father died the following year. In
i874 he entered
the Friends’ School.
Bootham, where he was taught
by Edwin Moore (brother of Albert and
Henry). Four years later he joined
the Birmingham
firm of architects, Martin and Chamberlain, but in 1882 he left to concentrate
on painting, attending the
Birmingham School of Art where he met A J
Gaskin, henceforth his closest friend, and
other members of
the Birmingham
Group. About the same time he set­
13 Charlotte Road, Edgbaston, his home for the rest of his life. In 1883 he
spent eight weeks in
Italy, absorbing the early masters, and on his return he began to experiment with tempera. Meanwhile, through an uncle, he had made the acquaintance of Ruskin, who commissioned him to design a museum for
the Guild of St George at Bewdlev (1885);
came to nothing but took him
again to Italy.
He also
received encouragement from W
B Richmond and
Burne Jones, to whom he
paid visits in London
(1893-7). In 1895 he began to exhibit at the RA (Car. 72),
showing there till 1942, while also support­ing the New Gallery (1897-19o9), the RBSA (Associ­ate 1898. member 1902)
and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society shows (1899-1923). In 1901, together with J D Batten, Walter Crane and others,
he helped to found the Society of
Painters in
Tempera, and he was
undoubtedly the single most
exponent of the tempera revival. Though
never, like so many members of the Birmingham Group, on the staff of the local Art School,
he gave
lessons on tempera painting
in his Edgbaston studio and lectured on the subject widely. As well as literary
figure subjects, he painted genre scenes, portraits and landscapes; his wife Anna Elizabeth, a first cousin whom he married in 19o3, appears in many of his pictures,
and often helped to decorate their elaborate gilded
frames. Southall was a leading figure among
Birmingham Quakers, a Socialist and pacifist; he campaigned vigorously
against the conduct of the
Great War,
during which he painted the fresco of ‘
Cor­poration Street, Birmingham, in March 1914′, on
the stair­case of the Birmingham
Art Gallery, (completed in 1916).
In later life he joined the NEAC and RWS (1925), participated
joint exhibitions with other
Birmingham and
tempera painters, held a number of one-man shows (notably at the Alpine Club 1922), and,
building on
the success of an
exhibition at the
Georges Petit
in Paris in 1910, established a
considerable inter­
national reputation. He and his wife paid frequent visits to Italy,
sometimes with Charles and Margaret
Gere; also to France, Southwold and Fowey, where
he found many subjects.
In 1933 he was appointed Professor of
Painting at the RBSA (President
and in 1937 began a fresco in the Council House. It was not, however, completed; that August he under­went a major operation
and never fully recovered, dying in 1944. A
memorial exhibition was held at Bir­mingham, the RWS
and Bournemouth the following


Joseph Southall (1861 - 1944)
Anna Elizabeth Baker (study for The Coral Necklace), c.1894
Joseph Southall (1861 - 1944)
Young girl seated on a wall, Ludlow, 16.VI.1916
Joseph Southall (1861 - 1944)
Fowey, VIII 1897
Joseph Southall (1861 - 1944)
Bessie at her work table, 22.III.1908
Joseph Southall (1861 - 1944)
The Agate (Portrait of the Artist and his Wife), 1911