If you’ve already looked at the previous post, Jeanne Fouillon and her beautiful harp, then you’ve already seen the portrait above. When I put that post together last week, I hadn’t yet tried to identify the dignified gentleman with the harp. It seemed like a long shot, but one that might be worth a try. I started reading about prominent harpists in London around 1870, then looked for portraits to go along with names. Britain’s National Portrait Gallery proved to be the best source for images. In less than an hour, I found a portrait there of a younger man with almost exactly the same expression as the man in my photograph.
The National Portrait Gallery owns two photographs of harpist and composer John Balsir Chatterton (1804-1871). They were taken during a sitting in 1862 at the London studio of prominent French photographer Camille Silvy. The one you should see is here. After you click the link, you can zoom in to see his facial features. In my photo he’s roughly eight years older, but he has the same eyes and mouth.
John Balsir Chatterton studied harp in London under Nicolas-Charles Bochsa, who helped found the Royal Academy of Music in 1822. When Bochsa was forced to resign his professorship in 1827 because of legal problems in his native France, Chatterton took over his position at the Academy. Chatterton would teach there many years, and in 1842 would be appointed harpist to Queen Victoria (who was only 23). Chatterton’s students would include the Welshman John Thomas (1826-1913), who would go on to receive the bardic name Pencerdd Gwalia (Chief of the Welsh minstrels) in 1861.
John Balsir Chatterton performed at the royal wedding of Princess Louise on March 21, 1871. He died less than three weeks later, after a two-day illness, on April 9, 1871.
In the carte-de-visite above, I believe he’s posing with an Érard Gothic double-action pedal harp, patented in London in 1836 by Pierre-Orphée Érard (1794-1855).
The photograph was taken around 1870 at the London studio of George and Rebecca Lavis, who were husband and wife. Their first studio was in Eastbourne, Sussex. George died in 1875, when he was about 43 years old, at which point Rebecca seems to have retired from commercial photography. According to census records, she was about 46 at the time.