In 1822 when Nottingham Subscription Library was moving into Bromley House, John Rawson Walker offered to paint a picture for the Library instead of paying the share price of 10 Guineas. At this point if you wished to join the Library then you purchased a share, and paid an annual subscription. A Guinea, for those who are unfamiliar with earlier coinage, was settled in 1816 as 21 shillings. Two other artists, Clifton Tomson and Thomas Barber junior, made similar arrangements. The small seated figure in the painting by John Rawson Walker is of Henry Kirk-White, the poet and hymn writer of Nottingham, who wrote a poem called Clifton Grove. He is also remembered as the writer of ‘Oft in Danger, Oft in Woe’. Clifton Grove was a famous beauty spot during the 19th century, and no visit to Nottingham was complete without visiting there. The legend of Clifton Grove refers to an unhappy love story featuring an unfaithful maiden and a heart broken squire, who threw himself into the Trent there. This is referred to in Henry Kirk White’s poem.
John Rawson Walker, and the other two painters, discovered that they had misunderstood the terms of the agreement with the Library, and were informed that although they would be let off the arrears, they had to pay the annual subscription for library membership. It seems likely that Clifton Tomson was sufficiently upset by this to immediately resign his membership, and remove his painting from the Library.
The painting has been taken down whilst the room is cleaned, showing bare bricks behind it. It was presumably painted exactly to fit the space, suggesting that the Smith family had earlier had a painting of that exact same size. But was their’s painted to fit, or the fireplace designed to showcase a favourite painting?