His life and works
This painting by Charles Allen Du Val of a group of leading Methodists is said to have been exhibited in 1838 on the occasion of the centenary meeting of the Wesleyan Methodists in Manchester.
An engraving was made by C.E. Wagstaff, apparently commissioned by Thomas Agnew who then owned the original painting and planned to publish and sell prints.
The painting of the Wesleyan meeting seems to have been first recorded in 1840, when the following passage appeared in an article in The Art-Union Journal : "The principal assemblage of its ministers and leaders took place at Manchester and Mr Agnew, the publisher of that town, has undertaken to commemorate the event by issuing a print that shall contain portraits of all the more prominent persons who took parts in the ceremony. The scene represents the interior of Oldham Street Chapel; the portraits of 100 persons are introduced. The work will be a valuable acquisition to a most numerous and respectable class - " (1).
In 1868 Thomas Agnew donated the painting to Salford Museum (2). When the artist died in 1872, an obituary recorded that the prints produced by Thomas Agnew from the engraving were widely circulated: "One of his best-known early pictures was “The Methodist Centenary,” containing a hundred portraits of leading Wesleyans who had assembled in Manchester to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the institution of Methodism. The engraving from this picture, which was published by Thomas Agnew and Sons, is now extensively distributed throughout the United Kingdom, and, from the excellence of the portraits, has become historically valuable. " (3).
In 1888 Albert Nicholson related that Charles Allen Du Val "painted a picture containing one hundred portraits of the leading Wesleyans in the United Kingdom, who met in Manchester to celebrate the centenary of methodism" (4). The 1914 German reference dictionary edited by Thieme says that it was painted in 1838, and that the group portrait was of only ten Wesleyans (5).
The dating to the year 1838 is problematical, however. The centenary of Methodism fell in 1839 (not 1838) and there was no Methodist Conference in Manchester in either of those years. The Annual Conference had been held in Manchester in 1833 but was not again held there until 1841 (6). What did take place in Manchester were two notable Methodist conferences, both in the year 1841.
The first was the customary Methodist Conference, chaired then by the Reverend James Dixon. The second was a meeting of ministers of all denominations to lobby the Methodist Conference and others for the repeal of the Corn Laws. That second meeting was attacked in the press by both religious and secular institutions, but it was the start of the campaign to repeal the Corn Laws, eventually successful in 1846. Now Charles Allen Du Val was very active in that campaign. Not only did he paint portraits of the Anti-Corn Law Leaguers themselves but also produced portraits of free church ministers and laymen who attended that second meeting - the Reverend J W Massie of Salford (exhibited 1842) and the Reverend N K Pugsley of Stockport (exhibited 1858) among them. Both men were Independent Congregationalist) ministers, not Methodists. However Du Val did also paint a portrait of the chairman of the 1841 Methodist Conference in Manchester, the Reverend James Dixon (portrait exhibited in 1842), and at least one other prominent local Wesleyan - James Heald of Parrs Wood in Didsbury (exhibited in 1843).
An earlier (purely Methodist) meeting had taken place in 1835 when a leading member was John Robinson Kay (portrait exhibited 1840) of Walmersley House in Summerseat, a very active Wesleyan Methodist. He was a Bury delegate among "a large number of delegates from various towns assembled in a spacious wooden building called ‘The Tabernacle’ in Stevenson Square, Manchester, for the purpose of discussing the ecclesiastical situation, and of securing united action in the plan of reform which it was proposed to submit to the ensuing Wesleyan Conference" (7). But that conference was not held in that year in Manchester.
Uncertainty therefore surrounds the occasion on which this picture was painted. Furthermore its present whereabouts is unknown.
(1) The Art-Union Journal 1840. This was a monthly publication, and the particular passage about the Du Val painting is from the edition published on 15 September 1840.
(2) Information kindly supplied by Peter N Ogilvie, Collections Manager, Salford Museum & Art Gallery: "I have checked our records but all we know about this painting is that it was an oil painting on canvas donated to Salford Museum in 1868 by Thomas Agnew. Unfortunately there is no description of this painting but the size is recorded as 34" high by 44" wide, therefore we are talking about one painting. [It had been suggested that there might have been a series of individual portraits painted rather than one group picture.] Also the correspondence between the museum and the Methodist Mission leading up to the loan only refers to one painting. Interestingly the catalogue card also states that the painting has been engraved, so it is possible other copies exist." Evidently the original painting was left on the hands of Thomas Agnew after the engraving was made, and he donated it in 1868 to Salford Museum, who subsequently lent to the Methodist Mission. All traces of it thereafter are lost.
(3) The Manchester Times 22 June 1872.
(4) Dictionary of National Biography article by A[lbert] N[icholson] volume 16 (1888) pages 270-271.
(5) Allgemeines Lexicon der Bildenden Kuenstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart [“General Dictionary of the Picture Artists from Antiquity until the Present Time”] by Ulrich Thieme (1914) volume 10 page 239.
(6) The Annual Conferences from 1830 to 1840 were held as follows: 1830 Leeds, 1831 Bristol, 1832 Liverpool, 1833 Manchester, 1834 London, 1835 Sheffield, 1836 Birmingham, 1837 Leeds, 1838 Bristol, 1839 Liverpool, and 1840 Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The History of Wesleyan Methodism (1854) by G.H. Harwood.
(7) The History of Brunswick Church Bury by T P Dale (reprinted 2009) page 13.