Alfred de Pass [1861-1952]

Ethel de Pass [née Salaman, 1869-1910]

Ethel was Michel Salaman’s (below) sister and was married to Alfred Aaron de Pass who, after her early death, remarried.

Alfred was the great benefactor of West Country public collections: not only the Falmouth Art Gallery, but also Plymouth and Truro, benefited enormously from the generosity of this South African collector. So to did the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Gallery, Fizwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Bristol City Art Gallery, Portsmouth City Art Gallery, and other places, notably the National Galley of South Africa, where de Pass spent his last years. He bought Orpen’s 1907 portrait of Grace Orpen, now in the Tate and presented by him in 1920. He also gave works by Blake, Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Frederick Walker to the Tate: I know little more about her other than my father's description of her as beautiful, delicate … , the latter sadly seems to have proved itself to be true.

Clearly, what was perhaps conventional colonial thinking then appears outrageous now as, according to one account: 'One of the major benefactors of the gallery, Alfred de Pass, chose not to bestow his “Old Masters” on it, because he believed that “coloured people, natives, etc. could not understand them”.’

He was a prodigiously generous man, spontaneous and instinctive in his acquisition of works of art, and in his giving. He went once to an exhibition of maritime art in Falmouth. Immediately afterwards he went out and bought the same kind of art, filling an annex to his house; later he gave the whole collection to Falmouth. Well before his death he had given everything away. A typical instance of his impetuous approach was his gift of the portrait of Alexander Pope then thought to be by Kneller, now attributed to Jonathan Richardson, in the National Portrait Gallery. ‘Lord Ronald Gower, a trustee, on a visit to us while staying in Falmouth, said it ought to be there, so I gave it’.

Between 1914 and 1935 he concentrated much of his attention on the collection at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, at Truro, the best collection of fine art in the county, and now known as the County Museum and Art Gallery. Among other works, de Pass gave to Falmouth a study by John William Waterhouse for his Lady of Shalott. He gave work by the same artist to Plymouth. His giving to Truro was magnificent.

They had five children: their first son Dan became a Commodore and it was his influence that influenced my father to join the Royal Navy too. He married Jean Fleming—sister of the Arctic explorer, Bishop of first Portsmouth, then Norwich and in ‘retirement’ Dean of Windsor and the Queen's domestic chaplain. Their second son, Crispin Asahel, 2nd Battalion Tank Corps, died at the Somme in 1918, aged 26. John died skiing; as a child I was told that he fell into an Alpine crevase and decades later his body was disgorged in the spring, still looking his 18 years, but I don't now believe this to be true.

Sitters: de Pass

bringing together ‘orphan’ portraits and
Orphan of the Month