The front cover of Collette Moloney’s book, The Irish Music Manuscripts of Edward Bunting, an Introduction and Catalogue, published in 2000 by the Irish Traditional Music Archive, shows an oil painting of an elderly gentleman holding a harp.
The caption on the back of the book says “Front cover ‘A Portrait of a Harper’, Irish School, c. 1800 (formerly attributed to James Barry: courtesy National Gallery of Ireland)”.
So if we trust the art experts who give these very definitive sounding opinions, this is a portrait painted in Ireland by an Irish artist about the year 1800. But who is the harpist?
I long ago recognised that the harp in the painting is of a type known today as a ‘Bohemian harp’, it is a type of instrument that was native to Germany but was also widely used in Scandinavia. The most diagnostic part of the harp really in this painting is the little soundholes arranged in a cross shape. But other aspects of it – the general shape of the instrument, the pale soundboard compared to the dark wood of the rest of the instrument, (not to mention the very un-Irish right hand treble) all indicate it is a German or Scandinavian harp of the late 18th century.
(Once I realised it was a German or Scandinavian harp in the picture, I started thinking that the man’s face looked quite Germanic as well).
Just this week I was looking at the online facsimiles of the Journal of the Folk Song Society of Ireland (more info on my Bunting mss page) and I noticed, in an article about Samuel Fergusson (vol vii p.11), a mention of the Swedish harpist Herr Sjoden, who visited Ireland in 1879.
I have not yet found a portait of Adolf Sjödén (1843-1893) for comparison – could he be our man I wonder?