Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
by Robert Howlett
albumen print, November 1857
11 1/4 in. x 8 7/8 in. (286 mm x 225 mm)
Given by Mr and Mrs A. J. W. Vaughan, 1972
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This portraitback to top
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the son of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, earned early experience working on his father's Thames Tunnel. He went on to design suspension bridges, the Great Western Railway and railways in Italy, India and Australia. His greatest fame however came as a designer of ocean-going steamships including the Great Eastern, before whose massive chains he stands in this famous photograph. Little is known of the photographer Robert Howlett whom the Illustrated Times rightly called 'one of the most skilful photographers of the day'. He died less than a year after this picture was taken, poisoned, it was suggested, by his own photographic chemicals.
Related worksback to top
Linked publicationsback to top
- Victorian Portraits Resource Pack, p. 19
- Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 101
- Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 46
- Funnell, Peter, Victorian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 19
- Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 23
- Hart-Davis, Adam, Chain Reactions, 2000, p. 157
- Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 217
- Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 18
- Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 47
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 128
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 128
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 84
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 143
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1857back to top
Current affairsPalmerston passes the Matrimonial Causes Act in the face of parliamentary opposition. The act establishes divorce courts, although women, unlike men, are not allowed to sue for divorce on the grounds of adultery. The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition is held, a follow-up to the Great Exhibition of 1851, although highlighting Britain's private art collections rather than industry and technology. More than 1.3 million people visit the event.
Art and scienceElizabeth Gaskell publishes The Life of Charlotte Brontë, a year after the author's death. The controversial biography consolidates the myth of the Brontë sisters as isolated geniuses living in remote Yorkshire.Illustrator George Scharf becomes the first Secretary of the National Portrait Gallery, overseeing the collection's growth and its several moves around London before a permanent home is established in 1896, the year after Scharf's death.
InternationalThe Indian Mutiny takes place following the insensitive response of the British army to complaints by Muslim and Hindu sepoys about using animal grease on their gun cartridges, which results in a horrific and violent uprising. The event precipitated a more involved role by the British government in India, taking over responsibility from the East India company.
See this portrait
On display in Room 29 at the National Portrait Gallery