by Ary Scheffer
oil on canvas, 1855
37 1/8 in. x 24 3/4 in. (943 mm x 629 mm)
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This portraitback to top
Since it was first exhibited in 1856, Scheffer's portrait of Dickens has received a mixed response. At the time, all agreed that it was a fine picture but many, including Dickens himself, questioned its likeness. Over the following years, the portrait tended to be disregarded and, in the last few decades, has rarely been displayed. But recent conservation has confirmed its quality as a painting which deserves fresh appraisal. Dickens met Scheffer soon after he arrived in Paris in October 1855 on an extended visit. Scheffer - one of the leading artists working in France - introduced Dickens to many prominent Parisians and insisted on painting his portrait. Although Dickens greatly admired the artist, he found the repeated sittings tiresome, at a time when he was under intense pressure of work. As he wrote to John Forster, I can scarcely express how uneasy and unsettled it makes me to sit, sit, sit, with Little Dorrit on my mind. After further sittings he confessed that it does not look to me at all like, though he also allowed that it is always possible that I don't know my own face. It is certainly an idealised portrait, and for a number of Dickens' friends it failed to convince as an exact characterisation of him. But its importance was also acknowledged. As the Art Journal commented in 1856, it is something to be painted by so great a master and, to Dickens' pleasure, the picture was given pride of place at the Royal Academy exhibition. Whatever its flaws, it remains a portrait of the great novelist by an artist of international reputation and a fine record of their friendship.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 87
- Ormond, Richard, Early Victorian Portraits, 1973, p. 138
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 178
- Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 20
- Victoria and Albert Museum, Charles Dickens: an exhibition to commemorate the centenary of his death, 1970 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from June-September 1970), p. 109 number 08
Events of 1855back to top
Current affairsPalmerston becomes Prime Minister, leading a coalition government after Lord Aberdeen loses a vote of confidence over his handling of the Crimean war. Known by the nickname 'Lord Pumicestone' for his abrasive style, Palmerston is the oldest prime minister in history to take up the post for the first time at the age of 71.Stamp duty on newspapers is abolished, creating the mass media market in the UK as newspapers became more widely and cheaply available.
Art and scienceFollowing a trip through the Holy Land to the Dead Sea, William Holman Hunt begins his symbolically-laden painting The Scapegoat. John Millais marries Effie Gray, previously John Ruskin's wife, after their marriage was annulled that year. The social theorist and sociologist Herbert Spencer and philosopher G. H. Lewes, publishes Principles of Pyschology, exploring a physiological basis to psychology.
InternationalThe Fall of Sebastopol in the Crimean war, as Russia retreats, and the exhaustion of the Turkish alliance means the war nears its end. Despite being rebuffed by Florence Nightingale's team of nurses, Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole travels to the Crimea, opening a 'British Hotel' for sick and injured soldiers. She gains significant attention and praise for her nursing work.
- Lecture: Charles Dickens and His Circle
10 March, 19:00
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