Charles Dickens

1 portrait

Charles Dickens, by Ary Scheffer, 1855 - NPG 315 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Charles Dickens

by Ary Scheffer
oil on canvas, 1855
37 1/8 in. x 24 3/4 in. (943 mm x 629 mm)
Purchased, 1870
Primary Collection
NPG 315

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Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Ary Scheffer (1795-1858). Artist associated with 3 portraits.

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

Subjects & Themesback to top