Private View of the Old Masters Exhibition, Royal Academy, 1888

1 portrait

Sir William Agnew, 1st Btback to top

Waist-length, standing, with white hair and whiskers, holding hat in hand in the foreground group to the right. Agnew's inclusion in this group portrait reflects his importance in the art world.

Dr Jan Marsh

Laura Theresa (née Epps), Lady Alma-Tademaback to top

Half-length, profile to left, wearing grey cape and feathered hat, standing, shaking hands with Edward Poynter in centre background. Laura Alma-Tadema was included in this group portrait of leading figures in the art world thanks mainly to her husband’s status, but also as a tribute to her own art practice.

Dr Jan Marsh

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tademaback to top

Whole-length, standing, wearing brown suit, doffing his hat to an unidentified woman, twentieth figure from left. Alma-Tadema’s decision not to wear a black morning coat like nearly all the other men is a marker of self-conscious artistic (and foreign) identity. At this date, he was a leading figure in the British art world, and is placed visibly and centrally in this collective scene.

Dr Jan Marsh

Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, 1st Btback to top

Head-and-shoulders, profile to right, in top hat, background centre right.The portraits were based on a combination of photographs in poses specified by the artist [1] and ‘one or more life sittings’ with Brooks himself. [2] For instance, Brooks requested sittings of George Scharf (to the left of Boehm in the group) in October 1888.[3] In February 1889 Scharf visited Brooks's West Kensington studio to sit for the artist and for two photographs, where he met Boehm, who was presumably attending for the same purpose. [4]

Boehm died on 12 December 1890; the following spring Brooks sent an oil portrait (untraced) of the sculptor to the RA Summer Exhibition: presumably posthumous, it was probably based on photographs and material collected for the portrait in NPG 1833.[5]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

[1] ‘Of course it is well known that such a picture as this is never painted now entirely from life sittings, but that photography is used to save time and spare the patience of those invited to form the group’; Brooks’s 1914 account of the project in notes headed ‘The Dilettante’, p.1, NPG RP 1833. Brooks makes no specific reference to Boehm in his account.
[2] H.J. Brooks, MS headed ‘The Dilettante’, 1914, NPG RP 1833, p.1.
[3] H.J. Brooks to George Scharf, 12 Oct. 1888, NPG RP 1833.
[4] Sir George Scharf Papers (Personal diary 1889, NPG7/3/1/46, NPG Archive).
[5] RA 1891 (687).

Sir Frederic William Burtonback to top

Whole-length, standing, profile to left, wearing grey coat, the fifth man from left.

Philip Hermogenes Calderonback to top

Whole-length, profile to right, standing centre rear, to the left of Mary Millais.

William Powell Frithback to top

To rear, just left of centre, standing behind Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

John Evan Hodgsonback to top

Whole-length, standing, slightly to right, holding top hat and cane, the 18th identified figure from left. The artist recorded the following anecdote from Hodgson’s sitting:

Mr Hodgson R.A. told me an amusing anecdote of J.M.W. Turner R.A.. This tale was that Hodgson, Turner and another R.A, whose name I have forgotten, were visiting Italy. Early one morning Turner rushed into their bedrooms waking them out of their sleep with ‘Get up you fellows and come and (see) this glorious purple’. They got up and Turner took them to a bridge and pointing to a vista seen through an arch exclaimed ‘There! did you ever see anything like that. Did you ever see such glorious purple?’ They rubbed their sleepy eyes and gazed but could see no purple.[1]

Magdalene Keaney

Footnotesback to top

[1] H. J. Brooks, MS headed ‘The Dilettante’, 1914, NPG RP 1833, p.3.

Francis Montague ('Frank') Hollback to top

Head only, to front, centre of composition in background, to the left of man in top hat. Brooks left a description of his method of work on this painting. He had each sitter photographed in a particular pose, and after sketching them into the composition he revisited them for life-sittings. Holl died unexpectedly in the middle of the process and his portrait was therefore based on the specially commissioned photographs, now untraced. ‘I believe that with the exception of a small head of Mr Frank Holl R.A. who died about this time, and the head of Mr GF Watts R.A who If I recollect rightly was ill at Brighton, I had one or more life sittings from everyone in the picture.’[1]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

[1] H. J. Brooks, MS headed ‘The Dilettante’, 1914, NPG RP 1833, p.2.

John Callcott Horsleyback to top

Whole-length, profile to left, wearing a long light-brown coat, fourth from left. In his retrospective account, Brooks suggests that Horsley was instrumental in the creation of the picture:

Mr Brock suggested a picture of the Private View at the Old Masters Exhibition… ‘The best person to see’ said Mr Brock ‘and the one who can render you the greatest assistance is Mr J. C. Horsley R. A’. I accordingly made a design in oils and took it to Mr Horsley with an introduction from Mr Brock. Mr Horsley was pleased with the drawing and forthwith entered heartily into the matter, in fact, almost everyone in the picture was included in accordance with the advice of Mr Horsley.[1]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

[1] H. J. Brooks, MS headed ‘The Dilettante’, 1914, NPG RP 1833, p.1.

William Holman Huntback to top

Whole-length, profile to right, standing at right of group, apparently in conversation with John Ruskin. Bare-headed, Hunt wears a fur-collared overcoat also seen in the photo by Kingsbury & Notcutt (NPG x4179).

In Brooks’s retrospective account of creating the picture, he relates the following story with regards to Hunt’s sitting:

Mr Holman Hunt was also an interesting talker. One of his anecdotes I remember referred to his travels in the Holy Land. He told me that he was once taken prisoner by a band of brigands, he felt no fear, but was much interested in listening to their debating as to whether they should kill him or not: but as it happened he lived to tell the tale.[1]


The section of the painting including Hunt was reproduced in the Manchester Guardian, 31 July 1945, marking the death of Margot Tennant (later Countess of Oxford and Asquith), another sitter.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

[1] H. J. Brooks, MS headed ‘The Dilettante’, 1914, NPG RP 1833, p.3.

Frederic Leighton, Baron Leightonback to top

Whole-length, slightly profile to left, just to right of centre holding exhibition catalogue. As President of the Royal Academy (1878–96) Leighton is highly visible in this group portrait, positioned centrally between Margaret Elizabeth, Countess of Jersey and Harriet Sarah, Lady Wantage and dressed in a striking chocolate-brown suit. The artist was perhaps alluding to the fact that it was Leighton himself, soon after he was appointed as an RA in 1868, who first proposed an annual exhibition of works by old masters. This concept originated partly from his desire to educate public taste and partly from the need to fill a gap left by the ending of a similar programme at the British Institution. Leighton planned to bring in works from country houses and other private collections; notebooks in the RA archives show how extensively he travelled throughout Britain for this purpose, listing and annotating the contents of aristocratic collections.[1]

Furthermore, when W.H. Cope proposed that the exhibitions should also include the work of recently deceased British artists, Leighton seconded the motion. The first ‘Old Masters’ or Winter Exhibition was planned for 1870. Leighton was to be the subject of one such exhibition twenty-seven years later, in 1897; in the winter following his death, a major retrospective of his life’s work was staged at the Academy.

In order to generate an accurate portrait of Leighton for this work, Henry Jamyn Brooks sought a number of sittings from life. He visited Leighton’s studio in Holland Park and Leighton also sat in Brooks’s own studio.[2]

Elizabeth Heath

Footnotesback to top

[1] L. Ormond, ‘Leighton and the Royal Academy’ in Jones et al. 1996, p.16.
[2] H. J. Brooks, MS headed ‘The Dilettante’, 1914, NPG RP 1833, p.7.

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Btback to top

Whole-length, head turned three-quarters to right, standing in group at left. Henry Jamyn Brooks recorded an exchange between himself and Millais, at around this period:

Once when visiting Sir John Millais in his studio he told me that during the morning he had accidentally knocked over his easel and canvas and nearly killed his sitter who happened to be a little girl; later, in the course of conversation I asked him whether he had seen some pictures which were then on exhibition, he replied that he never went to see pictures. ‘They can’t teach me anything’ he added. After a sitting in my studio, Millais & I passed through the dining room where my second daughter was sitting. ‘Who is that young lady?’ whispered he as we were going through the hall. ‘That is my daughter’ said I ‘What a devilish pretty girl’ he remarked.[1]

See also a bust-length oil portrait of Millais by H.J. Brooks, in a different pose but probably preparatory to NPG 1833, offered to the Gallery in 1961 by R. de Beaumont (offer no.46/61, photograph NPG SB [Millais]).

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

[1] H. J. Brooks, MS headed ‘The Dilettante’, 1914, NPG RP 1833, p.5.

Sir William Quiller Orchardsonback to top

Head-and-shoulders only visible, profile to left, wearing top hat, standing in the background just to the left of Frederic Leighton. For more on Orchardson’s relations with the Royal Academy, see NPG 2820 and NPG 4245.

Dr Jan Marsh

Sir Edward John Poynter, 1st Btback to top

Standing, half-profile to right, bareheaded, in the background shaking hands with Laura Alma-Tadema.In his retrospective account, Brooks recalls that, ‘In order to obtain the right positions I had a photograph taken of Mr E. J. Poynter in my studio shaking hands with my daughter. In the picture I have put Lady Alma-Tadema in her place.’[1]

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

[1] H. J. Brooks, MS headed ‘The Dilettante’, 1914, NPG RP 1833, p.7.

John Ruskinback to top

Whole-length (partly obscured), standing, facing forwards, to the far right, in conversation with {William Holman Hunt}. Ruskin was present at the exhibition on 30 December 1887; on leaving he is said to have had a conversation with {George Frederic Watts} on idealism in art. Pointing to a heap of refuse by a lamp-post, Ruskin shouted, ‘Paint that as it is – that is the truth.’[1]

The section of the painting including Ruskin was reproduced in the Manchester Guardian, 31 July 1945, marking the death of fellow-sitter Margot Tennant (later Countess of Oxford and Asquith).

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

[1] Quoted without citation in Dearden 1999, p.162.

Sir George Scharfback to top

Head-and-shoulders only, profile to right, bare-headed, in the act of taking notes, standing in background directly to the left of Joseph Edgar Boehm. On 12 October 1888 Henry Jamyn Brooks asked Scharf, then Director of the National Portrait Gallery, if he would agree to appear in a painting he was working on, ‘an important picture representing a Private View of the Old Masters Exhibition, at the Royal Academy, introducing portraits of persons well known in the Art World’. [1] Scharf gave his qualified consent, adding ‘I fear that owing to my imperfect health there might be difficulties as to arrangement for my sittings.’ [2]

Brooks invited him to sit in January 1889, and Scharf protested about the inconvenience:

The very great distance of your studio from the centre of London & this terrible weather render my coming out most uncertain. I am suffering from chronic Bronchitis, how much time would you require for a sitting? At this period of the year I am full of engagements. Could you not when in this neighbourhood look in here & sketch my Corpus in your notebook. That being a matter only of clothes would not require any particular matching of colour. When finer weather comes I may perhaps drive out in a cab & keep the cab waiting. But I should greatly prefer your coming round here as I am very busy. & then the matter will be over. Of course I shall be interested to know where you have placed me in your august assembly. [3]

He seems to have gone to the studio for a single sitting on Wednesday, 6 February 1889, not long before the painting was finished. ‘Gloomy damp morning. cold. Ther. 58o.’ he wrote in his diary. ‘Mr Jamyn Brooke 32 Vereker Road between 11 and 12. near the Queen’s Club. The old cabman came for me at 1/4 before 11 & took me to Vereker Road & came again in an hour & waited extra. 7.6. […] Fortunately the light was tolerably good. Mr Brooke took two photographs besides painting on the picture.’ [4] A photograph taken for Brooks by J. Fisher, a local photographer, shows Scharf standing in front of the canvas which is still on the easel. He is in the same pose, head bowed and note-taking, as seen on the canvas behind him. [5]

Scharf expressed no opinion, at least in his diary, on the painting when he saw it at the RA that year. In 1889 he could not have known that Brooks would offer the painting to the Gallery in 1909 and that it would become part of the collection in 1919.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

[1] Letter from H.J. Brooks to G. Scharf, 12 Oct. 1888, NPG RP 1833.
[2] Letter from G. Scharf to H.J. Brooks, 15 Oct. 1888, copyletter NPG, RP 1833.
[3] Letter from G. Scharf to H.J. Brooks, 23 Jan. 1889, copyletter NPG RP 1833.
[4] Sir George Scharf Papers (Personal diary 1889, NPG7/3/1/46, NPG Archive).
[5] See ‘All known portraits, Photographs, 1889’, NPG x22540, NPG x22541, NPG x22542, and NPG Ax13957. Brooks sent copies of the photograph to Scharf on 5 Apr. 1889.

Marcus Clayton Stoneback to top

Standing, wearing top hat, in the background at the right-hand side of the composition, just to the left of William Agnew.

George Frederic Wattsback to top

Half-length, profile to right, third figure from the right. In his written account, Brooks reveals that he was unable to secure a sitting from life with the artist: ‘I believe that with the exception of a small head of Mr Frank Holl R.A. who died about this time, and the head of Mr GF Watts R.A who If I recollect rightly was ill at Brighton, I had one or more life sittings from everyone in the picture.’[1] It is most likely that Brooks used a photograph to create an effective likeness of Watts.

The section of the painting including Watts was reproduced in the Manchester Guardian on 31 July 1945, marking the death of Margot Tennant (later Countess of Oxford and Asquith), who is one of the other figures.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

[1] H. J. Brooks, MS headed ‘The Dilettante’, 1914, NPG RP 1833, p.2.

Henry Tanworth Wellsback to top

Standing, profile to left, in the background to the right-hand side of the composition, to the left of John Ruskin. Wells, a widower since 1861, was accompanied by his daughter Alice Joanna Street (née Wells).