Harry Furniss

1 portrait

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Harry Furniss

by Harry Furniss
Pen and brush and ink, circa 1890
10 1/2 in. x 8 in. (266 mm x 204 mm)
NPG 3039

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This portraitback to top

In addition to his career as a prolific cartoonist and illustrator, Furniss was a popular public speaker around Britain and in the English-speaking world. His two main themes were ‘Art and Artists’, focusing on the Royal Academy, and ‘The Humours of Parliament’, on political personages; both were satirically performative, including parodic impersonations of his subjects. His irreverent approach also informed the lecture on ‘Portraiture Past and Present’, which attacked the conventional examples in the NPG, saying that ‘a truthful thumbnail sketch was worth acres of lying canvas and tons of untruthful statuary’.[1]

Always a nimble self-caricaturist, Furniss often aptly dramatized his own activities. Here he shows himself more soberly, standing at a lectern, with notes and oxyhydrogen slide lantern. ‘The dress suit and regulation white tie are essential to those who appear in public upon the platform,’ he wrote in his memoirs, which relate comic accounts of mishaps while lecturing, contain several images of his performances,[2] and end with the observation that, although in life he was short and rotund, when solo on stage he appeared six feet tall – as is suggested here.[3]

NPG 3039 previously belonged to art historian Marion Harry Spielmann, a friend and admirer of Furniss, whom he described as ‘indefatigable and unconventional, as much a journalist as an artist’,[4] and for whose memorial exhibition he wrote a foreword.[5] See also Furniss’s caricature of Spielmann (NPG 3516).

For more information on Furniss and his work, see NPG collection 3337–3535, 3554–3620.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) The Times, 4 Oct. 1888. Later, Furniss claimed that this attack on the ‘miserable condition’ of the NPG resulted in changes to make the institution ‘more worthy of the country’ (Furniss 1901, vol.2, p.192).
2) See, for example, Furniss 1901, vol.2, pp.112 and 162.
3) Furniss 1901, vol.2, chap.xi; see also ‘Further Platform Confessions’ in Furnisss 1904, chap.v.
4) Spielmann 1895a, p.553.
5) Harry Furniss, FAS, London, 1925.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length, standing, full-face, right hand on hip, left hand on lectern, wearing formal dress.

Provenanceback to top

M.H. Spielmann, by whom given 1939.

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