Sir George Scharf

1 portrait

Sir George Scharf, by Walter William Ouless, 1885 -NPG 985 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Sir George Scharf

by Walter William Ouless
Oil on canvas, 1885
36 3/8 in. x 28 1/4 in. (923 mm x 716 mm) overall
NPG 985


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Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated lower right-hand corner: ‘W W Ouless / 1885.’;
and inscr. lower left-hand corner (on spine of book on table): ‘G.SCHARF. / ÆT SVÆ 65.’
On reverse, stamp: ‘Charles Roberson / 99 Long Acre London’.
Printed label on back of frame (removed 1938, now Primary Collection Associated Items plan chest, NPG Archive) from Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition 1887, inscr.: ‘Artist: W.W. Ouless RA / Title: Portrait of George Scharf Esq / Owner’s name: The Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery / Address: Great George Street London’.

This portraitback to top

‘To begin sitting to Ouless for my portrait at 1.45, 12 Bryanston Square’, wrote Scharf in his diary for 17 January 1885.

Cab to Ouless 1s.6d. Arrived at Ouless’ house. The weather dull & very cold. A large studio at the back. Good high light, gallery round. He placed me in different chairs in various parts of the room, & finally settled me down in a black chair made for Horace Jones. Whilst he sketched me I sketched him [1]. He left off at 4 having dashed in on a Kitcat canvas in oil colours within a rich gold frame a full face view showing both hands with the light coming in from the right side. [2]

The second sitting was on 24 January and Scharf’s pencil record, ‘sketched from my portrait on the easel in Ouliss’s studio. 12 Bryanston Square, 24 January 1885’ shows the final pose already defined. [3]

After this progress was slow, though not for lack of sittings. Scharf noted in his diaries twenty-eight sessions in Ouless’s studio – not counting the ones abandoned due to bad light – in eleven months, often on Saturdays, often lasting all morning. There were sittings on 4, 9 and 10 February; two in March (10 and 12); none in April. He sat to Ouless on 6 and 8 May, 22 June, 1, 2 and 4 July; on 6 July ‘To Ouless I gave my 14th sitting. The head he now considers fairly complete.’ More sittings followed on 31 July and 1 August. On 3 August he noted ‘sent John to Mr Ouless to fetch away my velvet coat & red tie’.

There were no sittings in September and October, then a burst between 3 and 7 November. Scharf’s entry for 9 November reads: ‘22nd sitting to Ouless. Prolonged sitting, sat from 9 till near 1 o’clock. To Colnaghi’s to borrow a miniature for Ouless to introduce in my portrait.’ On 26 November, ‘Ouless came & had away with him a Miniature by Cosway, lent by Colnaghi’s’ (see the miniature on the table to the lower left of the painting).

In December, Scharf looked back over an exhausting year:

This year 1885 has been a year of trouble & anxiety. Extra clothes for Levée (C.B honours) & velveteens for Ouless’ portrait of me. I gave my last sitting the 28th on 16 December. The sudden decision to remove the Gallery from Kensington involved great trouble & a new line of action. Sketching & registering the pictures. Photographs also taken. My neck very troublesome & the head falling forwards. Difficulty in walking, easily get fatigued & suffer from perspiration. […] No leisure for going out of town. My servants very faithful. [4]

The final sitting, after visits to the studio on 5 and 7 December, took place on Scharf’s birthday, 16 December 1885. [6] His diary entry records a ‘Beautiful bright day, with slight mist. My 65th Birthday. I was born at 3 St Martin’s Lane, 1820. on the site of what is now Morley’s Hotel. About 3 in the morning. To Ouless my 28th and final sitting […] Hot supper at 9 o’clock rather too late. Lively party. Mulligatawny, Turbot, Pork cutlets & tomatoes, Mutton Pheasant. Plum pudding, Lemon pudding, Eggs & anchovies, Brown almonds. Claret cup in Silver jug’. [7]

NPG 985 is the only extant oil portrait of Scharf. It records his appearance as Director in the 1880s, after he had put on weight and grown a beard – a very different figure to the lanky bespectacled Secretary of the 1850s–60s. The right arm rests on a broad belly, the result of rich meals as described above; he routinely enjoyed two breakfasts and needed daily supplies of ‘Hyde Seltzers’ and ‘digestive tablets’. 6) The searching expression, pencil poised over notebook, the large sheet of tracing paper on the desk, the portrait miniature and pile of books all contribute to a lifelike and fitting public memorial. [8]

In the 1880s and 1890s Walter William Ouless was the artist of choice for male presentation portraits. He had a busy practice, specializing in personalities at the height of their professions – lawyers, bishops and administrators – and could be slow to complete commissions. [9] He was a natural choice for the Scharf portrait committee, having painted Earl Stanhope, the first chairman of the NPG Trustees, in 1875. Ouless’s portrait of Scharf was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in May 1886 (233); Scharf noted laconically, ‘Private view Royal Academy. Cabs 5s. To the Academy & saw my own portrait in a good position in the large room.’ [10] The Times had advertised the forthcoming exhibition: ‘Mr. Ouless, among several others, will exhibit the portrait of Mr. Scharf, which, we are glad to hear, is destined for the National Portrait Gallery, which he directs so well.’ [11]

The portrait was first published in an article on Scharf in the Art Journal in 1891. The journalist, J.F. Boyes, concluded:

In 1884 a fitting compliment was paid to Mr Scharf. A number of his friends subscribed to have a permanent record of his life and work placed in the scene of his exertions. His portrait was painted by Mr. Ouless, and was shown in the exhibition of the Royal Academy the following year. […] By special permission of the Trustees, for which we return our sincere acknowledgments, we have the pleasure of reproducing this portrait which, so far as we are aware, has never been published before. [12]

In fact the painting had been already photographed for reproduction (cabinet card and larger sizes) by Henry Dixon & Son in 1889. Scharf received photographs in June and November 1889. [13] A gummed label was produced for these reproductions, replicating the words on the label on the painting’s Watts-style frame: ‘Presented to the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery, by his many Friends, in testimony of their appreciation of his eminent public services in connection with the formation and administration of the National Portrait Gallery’. For the list of these 116 subscribers (‘intimate friends’ and ‘eminent public men’), see NPG RP 985. The fee paid to Ouless is not disclosed.

The presentation was recorded in the Minutes of the Trustee Meetings, 24 March and 10 June 1886, though not in that year’s Annual Report.[14] Accepting the ‘very valuable donation’ the chairman Lord Hardinge responded: ‘The portrait which is a most excellent specimen of Mr Ouless’s acknowledged skill, will be placed in the Board Room; and we trust many years may elapse before it is finally transferred to the Gallery, where the portraits of our great worthies are permanently hung.’ [15] In 1892 the portrait hung in the Gallery offices in Great George Street ‘awaiting, no doubt, an honourable position in the new gallery, now rising opposite St Martin’s Place’ .[16]

Scharf died on 19 April 1895. The gift of the Ouless painting was noticed in that year’s Annual Report together with a glowing biographical tribute and mention of the Scharf Bequest. Unsurprisingly, the Trustees agreed to waive the Ten-Year Rule, and the Ouless portrait entered the Collection without delay. It was minuted that ‘at their meeting on 27th June 1895 it was resolved unanimously by the Trustees that the portrait of Sir George Scharf should now be incorporated in the general collection, as a mark of honour and respect to their deceased friend and colleague’.

According to the Register of applications to copy portraits, NPG 77/5, three artists applied to copy or study NPG 985 in the period 1896–1954: A. Harold Brown, working 10–26 February 1903; Mabel B. Messer, working 17 April–4 June 1907; and M. Rainer, for one day only, 4 November 1920.

The frame was cleaned and regilded and backlined, August 1889 and October 1895, by Francis Draper. [17]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) See Scharf sketchbook 108 (NPG7/3/4/2/123, p.31, NPG Archive).
2) Sir George Scharf Papers (Personal diary 1885, NPG7/3/1/42, NPG Archive). For Scharf’s sketches of Ouless see Sir George Scharf Papers (Sketchbook 111, pp.33, 34, 45, NPG7/3/4/2/126, NPG Archive).
3) Sir George Scharf Papers (Sketchbook 111, p.45, NPG7/3/4/126, NPG Archive).
4) Sir George Scharf Papers (Personal diary 1885, NPG7/3/1/42, NPG Archive).
[5] The portrait was officially declared finished in March 1886; see Minutes of NPG Trustee Meetings, vol.4, p.142.
6) Sir George Scharf Papers (Personal diary 1885, NPG7/3/1/42, NPG Archive).
7) Another such feast is described on 28 Jan. 1885: ‘Cab to Ouless at 9.30. Went on the wrong day. […] Yesterday’s dinner of six very successful. Oysters. Caviare. clear soup. stewed Pigeons. Calf’s head. rolled Haunch of Venison. Canary pudding. Creams. Apple Charlotte. Anchovy eggs. Grapes Bananas Tangerine Oranges with rosy apples. My silver loving cup was placed on the table, we had Claret cup mixed in the Champagne decanter. Dillon stayed till past 1 o’clock.’ Sir George Scharf Papers (Personal diary 1885, NPG7/3/1/42, NPG Archive). For a vivid description of Scharf’s Sunday supper parties see Lord Conway, Episodes in a Varied Life, London, 1932, pp.265–6.
8) In 1855 Scharf adopted a particular type of sketchbook (format 100 x 150mm) which he used exclusively until the 1890s. These ‘Metallic Books’ (manufactured by Henry Penny and later A. Cowan & Sons, and Harwood’s) advertised permanent marking: ‘The writing on these Books warranted secure from erasure when written with the accompanying Pencil.’ The sketchbooks are bound in black or red leather and stamped with Scharf’s initials and the volume number; the pencils are missing. He described them as a ‘series of portable books, duly numbered and paged’.
9) ‘Mr Ouless is an extraordinarily slow painter. Mr Bright [John Bright, see NPG 817] gave him seventeen sittings of three hours each. He has been painting Mrs Bruce for the last three years.’ Beatrix Potter, 22 Feb. 1884; Potter 1966, p. 67. ‘Walter Ouless, who had brought with him from his native Channel Island a love of the sea, would be taken for a sailor rather than a painter; a straightforward simplicity and hatred of affectation and of cant were qualities which helped to endear him to me, added to a kindly cheeriness and good nature.’ Jacomb-Hood 1925, p.314.
[10] Sir George Scharf Papers (Personal diary 1886, NPG7/3/1/43, NPG Archive).
11) The Times, 1 Apr. 1886.
12) J.F. Boyes, ‘The Chiefs of our National Museums: No.6. The National Portrait Gallery’, AJ, vol.43, 1891, pp.297–9.
13) Henry Dixon & Son, 112 Albany St, London NW. Envelope of photographs ‘received 27 June 1889’, Sir George Scharf Papers, Muniments, NPG Archive; seven large photographic prints, NPG Archive Collection (Large Portfolios), one marked ‘received 1 November 1889’, D40566, D40567, D40568, D40569, D40570, D40571 and D40572 and two prints in NPG SB (Scharf). A further copy of the large print, and one in cabinet card format, is in NPG SB (Scharf); and a further cabinet card NPG Ax134834.
14) See Minutes of Trustee Meetings, vol.4, pp.141–7, NPG Archive.
15) Minutes of Trustee Meetings, vol.4, p.143, Viscount Hardinge to Edward Stanhope (Subscribers Committee).
16) ‘Celebrities at Home: Mr George Scharf’, The World, 28 Sept. 1892, p.11.
17) See NPG RP 985.

Physical descriptionback to top

Half-length, seated, looking directly ahead, sketchbook in left hand, arm resting on chair arm, pencil in right hand, wearing velvet suit with red tie.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1988; 2005.

Provenanceback to top

Gift from a number of friends, 1886.

Exhibitionsback to top

Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, 1886 (233).

Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition, 1887 (cat. no. not known).

Sir George Scharf, 1820-1895, NPG, London, 2006 (no catalogue).

Reproductionsback to top

Art Journal, 1891, p.297.

Magazine of Art, 1895, p.279.

Wheatley 1897, p.132.

View all known portraits for Sir George Scharf