- Extended catalogue entry
© National Portrait Gallery, London
by (George) Herbert Watkins
Albumen print, late 1850s
4 in. x 6 3/4 in. (102 mm x 170 mm)
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This portraitback to top
This portrait dates from the late 1850s, after the sitter came to general and controversial acclaim in London with his painting The Mitherless Bairn (RA 1855), which was hailed as one of the pictures of the season by many critics, but damned as the most commonplace Wilkieism by Ruskin. Despite this, the public recognised the merit of the artist and placed him on the pedestal which he now justly occupies.
Photographer George Herbert Watkins opened his Regent Street studio in 1856, and in 18578 produced a series of photographs of distinguished contemporaries, published in collaboration with Herbert Fry, with printed biographies under the title of National Gallery of Photographic Portraits. Advertisements for these claimed that Watkinss photographs were as remarkable for their agreeable fidelity to nature as for their brilliancy of production and their economy of cost. (See also NPG Album 39, Photographs and Autographs Herbert Frys Picture Gallery.) Faed was not included in the first series, which opened with Lord Palmerston, so his portrait presumably dates from some time after mid-1858. It is mounted in the album NPG P301 compiled by the photographer, entitled Photographs by Herbert Watkins, of which this is no.45 (see also that of Millais, NPG P301(36)).
The (finished and framed) painting on the easel is not easy to identify with any of Faeds well-known works, although several show single female figures in landscape settings with a low horizon. One possibility is the Ayrshire Lassie (RA 1858 (498); untraced), whose date would accord with the presumed date of the photograph.
Faed gloried in his realism and his studio was full of carefully executed studies for his finished pictures, together with authentic props such as the spinning wheel, antler, axe and iron helmet visible in this scene. The spinning wheel features prominently in John Ballantynes portraits of Faed in his studio (see All known portraits, By other artists, 18635) at 1 Cavendish Road, St Johns Wood, where Faed lived and worked from 1856 to 1864.
It seems unlikely that the photograph was taken in Faeds studio, since all Watkinss other photographs were taken at his own premises; moreover, the technical demands of transporting photographic equipment elsewhere were great. In this case, however, the canvases and artists props seem so plainly to relate to Faed that either they were taken to Watkinss studio for the occasion or, very unusually, Watkins diverged from normal practice to photograph Faed in his own working environment. The latter explanation would also account for the unusual horizontal format of the present image; almost all Watkinss other images follow the conventional portrait formats of a head study, half- or whole-length, taken in a photographic studio. If the picture was taken in Faeds studio, it represents an early example of the genre The artist at work.
The album in which the photograph is contained was consigned by Phillip Walker to Christies, 27 June 1985 (169) but failed to reach the reserve price of £2,0003,000. Walker then offered it to the NPG and it was purchased for £1024. Giving what little he knew of the provenance he wrote, I am afraid the album had been through other, antique trade, hands before I acquired it so my information about it is indirect. I was told that it had lain, with many other papers, on the floor of the scullery of a Norfolk farm house hence its very damp condition. The papers were said to have belonged to a Mr Raghan, who had died in his 80s, and who had been in the theatrical world in some capacity. The album remains in a very fragile condition.
Dr Jan Marsh
Footnotesback to top
1) ILN, 28 Feb. 1856, p.176.
2) See, for example, Notes & Queries, 17 July 1858, p.40.
3) MA, 1900, pp.5668.
4) Letter from P. Walker to K.K. Yung, 26 Sept. 1985, NPG RP P301. The sometime owner may have been actor Michael Raghan (b.1892).
Physical descriptionback to top
Whole-length, seated, half-profile to left holding palette and brush in front of easel, apparently in artists studio.
Provenanceback to top
The photographers own album; Christies, 27 June 1985 (169), purchased 1985.
View all known portraits for Thomas Faed