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Sir Henry Irving

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- set matching 'Drawings by Harry Furniss'

Sir Henry Irving, by Harry Furniss, circa 1869-1870 -NPG 6251(28) - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Henry Irving

by Harry Furniss
pen and black ink, with traces of pencil, circa 1869-1870
13 1/4 in. x 8 7/8 in. (337 mm x 227 mm) overall
NPG 6251(28)


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Inscriptionback to top

Inscr. in black ink lower left: ‘UNCLE DICKS / DARLING / Mr. Chevenix’;
and signed lower right: ‘Hy.F.’
On reverse:
(a) Furniss studio stamp: ‘For publishing 2668’.
(b) NPG ownership stamp, dated 1948, corrected by hand to 1947.

This portraitback to top

Henry Irving is shown in the part of Reginald Chevenix, ‘a cold and pompous man of business, something of a parvenu, and a good deal of a snob’. Hitherto little known to London audiences, young Irving had the lead part in a new comedy by Henry James Byron, Uncle Dick’s Darling, which opened at the Gaiety Theatre on 13 December 1869 and played until the following spring. Charles Dickens was among its admirers– Chevenix clearly owed something to Mr Dombey – and Irving’s immersive preparation for the part was praised; thus ‘his painstaking make-up portrayed what might have been a caricature of Disraeli by Cruikshank’. [1]

Harry Furniss described himself as an ‘ardent playgoer’ and was for many years on the first-night list at London theatres. [2] His caricature of Mr Chevenix, though apparently never published, is important as it appears to be the only extant image of Irving in that early London stage role. Furniss’s register of drawings records a second drawing of Chevenix but this is now untraced. [3]

NPG 6251(28) is a large and freely drawn pen and ink caricature. In it, the artist makes liberal use of the double-pointed pen down Chevenix’s left side (years later he cautioned against too much use of this kind of nib). [4]

See NPG Portrait Set ‘Drawings by Harry Furniss, late 19th–early 20th century’, transferred from the Reference Collection in 1994. See also NPG 6251(29).

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Irving 1951, p.160.
2) ‘[…] with few exceptions [I] witnessed all the more important productions […] I have been such an ardent playgoer that I have actually seen on one night two whole plays.’ Furniss [1919], p.162.
3) See Harry Furniss register of drawings, c.1885–1917, NPG MS116, p.89, nos 2668 [NPG 6251(28)] and 2669.
4) ‘the only [multi-pointed pen] that I think safe to use is the double pointed pen, and this ought to be used very sparingly. […] It is very difficult to get the two points evenly on the paper and, consequently, to make the two lines of equal thickness; so that the draughtsman frequently gets one line so thin that it is lost in reproduction.’ Furniss 1914, p.34.

Physical descriptionback to top

Half length standing to left, right hand on breast, left hand on hip.

Provenanceback to top

The artist; his sons, from whom purchased (through Theodore Cluse), April 1947; transferred to Main Collection, 1994.

View all known portraits for Harry Furniss

View all known portraits for Sir Henry Irving (John Henry Brodribb)