Scharf was an expert researcher. The methods he developed for authenticating portraits are still in use today. These were based on careful study of the sitter, artistic technique, costume, attributes and insignia. They also included cross-referencing and comparing different portraits of the same sitter. His pattern of research work also helped develop a professional framework for curatorship in the nineteenth century.
Alongside his responsibilities as Director of the Gallery, Scharf also worked in a private capacity on various external projects. He was directly involved in some of the most significant exhibitions of the Victorian period. These included in particular the Crystal Palace exhibition at Sydenham in 1854 and The Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester in 1857, at the time the largest temporary art exhibition in Britain. Scharf also compiled scholarly catalogues for the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection and other private collections (notably Woburn; Knowsley; and Blenheim). Scharf was meticulous in his research. The records relating to these activities are extensive, and often provide valuable provenance information.
George Scharf was also an active member of the Society of Antiquaries contributing seventeen papers to the Society Journal ‘Archaeologia’. He intended, as his great work, to publish a book on the portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots. Unfortunately Scharf died before this could be completed but he left behind ten volumes of bound, preparatory material. The work was eventually published by his successor at the Gallery, Lionel Cust.
He bequeathed to the Gallery the records of his research - in the form of sketchbooks, notebooks, papers and a library, this material representing (in the words of the Trustees at the time) ‘a complete record of Sir George Scharf’s unflagging industry to the cause to which he devoted his life’.
Sir George Scharf
by A.S. Langdon
Page from Trustees Sketchbook 30, notes illustrating portrait authentication
Portrait of Robert, 2nd Earl of Northington