At the Despatch Box: Gladstone in Action

Past display archive
6 September 2016 - 6 August 2017

Room 25: case display


William Ewart Gladstone
by Harry Furniss
NPG 3373

Offering a glimpse of William Gladstone’s legendary performances in parliament, this display focuses on the sketches of the politician made by the artists employed to document parliamentary proceedings for the illustrated press. Considered ‘the greatest political personality of the Victorian era’, Gladstone, who served as Prime Minister on four separate occasions, was renowned for the vehement style of his speeches in the House of Commons. Critics noted the parallels between his great enthusiasm for the leading tragic actors of the day and the theatrical methods he used to skilfully undermine his political opponents while debating in the chamber.

In contrast to the formally posed oil portrait of Gladstone by Millais, also on view in this room, the selected works by the graphic artists, Sydney Prior Hall, Phil May and Harry Furniss, made around the time Gladstone was furiously defending his second Home Rule Bill (1893), provide a more animated view of the man famed for the ever-changing nature of his expression. Notoriously difficult to paint, this display explores the idea raised by Furniss, a leading caricaturist for Punch, that it was the artist-reporters tasked with observing Gladstone on a daily basis who would ultimately leave the truest impression of his forceful personality.

Primary Collection


© National Portrait Gallery, London

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