Room 25: Portraits and Politics
See the portraits currently on display in Room 25 here
Portraits of politicians reveal much about how the Victorians regarded their great public figures and record political allegiances between the sitter and those who commissioned the paintings. For Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, portraiture served as a way of permanently honouring those with whom he had worked most closely during his political career. Between 1841 and 1846, he commissioned a number of portraits of his political associates and built a gallery for their display at his country house, Drayton Manor. Some of these works now hang outside this room in the central corridor which is itself intended to evoke the idea of a formal ‘statesmen’s gallery’.
Sargent’s great portrait of the statesman and Prime Minister, Arthur James Balfour painted in 1908, captures both the seasoned and astute politician and the aesthete and philosopher. In spite of its grandeur, the portrait also evoked for contemporaries something of the political pessimism of the times. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: ‘in its presence we feel the sober truths about the English governing class, its wide and ruinous scepticism... the tones of the picture are grave with grey and silver, as of the end of a day not wholly either of failure or victory’.