A mansion in leafy Buckinghamshire is an odd place to find portraits of Florence Nightingale, since for much of her life after the Crimean War she was too ill to leave London. But by the 1880s she was sufficiently recovered to visit (with cats) her older sister Parthenope Verney at Claydon House. In the Rococo and Gothic glory of that house Florence had her own suite, and the privacy to work and to write.
Parthenope’s sketchbooks can be viewed in the Claydon House Trust Archives, Verney Family side of the house. She had always doted on her sister, as can be seen in early sketches: Florence with a long neck and perfect Grecian features sipping tea, scolding her pet owl, playing the piano, reading, sewing or just staring into space. Unfortunately, when Florence returned from the Crimea in 1856 ill and with jangled nerves, Parthenope’s overbearing anxiety contributed to driving Florence to the seclusion of a London hotel.
On the National Trust side of Claydon House, in a cabinet in the Museum Room, there is a photograph of Florence taken c.1856-57. It shows her without the usual lacy cap, a tall gaunt figure with straggly hair – cut off, as she explained to Queen Victoria, to avoid the soldiers’ head lice. This shocking image, rather like a police mug shot, was probably done as a private record for the family, and never intended for publication. It also features on a panel at the Florence Nightingale Museum, London, which is of course the starting point for any research. There are also 35 images of Nightingale at the National Portrait Gallery.
I visited Claydon House while researching Medical Pioneers for the Later Victorian Portraits catalogue, see https://www.npg.org.uk/research/programmes/late-victorian-catalogue.php.
By Carol Blackett-Ord, Later Victorian Portraits catalogue researcher