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Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Sir (William Matthew) Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), Archaeologist

Egyptologist and archaeologist; born 3 June 1853 in south-east London, grandson of navigator Matthew Flinders. Educated at home; first visit to Egypt to measure pyramids 1880–82; worked with Egyptian Exploration Fund and Palestine Exploration Fund on excavations in Near East 1880s and 1890s; Professor of Egyptology at University College London 1892–1933 and continued annual digs until 1939; elected to Royal Society 1902, British Academy 1904; established British School of Archaeology in Egypt 1906; knighted 1923; also received numerous honorary degrees; died 29 July 1942 in Jerusalem.

In his early career he was supported by Amelia Edwards, who nominated him for the chair she endowed at UCL, where he also created a study collection now housed in the Petrie Museum. Colleagues included Margaret Murray. Petrie’s major contributions to the study of pre-history were the science of stratification and publications on both methodology and specific sites.

A driven man, who claimed that ‘mental overwork is a necessity to me’,[1] Petrie was known for his spartan habits, stubborn views and impatient manner; he was described as ‘a zealous uncompromising pioneer, a man of brilliant insight and wayward energy, fierce with opponents, but extraordinarily kind to anyone willing to learn from him’.[2] One of his last students remembered ‘twinkling eyes, an unexpectedly high, light voice, bushy eyebrows and a patriarchal white beard’. He was said to judge assistants by frugality of appetite and ability to run up stairs.[3]

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Letter from Petrie to his father, quoted Drower 1985, p.207.
2) J.L. Myers, Man, vol.43, 1943, p.21.
3) Drower 1985, pp.392–3.

Referencesback to top

Bronkhurst 2006
Bronkhurst, J.E., William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné, 2 vols, New Haven and London, 2006.

Clifford 1969
Clifford, D., The Paintings of P. A. de Laszlo, London, 1969.

Dawson & Uphill 1995
Dawson, W.R., and E.P. Uphill, Who Was Who in Egyptology, 3rd rev. ed. by M.L. Bierbrier, London, 1995.

Drower 1985
Drower, M.S., Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology, London, 1985.

Drower 1995;
Drower, M.S., Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology, London, new ed. 1995.

Drower 2004a
Drower, M.S., Letters from the Desert: The Correspondence of Flinders and Hilda Petrie, Warminster, Wilts., 2004.

Drower 2004b
Drower, M.S., ‘Petrie, Sir (William Matthew) Flinders (1853–1942)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004.

Harte & North 2004
Harte, N., and J. North, The World of UCL, 1828–2004, 3rd ed., London, 2004.

Moon 2006
Moon, B., More Usefully Employed: Amelia B. Edwards, Writer, Traveller and Campaigner for Ancient Egypt, London, 2006.

O’Connor 2009
O’Connor, D.B., Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris, London, 2009.

PCF (Slade and UCL) 2005
Public Catalogue Foundation, Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in London: The Slade School of Fine Art and University College London Art Collections, London, 2005.

Petrie 1931
Petrie, W.M.F., Seventy Years in Archaeology, London, 1931.

Reeves & Taylor 1993
Reeves, C.N., and J.H. Taylor, eds., Howard Carter before Tutankhamun, New York, 1993.

Rutter 1939
Rutter, O., Portrait of a Painter, London, 1939.

Spencer 2007
Spencer, P., ed., The Egypt Exploration Society: The Early Years, London, 2007.

Strong 1991
Strong, R., intro., The British Portrait 1660–1960, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1991.

Wilson 1902
Wilson, W.L., ed., The Imperial Gallery of Portraiture and Biographical Encyclopaedia, London, 1902.