The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Sir George Scharf (1820-1895), Artist and art historian; first Director and later trustee of the National Portrait Gallery

Artist and Director of the National Portrait Gallery; born 16 December 1820, in London, son of the artist George Johann Scharf. Studied at University College School, London, 1830; Royal Academy Schools 1838; visited France, Italy and Greece 1839, as artist to Sir Charles Fellows’s expedition to Turkey 1840; returned to Asia Minor with Fellows 1843; travelled in Europe 1845–7; successful lecturer and illustrator of books including Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome (1847); Fellow of Society of Antiquaries 1852; Secretary (old master paintings), Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester 1857, and same year appointed Secretary to newly formed NPG; Director of NPG 1882–95; CB 1885, KCB 1895; appointed NPG Trustee a few weeks prior to death on 19 April 1895, in Westminster.

Scharf was a draughtsman with a faithful eye, a close observer of objects and settings, a methodical diarist and a tireless compiler of records; his sketchbooks, notebooks, papers and collection of specialist books form the core of the NPG Archive. A full-text searchable catalogue of Scharf’s papers, including scanned images of the material, is available on the Gallery’s website. See also the special feature Archive journeys focusing on his life and work as NPG Director.

His appearance in mid-life was described as follows: ‘Mr Scharf dined with my uncle Henry and myself at the University Club. I found him a very intelligent, well-informed man, nearly bald, slightly gray, wearing spectacles. Mr Scharf is evidently very fond of a joke … no matter how highly coloured (blue).’ [1]

‘Always short and stout, he became stouter and looked shorter as years accumulated upon him.’ [2]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) S.M. Ellis, ed., A Mid-Victorian Pepys: The Letters and Memoirs of Sir William Hardman, London, 1923, p.1 (21 Jan. 1859).
2) Lord Conway of Allington, Episodes in a Varied Life, London, 1932, p.266.

Referencesback to top

Cannadine 2007
Cannadine, D., National Portrait Gallery: A Brief History, London, 2007.

Hill 1970
Hill, M., ed., National Portrait Gallery: Concise Catalogue, 1856–1969, London, 1970.

Hulme, Buchanan & Powell 2000
Hulme, G., B. Buchanan and K. Powell, The National Portrait Gallery: An Architectural History, London, 2000.

Jacomb-Hood 1925
Jacomb-Hood, P., With Brush and Pencil, London, 1925.

Jones et al. 1996
Jones, S., and others, Frederic Leighton 1830–1896, exh. cat., Royal Academy, London, 1996.

Lasdun 1981
Lasdun, S., Victorians at Home, London, 1981.

Noakes 1978
Noakes, A., William Frith: Extraordinary Victorian Painter, London, 1978.

Ormond & Ormond 1975
Ormond, L., and R. Ormond, Lord Leighton, London, 1975.

Potter 1966
Potter, B., The Journal of Beatrix Potter from 1881 to 1897, London and New York, 1966.

Reeve & Walford 1863–7
Reeve, L., and E. Walford, eds, Portraits of Men of Eminence in literature, science and art, with biographical memoirs. The photographs from life, by E. Edwards, 6 vols, London, 1863–7.

Rogers 1989
Rogers, M., Camera Portraits, exh. cat., NPG, London, 1989.

Saumarez Smith 1997
Saumarez Smith, C., National Portrait Gallery, London, 1997.

Simon 1996
Simon, J., The Art of the Picture Frame, exh. cat., NPG, London, 1996.

Slatter c.1994
Slatter, E., Xanthus: Travels of Discovery in Turkey, London, c.1994.

Wheatley 1897
Wheatley, H.B., Historical Portraits: Some Notes on the Painted Portraits of Celebrated Characters of England, Scotland and Ireland, London, 1897.

Who Was Who 1920
Who Was Who, vol.1, A Companion to Who’s Who Containing the Biographies of Those Who Died During the Period 1897–1915, London, 1920.