The House of Commons, 1833

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© National Portrait Gallery, London

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The House of Commons, 1833

by Sir George Hayter
oil on canvas, 1833-1843
136 1/4 in. x 213 3/8 in. (3460 mm x 5420 mm) overall
Given by H.M. Government, 1858
Primary Collection
NPG 54

On display in Room 12 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Artistback to top

  • Sir George Hayter (1792-1871), Portrait and history painter; son of Charles Hayter. Artist or producer associated with 198 portraits, Sitter associated with 16 portraits.

Sittersback to top

This portraitback to top

This picture commemorates the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832. It depicts the first session of the new House of Commons on 5 February 1833 held in St Stephen's Chapel which was destroyed by fire in 1834. The largely Whig campaign for electoral reform had begun in the mid-eighteenth century and by 1832 it had proved unstoppable, following widespread agitation and economic distress. The Reform Act extended the vote to a larger number of men according to their rate-paying or property ownership. It also redistributed representation more fairly and new boroughs were created so that some new industrial centres had MPs for the first time. The picture includes some 375 figures and although Hayter abandoned the idea of depicting all 658 Member of the reformed Commons he maintained the relative proportions of the parties. In the foreground, he has grouped the leading statesmen from the Lords; Grey (1764-1845), Melbourne (1779-1848) and the Whigs on the left and Wellington (1769-1852) and the Tories on the right. Painted without a commission it took Hayter ten years to complete and another fifteen to sell. Paradoxically, it was the Tories who finally agreed to purchase it, in 1858, for the recently founded National Portrait Gallery.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 2510: John Campbell, 2nd Marquess of Breadalbane (study)
  • NPG 4658: Edward John Littleton, 1st Baron Hatherton (study)
  • NPG 1103: Sir George Hayter (includes the portrait)
  • NPG 5580: Charles Wood, 1st Viscount Halifax (study)
  • NPG 4968: Sir Robert Harry Inglis, 2nd Bt (study)
  • NPG 4342: William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (study)
  • NPG 1257: Francis Thornhill Baring, 1st Baron Northbrook (study)
  • NPG 4582: Daniel O'Connell (study)
  • NPG 4336: Philip Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope (study)
  • NPG 3073: Sketch of the Interior of the House of Commons (study)
  • NPG 2511: Sir George Elliot (study)

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Events of 1833back to top

Current affairs

Shaftesbury's Factory Act is passed regulating women's hours and providing for the education of children working in the textile industry.
Bank Act is passed, making Bank of England notes Britain's legal tender.

Art and science

Charles Lamb publishes Last Essays of Elia after the enormous success of his earlier Essays. A comic allegorization of his humdrum clerical job they become one of the period's literary sensations.
Charles Dickens begins his series Sketches by Boz in the Monthly Magazine.


Abolition of slavery in the British Empire; 780,000 slaves are freed, £20 million is allocated as compensation for slave owners and a six year apprenticeship system for freed slaves is established.

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