Dinner at Haddo House, 1884

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Dinner at Haddo House, 1884

by Alfred Edward Emslie
oil on canvas, 1884
14 1/4 in. x 22 3/4 in. (362 mm x 578 mm)
Given by Lady Marjorie Adeline Sinclair Pentland (née Gordon), 1953
Primary Collection
NPG 3845

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This portraitback to top

This picture shows a scene in the dining-room of the Scottish home of the Earl and Countess of Aberdeen. Prominent among the guests at the end of the table, and to the right of Lady Aberdeen, is the veteran statesman and then Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, who was on a tour of Scotland. To the left of Lady Aberdeen is Lord Rosebery, who succeeded Gladstone as Prime Minister. Other guests include Mrs Gladstone and Lady Rosebery, Professor Henry Drummond, the Earl and Countess of Elgin, Robert Farquharson MP, and G.W. Smalley. It was a custom at Haddo for guests to be regaled with bagpipe music, the piper seen here was Andrew Cant. The picture not only records an important occasion, but is a charming view of social life in the mid-1880s.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Victorian Portraits Resource Pack, p. 33
  • Funnell, Peter, Victorian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 33
  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 99
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 154
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 154 Read entry

    One of the most atmospheric of the group portraits in the Gallery's collection is this record of a dinner party of Liberal grandees at Haddo House in Aberdeenshire. In 1884, according to We Twa, the reminiscences of Lord and Lady Aberdeen, 'a long-cherished desire was fulfilled, when Mr and Mrs Gladstone agreed to include Haddo House in the programme of their autumn visit to Scotland, thus revisiting a house full of associations for Mr Gladstone connected with his friend and Chief of early days of his political career'. Alfred Emslie was obviously asked to commemorate the event, although he is said to have had no canvas with him, so took down an old picture and painted this one on top. It shows Lady Aberdeen seated at the head of the table with her back to the artist and in conversation with Gladstone to her right. On her left is Lord Rosebery, who looks totally indifferent to the conversation of his neighbour, Lady Harriet Lindsay.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 719

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Current affairs

The Third Reform Act further reduces the financial threshold for voters, extending the franchise to all householders in the counties, achieving uniformity with those in the boroughs, and effectively doubling the electorate from 2.5 million to just under 5 million.
Foundation of the socialist group, the Fabian Society. The group quickly grows in size, including members Eleanor Marx, George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice Webb.

Art and science

Under the editorship of James Murray, the Oxford English Dictionary begins publication, with the tenth and final volume appearing 1928. The idea for a historical dictionary of the English language had been conceived by members of the Philological Society in 1857, including Frederick Furnivall, and some 800 voluntary readers contributed to the immense project.


Germany annexes Southwest Africa, Togoland, the Cameroons, and Tanganyike, and launches the scramble for Africa as it becomes the third largest colonial power in the continent. Bismarck also invites the European powers to a West Africa conference in Berlin, which, carving up the map of Africa between them, regulates colonial practice, frees trade and prohibits slavery, formally marking the start of the New Imperialism which would flourish until World War I.

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