John Acton, 1st Baron Acton
John Acton, 1st Baron Acton
by Franz Seraph von Lenbach
oil on mahogany panel, circa 1879
25 1/2 in. x 20 1/2 in. (648 mm x 521 mm)
Sitterback to top
- John Acton, 1st Baron Acton (1834-1902), Historian and moralist. Sitter in 3 portraits.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Foister, Susan, Cardinal Newman 1801-90, 1990 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 2 March - 20 May 1990), p. 71 Read entry
A Roman Catholic by birth, schooled at Oscott by Dr (later Cardinal) Wiseman, the historian Acton succeeded Newman in 1859 as editor of the monthly periodical The Rambler. Many of Acton's early historical writings were first published in this form.
Acton, unlike Newman, was a liberal, whose ideas had been moulded by six years study in Munich under the theologian Johan von Döllinger. Acton met with official Catholic disapproval of his writings more than once during the 1860s, and argued strongly against the definition of papal infallibility promulgated by the Vatican Council of 1870. Döllinger was excommunicated in 1871, together with other Catholic professors, for his resistance to the definition. Acton was a great friend of Gladstone but tried to stop him from publishing his first pamphlet against the decrees, written after a visit to Döllinger. Acton and Döllinger corrected the proofs of Gladstone's second pamphlet, which prompted Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk. Acton expected excommunication himself, but it did not come. He found the controversy died down. Acton devoted the rest of his life to historical writing, and in 1895 was made Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge.
The portrait is one of two similar half-lengths (the other is signed and dated 1879); it is unclear whether they were painted with a formal commission in mind.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 3
Events of 1879back to top
Current affairsWomen's education continues to grow, with the founding of women's colleges in Oxford. Somerville College took its name from the late Scottish scientific writer Mary Somerville. Lady Margaret Hall was founded by Elizabeth Wordsworth, great niece of the poet, and named after Margaret Beaufort, a medieval noblewoman and mother of Henry VII.
Art and scienceEdison invents the first practical electric light bulb.
The first prehistoric paintings, dating back 14,000 years, are discovered in the Altamira caves in Northern Spain when a young girl notices paintings of bison on the ceilings.
The French actress Sarah Bernhardt, already acclaimed for roles in plays such as Racine's Phèdre and Victor Hugo's Hernani, celebrates a successful season at London's Gaiety Theatre.
InternationalAnglo-Zulu war fought between British forces and the Zulus, after disputes between the Boers and Zulu leader Cetshywayo over the Utrecht border attracted British intervention. The British victory marked the end of the independent Zulu nation, although the Zulu's initial victory at Isandhlwana was a major surprise. The Battle of Rorke's Drift was dramatised in the film Zulu, starring Michael Caine, in 1964.
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