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Matthew Arnold

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Matthew Arnold

by George Frederic Watts
oil on canvas, 1880
26 in. x 20 1/2 in. (660 mm x 521 mm)
Given by George Frederic Watts, 1895
Primary Collection
NPG 1000


This classic Watts frame, named after the art…

Sitterback to top

  • Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), Poet, writer and inspector of schools. Sitter in 18 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), Painter and sculptor; Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Artist associated with 92 portraits, Sitter in 43 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Mrs Arnold records how Arnold and Watts had become close 'through the intercourse held during quiet hours, whilst Signor painted and Matthew Arnold sat for his portrait'. In a letter to Watts of 18 August, 1885, Arnold wrote of him as the 'highest and single-minded artist' he knew.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Funnell, Peter; Warner, Malcolm, Millais: Portraits, 1999 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 19 February to 6 June 1999), p. 28
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 18
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 74, 173 Read entry

    Gilt compo on pine, standard Watts frame construction with the flat central frieze section fitted by nails to the inner and outer mouldings, the outer section mitred, the frieze of veneered oak on pine with butt joints, the gilding directly onto oak prepared with a warm-toned size. 6 1⁄ 4 inches wide. With the label printed in red including the image of a vase with plant and two birds, and the royal coat of arms: W.A. Smith,/Carver and Gilder,/Printseller & Publisher,/Restorer of Works of Art,/20-22, MORTIMER ST.,/REGENT ST., LONDON, W.,/AND AT/VICTORIA ST. NOTTINGHAM.

    This classic Watts frame with gilding applied directly onto the oak, in the manner commended by Charles Eastlake, is found on all the Watts portraits in his 'Hall of Fame', his series of portraits of his illustrious contemporaries, some forty of which he gave to the National Portrait Gallery. The artist used the style for most of his other works. Watts used Joseph Green for framing his early work and stayed with Green's successor, William Augustine Smith, when the business changed hands in the early 1870s.1 This portrait of Matthew Arnold bears Smith's distinctive framemaker's label. Watts was in the habit of using the nearest frame to hand so that the Arnold frame is not necessarily that in which the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881. When Watts gave the 'Hall of Fame' pictures to the National Portrait Gallery in 1895, he told the Director, Sir Lionel Cust, 'you will do what seems best about the frames ... If you do change the frames of any I should like the inappropriate frames back'. The Gallery, however, kept Watts's frames and had two Watts pattern frames made by Francis Draper for the portraits of Tennyson and Sir Henry Taylor, which had come in plain wooden frames.2

    1 Smith was described by Watts's widow in 1912 as 'The head of the firm of carvers and gilders ... who gave Signor [i.e. Watts] service for sixty years' (George Frederic Watts, vol.I, 1912, p 329) and by George Williamson in 1898 as 'a somewhat illiterate maw ... in the Masters confidence' (letter to Spielmann, 11 February 1898, Watts Gallery Archive; I am grateful to Richard Jefferies for providing a copy). The business became Smith & Uppard in 1889 and was acquired by James Bourlet & Sons in 1899. Subsequently E. J. Uppard appears to have traded separately; Watts's Three Heads (Fitzwilhiam Museum, no.1761) bears Uppard's label, with the date 1906. Watts also used a framemaker by the name of Lamm who is mentioned in his correspondence in 1899 and 1903.

    2 National Portrait Gallery, Press Copy Book, no.1, p 282, letter of 6 December 1895.

Subjects & Themesback to top

Events of 1880back to top

Current affairs

The Liberals defeat the Conservatives, and Gladstone becomes Prime Minister for the second time, taking over from Disraeli, who retires from politics.
The MP for Northampton and atheist Charles Bradlaugh, refuses to swear on the Bible and so forfeits his right to take his seat. Despite having the support of Gladstone and J.S Mill, it takes six years before he can take his seat, after which he pushes through a new Oaths Act (1888).

Art and science

Thomas Huxley delivers his address 'Science and Culture' at the opening of Josiah Mason's science college in Birmingham (published the following year). Huxley argues that the study of modern literature, combined with knowledge of science, should be promoted in education above classical literature, echoing the claim made by the poet and critic Matthew Arnold. Huxley, an early advocate of 'Darwinism', did much to popularise evolutionary theory.


Buenos Aires finally becomes the permanent capital of Argentina, following sixty years of political debates around the issue. The city was federalised, politically separated from the Buenos Aires Province, and placed under direct control of the national government.
Despite allegations of vote buying, Cecil Rhodes is elected member of parliament for Barkly West in the Cape Colony, marking the start of his political career in South Africa.

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