Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield
Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield
by Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt
oil on canvas, 1881
50 1/4 in. x 36 5/8 in. (1276 mm x 931 mm)
Given by William Henry Smith, 3rd Viscount Hambleden, 1945
Sitterback to top
- Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881), Prime Minister and novelist; Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Sitter associated with 110 portraits.
Artistback to top
- Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt (1829-1896), Painter and President of the Royal Academy; ex-officio Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Artist associated with 41 portraits, Sitter in 76 portraits.
This portraitback to top
This portrait of the great Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is the quintessence of Victorian portraiture: concentrating on the essentials of facial expression, dignifying the sitter and indicating his contribution to politics and national life. Originally Lord Ronald Gower had wanted Disraeli to sit to Millais, so that the portrait could be acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. In 1881, Millais wrote to Disraeli pleading, 'I know that sitting to an Artist is attended with great inconvenience to Every public man, but I do hope you will allow me to make a portrait of your Lordship.' Disraeli replied, 'I am a very bad sitter, but will not easily forego my chance of being known to posterity by your illustrious pencil.' Millais was prevented from receiving more than three sittings, however, by Disraeli's fatal illness. Nevertheless, the portrait was finished and, at the request of the Queen, sent in late to the Royal Academy where it was displayed on a special screen.
Related worksback to top
Linked publicationsback to top
- Audio Guide
- Smartify image discovery app
- Victorian Portraits Resource Pack, p. 35
- Funnell, Peter, Victorian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 35
- Funnell, Peter; Warner, Malcolm, Millais: Portraits, 1999 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 19 February to 6 June 1999), p. 151
- Hulme, Graham; Buchanan, Brian; Powell, Kenneth, The National Portrait Gallery: An Architectural History, 2000, p. 16
- Parris, Matthew, Heroes and Villains: Scarfe at the National Portrait Gallery, 2003 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 30 September 2003 to 4 April 2004), p. 25
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 148
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 148 Read entry
This portrait of the great Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is the quintessence of Victorian portraiture; concentrating on the essentials of facial expression, dignifying the sitter and indicating his contribution to politics and national life. Originally Lord Ronald Gower had wanted Disraeli to sit to Millais, so that the portrait could be acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. In 1881 Millais wrote to Disraeli pleading, 'I know that sitting to an Artist is attended with great inconvenience to Every public man, but I do hope you will allow me to make a portrait of your Lordship.' Disraeli replied, 'I am a very bad sitter, but will not easily forego my chance of being known to posterity by your illustrious pencil.' At the time of Disraeli's death, the portrait was unfinished and was completed at Queen Victoria's request; but after being exhibited at the Royal Academy, it was acquired not by the Portrait Gallery, but by the Fine Art Society, for 1,400 guineas. The Society sold it to the politican and bookseller the Rt. Hon. W.H. Smith, who wanted to acquire portraits of his cabinet colleagues, and it was his descendants who ultimately gave the work to the Gallery in 1945.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 40
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 161 Read entry
In a remarkable career Benjamin Disraeli transformed himself from romantic literary prodigy to one of the greatest statesmen of the age. By gradually asserting his influence on the Tory party, he became Prime Minister in 1868. He guided through the Second Reform Bill while his diplomatic triumphs included the purchase of the Suez Canal and the Congress of Berlin.
This portrait by John Everett Millais (1829–96) appears to have been conceived as a pendant to that of Disraeli’s adversary, William Ewart Gladstone. Lord Ronald Gower had lobbied Disraeli to sit for Millais at a meeting of the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery in May 1879, while the Gladstone portrait was on display at the Royal Academy. In the end, sittings did not take place until March 1881, after Disraeli’s crushing defeat by Gladstone in the 1880 general election and when Disraeli was fatally ill. The portrait was left unfinished at his death on 19 April 1881. Queen Victoria commanded that it be shown at the forthcoming Royal Academy exhibition. Millais apparently left the face as it was but worked on the background and frock coat. It was exhibited on a special screen draped with black crêpe.
Events of 1881back to top
Current affairsBenjamin Disraeli dies of bronchitis. He refuses a state funeral and is buried next to his wife, Mary Ann Viscountess Beaconsfield.
Gladstone's Irish Land Act is passed in a bid to stop violence carried out by the republican Land League, conducted in protest at the 1870 Land Act.
Henry Mayers Hyndman forms the Marxist Democratic Federation.
Art and scienceThe Natural History Museum is opened on Exhibition Road, South Kensington. The museum, a landmark gothic design by the architect Alfred Waterhouse, was built to house specimens from the natural sciences, previously in the British Museum's collection. Today, the museum comprises of over 70 million items, and is a world-renowned research centre.
InternationalAlexander II is assassinated in a bomb attack by members of a left-wing revolutionary movement. He was succeeded by his son, Tsar Alexander III.
US President James Garfield is shot by Charles Guiteau.
The first Anglo-Boer war ends. The war is started by a Boer uprising, as the British had annexed the Transvaal in 1877. Following Britain's defeat at the Battle of Majuba Hill, a truce is signed giving the Boers self-government and later independence.
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