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Isabella Beeton (Mrs Beeton)

2 of 3 portraits of Isabella Beeton (Mrs Beeton)

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Isabella Beeton (Mrs Beeton)

by Maull & Polyblank
hand-tinted albumen print, 1857
7 1/4 in. x 5 7/8 in. (184 mm x 149 mm)
Given by the sitter's son, Sir Mayson Beeton, 1932
Primary Collection
NPG P3

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Maull & Polyblank (active 1854-1865), Photographers. Artist associated with 337 portraits.

This portraitback to top

On the 3rd of February 1932 Henry Hake, then Director of the National Portrait Gallery, was interested to read an article about Isabella Beeton in the The Times. It aimed to dispel the popular idea that the author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, who had died in 1865, was ‘stout, stern and frumpy’. Indeed, the author wrote, the portraits of Beeton owned by her children revealed her to have been ‘a beautiful young woman with a face that indicates her keen intelligence’.
Intrigued, Hake wrote to the newspaper explaining that the Gallery was keen to acquire a portrait of Beeton and asking to be put in touch with the author of the article. This, it transpired, was Beeton’s son Sir Mayson Beeton. Barrington Ward, assistant editor of The Times explained that ‘he has... portraits of her in his possession. I think there would be widespread approval if your Trustees thought fit to add Mrs Beeton to their collection.’ Sir Mayson was contacted and proved keen to co-operate. However, Hake was sorely disappointed on meeting him, as he revealed that the portrait of his mother was a photograph, not the oil painting that Hake had been expecting.
Hake reported the misunderstanding to Barrington, whose reply is reveals the contemporary debates about photography as an art form: ‘I am sorry that you were unable to track down a real portrait of Mrs Beeton. I, too, was misled by the word. It will be something, anyhow, to have a photograph.’ It was decided that the portrait should be acquired, with Hake suggesting that ‘although a photograph, we ought to give it a register number’. This was P3, reflecting its status as one of the first photographs to enter the Gallery’s collection.
Today, the Gallery regularly acquires photographic portraits for both its Primary and Photographs collections. These now include over 250,000 original photographic images.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 63 Read entry

    Isabella Beeton (1836-5; popularly known as ‘Mrs Beeton’) was a journalist and editor. Her Book of Household Management was first serialised in 1859 and 1860 in the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (EDM) – a venture launched in 1856 by her husband, the enterprising publisher Samuel Orchard Beeton. Published as a book in 1861, it became a phenomenon, selling some two million copies by 1868, and has remained in print ever since. As well as recipes, it features helpful hints on household management, from etiquette and childcare to entertaining. Extensively illustrated with colour engravings, its innovative formatting was ahead of its time. Beeton was a working journalist in an era when the contribution of women was considered to undermine journalism’s professional status. From 1856 to 1865 she was, with Samuel, joint editor of EDM, a cheap, popular monthly for young middle-class women, writing on home management, embroidery, dressmaking and cookery, and translating the serialised French novels that it featured. Her early death from a post-partum infection that set in following the birth of her fourth child cut short an inspiring life. This portrait of Beeton was one of the first photographs to enter the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

  • 100 Photographs, 2018, p. 8 Read entry

    Isabella Mayson (1836-65) married the editor and publisher Samuel Beeton in 1856 and worked with her husband as a journalist, writing fashion articles and notes on housekeeping for his periodicals. She was also the author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861). An essential guide to running a household, it enshrined Victorian ideas of a woman’s role in the home, including advice on fashion, childcare, science and a large number of recipes. Revised and expanded many times, the book remains popular, but differs substantially from early editions. The National Portrait Gallery’s albumen print was handcoloured by Mrs Beeton’s daughter, after the author died giving birth to her fourth child.

  • Ford, Colin, Julia Margaret Cameron: 19th Century Photographer of Genius, 2003 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 6 February - 26 May 2003), p. 54
  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 39 Read entry

    Isabella Beeton (1836-65) was the author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Published in 1861, the book was an essential guide to running a Victorian household. It included advice on many things, including fashion, childcare, science and a large number of recipes. Although most people think of Mrs Beeton as a source of culinary inspiration, she meant much more than this to the Victorians. The book was the embodiment of the Victorian ideology of a woman’s place being in the home.

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 49 Read entry

    Isabella Mayson, from an old Cumberland family, married the editor and publisher Samuel Beeton in 1856. She worked with her husband as a journalist, writing fashion articles and notes on housekeeping for his periodicals, among them The Queen and The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, the first journal to issue paper dress-making patterns to its readers. At the same time she began 'the four years incessant labour' which led to the publication of her Book of Household Management, an encyclopaedia of information for the efficient running of the home, in which all the recipes had been personally tried. This was issued in twenty-four monthly parts from October 1859, and in book form in 1861. The second edition appeared after her death, in 1869, with a preface by Mr Beeton paying tribute to his wife. She died giving birth to their fourth child.

    Sir Mayson Beeton, when he gave this photograph to the Gallery, stated that he believed it had been coloured by his sister after their mother's death. The successful firm of Maull & Co had premises in London in Piccadilly and the City.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 46
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 142 Read entry

    Aimed at the aspiring middle classes, Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) was an essential guide to running a Victorian household. Best known today for its recipes, Mrs Beeton’s book covered every aspect of life, from setting servants’ wages to caring for children. Her pursuit of an authorial career was encouraged by her husband, a successful publisher. Beeton’s Book of Household Management first appeared as a series of supplements to the English Woman’s Domestic Magazine, which she helped to edit, before being collected into book form. Her introduction frankly admitted that ‘if I had known, beforehand, that this book would have cost me the labour which it has, I should never have been courageous enough to commence it’. Her efforts paid off and the book became an immediate hit, selling 60,000 copies in its first year of publication. It has never been out of print. The London-based commercial photographers Maull & Polyblank (active 1854–65) had studios on Gracechurch Street and on Piccadilly. The touches of colour seen here have been applied to the image by hand to enliven the portrait.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1857back to top

Current affairs

Palmerston passes the Matrimonial Causes Act in the face of parliamentary opposition. The act establishes divorce courts, although women, unlike men, are not allowed to sue for divorce on the grounds of adultery.
The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition is held, a follow-up to the Great Exhibition of 1851, although highlighting Britain's private art collections rather than industry and technology. More than 1.3 million people visit the event.

Art and science

Elizabeth Gaskell publishes The Life of Charlotte Brontë, a year after the author's death. The controversial biography consolidates the myth of the Brontë sisters as isolated geniuses living in remote Yorkshire.
Illustrator George Scharf becomes the first Secretary of the National Portrait Gallery, overseeing the collection's growth and its several moves around London before a permanent home is established in 1896, the year after Scharf's death.

International

The Indian Revolt was a significant rebellion against the rule of the East Indian Company and a culmination of decades of discontent about British rule. After a year of horrific violence on both sides, the revolt was suppressed. It led to a more involved role by the British government in India, taking over responsibility from the East India Company.

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