- Extended Catalogue Entry
by James Jacques Tissot
oil on panel, 1870
19 5/8 in. x 24 in. (500 mm x 610 mm) overall
Sitterback to top
- Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (1842-1885), Soldier, traveller and balloonist. Sitter in 10 portraits.
Artistback to top
- James Jacques Tissot (1836-1902), French painter and printmaker. Artist associated with 68 portraits.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Audio Guide
- Smartify image discovery app
- The British Portrait, 1660-1960, 1991, p. 347 number 347
- Victorian Portraits Resource Pack, p. 24
- Funnell, Peter, Victorian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 24
- Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 56 Read entry
An officer of the Royal Horse Guards with a gift for languages and a penchant for travel and adventure, Frederick Burnaby (1842-85) became renowned for both his exploits and his writings about them. A Ride to Khiva (1876), the narrative of a journey on horseback across three thousand miles of the Russian steppes in winter, and On Horseback through Asia Minor (1877), which described a tour during which he fought on behalf of the Turks against the Russians, were both best-sellers. A tall figure, nearly two metres in height, he was reputed to be the strongest man in the British army and was said to have once carried a pony under one arm. He was painted by Tissot in his uniform as a captain in the 3rd Household Cavalry.
- Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 94
- Howgate, Sarah (introduction) Auping, Michael (appreciation) Richardson, John (appreciation), Lucian Freud: Portraits, 2012 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 9 February to 28 May 2012), p. 16
- Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 235
- Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 126
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 138
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 138 Read entry
Captain Burnaby was not a person of any great significance when he was painted by the French artist Tissot. Distinguished principally by his height (he was six feet four), he spent his generous leave from the army travelling round the world and publishing accounts of his exploits, including A Ride to Khiva in 1876, which established his reputation as an adventurer. He later became well known as a balloonist. What is more important about the portrait is the way in which it captures the mood of an army officer at the time - easy, confident, lounging on a sofa with a cigarette and with the map of the world on the wall behind him.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 90
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 156 Read entry
Captain Burnaby is here portrayed as a dashing young officer of the Household Cavalry, with waxed moustache and nonchalantly posed with cigarette. He lounges on a sofa in undress uniform, the scarlet stripe of his trouser leg emphasising his physical height, for which he was renowned. In his late twenties, at the time this portrait was painted, the sitter’s achievements as an adventurer and balloonist largely lay ahead of him and this picture presents a more generalised depiction of the easy confidence of an army officer of the period. The informal presentation contrasts with the conventional full-length standing or mounted military portrait; the seemingly domestic interior in which he sits resists identification.
The picture was commissioned by Thomas Gibson Bowles, a friend and associate of Burnaby with whom he founded Vanity Fair in 1868. It is likely that the idea for the portrait was conceived in 1869, the year that Bowles met James Jacques Tissot (1836–1902) in Paris and when the French artist’s first caricatures of European monarchs were published in the magazine under the pseudonym ‘Coïdé’.
- Wilton, Andrew, The swagger portrait : grand manner portraiture in Britain from Van Dyck to Augustus John, 1630-1930, 1992, p. 
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1870back to top
Current affairsWilliam Edward Forster's Education Act is passed, making provisions for education for all under-13s. It demonstrated the balance in Gladstone's first ministry between progressive reform and conservativism by spreading literacy, whilst maintaining the status of Church schools.
The Married Women's Property Act gives wives rights over their own earnings.
Art and scienceThe Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet, based on Shakespeare's play and written with the aid of composer Mily Balakirev, debuts in Moscow, conducted by Nikolai Rubenstein.
W. G. Grace becomes cricket captain of Gloucestershire, marking the start of a successful decade for the club in which they won three 'Champion County' titles.
InternationalIsaac Butt, an Irish MP at Westminster, forms the Home Rule Association.
The Franco-Prussian war breaks out between France and a coalition of German states led by Prussia. Provoked by the candidacy of German Prince Leopold Hohenzollen-Sigmaringen for the Spanish throne, France declared war in July after Bismark published the deliberately provocative Ems telegraph, in which the French were represented in an offensive light on the issue.
Develop your art skills
Discover our BP Next Generation short films made by artists. Follow step by step guides in drawing and painting techniques.
Hold Still photography workshop
Reflect on your own experiences of lockdown through this easy-to-do from home, photographic exercise.
Draw Like a Renaissance Master
Revisit The Encounter exhibition and learn about Renaissance and Baroque drawing methods and materials.
Tell us more
Framed & unframed prints
Choose your favourite portrait from our Collection as a framed or unframed print for your home.