The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Frederick Burnaby

© National Portrait Gallery, London

  • Buy a print
  • Use this image
  • ShareShare this

Frederick Burnaby

by James Jacques Tissot
oil on panel, 1870
19 5/8 in. x 24 in. (500 mm x 610 mm) overall
Purchased, 1933
Primary Collection
NPG 2642

On display at De Young Museum, San Francisco, California, USA

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

An officer of the Royal Horse Guards with a gift for languages and a penchant for travel and exploration, Burnaby became renowned both for 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 of Asia Minor during which he fought on behalf of the Turks against the Russians, were both best-sellers. A huge man, nearly two metres (six feet four inches) tall, 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.

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. [187]

Events of 1870back to top

Current affairs

William 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 science

The 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.

International

Isaac 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.

Tell us more back to top

Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, information that is missing (a sitter’s life dates, occupation or family relationships, or a date of portrait for example) or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have information to share please complete the form below.

If you require information from us, please use our Archive enquiry service. You can buy a print of most illustrated portraits. Select the portrait of interest to you, then look out for a Buy a Print button. Prices start at £6 for unframed prints, £25 for framed prints. If you wish to license this image, please use our Rights and Images service.

Please note that we cannot provide valuations.

We digitise over 8,000 portraits a year and we cannot guarantee being able to digitise images that are not already scheduled.

What can you tell us?close

There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.

Citationclose

How do you know this? Please could you let us know your source of information.

* Permission to publish (Privacy information)
Privacy Informationclose

The National Portrait Gallery will NOT use your information to contact you or store for any other purpose than to investigate or display your contribution. By ticking permission to publish you are indicating your agreement for your contribution to be shown on this collection item page. Please note your email address will not be displayed on the page nor will it be used for any marketing material or promotion of any kind.

Please ensure your comments are relevant and appropriate. Your contributions must be polite and with no intention of causing trouble. All contributions are moderated.

Your Emailclose

Contributions are moderated. We'll need your email address so that we can follow up on the information provided and contact you to let you know when your contribution has been published.