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Gertrude Elizabeth (née Blood), Lady Colin Campbell

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Gertrude Elizabeth (née Blood), Lady Colin Campbell

by Giovanni Boldini
oil on canvas, 1894
72 5/8 in. x 47 3/8 in. (1843 mm x 1202 mm)
Given by Winifred Brooke Alder by wish of the sitter, 1911
Primary Collection
NPG 1630

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

In this magnificent life-size portrait, Italian painter Giovanni Boldini pays special attention to Campbell's black satin evening dress and the way it clings to her body. The elongated lines of her anatomy are reminiscent of both the sinuous contours of the contemporary Art Nouveau aesthetic, and elegantly exaggerated fashion drawings.

The Gallery faced a delicate challenge when this portrait was bequeathed to them in 1911. Lady Colin Campbell had gained notoriety in high society with a scandalous divorce case in 1886. Although she later had a successful career in the world of editorial magazine publishing and authored a number of books, there were concerns for the Gallery. Was she famous enough? What she too scandalous as a public figure? On the other hand, would it be wrong to turn down such a brilliant portrait?
In 1911, Boldini was considered the John Singer Sargent of Parisian society, and correspondence from the then-director of the Gallery, CJ Holmes, to Mr Niemeyer of HM Treasury, provides a counter for each objection. Firstly, that of fame: “the painting [...] is remembered as a remarkable portrait of one of the cleverest and most beautiful women of her age”. Secondly, the appropriateness of a woman of scandalous reputation in the Gallery’s collection: “The famous beauties of earlier times already [...] in the National Portrait Gallery supplement the portraits of famous men by illustrating the social aspect of each age and (apart from their attractiveness to the public) so completes the historical timeline which the gallery is intended to present.” Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, Holmes noted that to acquire a work of such brilliance was no longer an easy task: “these portraits are now so eagerly sought after that they have become too expensive for the purchase out of public funds and any chance of acquiring them by gift has to be seized.”
However, there was an added complication to acquiring the portrait, in the form of the Gallery’s Ten Year Rule, which meant that a portrait could only be acquired ten years after the sitter’s death. Campbell’s portrait could not be accepted just in the same year as the sitter’s death, but the conditions under which it had been offered stated that if not accepted immediately, it would be offered to someone else. The Gallery turned to its neighbour, the National Gallery, for help, who were persuaded to display the painting for ten years. The reaction was instant. An article in the Daily Telegraph on 16 May 1912 tells of the “public dissatisfaction” at the Gallery’s acquisition of, and the National Gallery’s subsequent display of, the portrait. The dispute even made it to Parliament, with the Secretary of the Treasury urged to have the picture removed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, or “some equally suitable place of exhibition”. Despite the outcry, Boldini’s portrait is very popular with today’s audiences and is regularly subject to loan requests from institutions around the world. As CJ Holmes sagely noted, “Time alone can decide the final importance of such acquisitions.”

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • The Masque of Beauty, 1972 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from National Portrait Gallery, London, 5 July-17 Sept. 1972.), p. number 46
  • Victorian Portraits Resource Pack, p. 36
  • Funnell, Peter, Victorian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 36
  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 19 Read entry

    Gertrude Blood (1857-1911) married Lord Colin Campbell, younger son of the Duke of Argyll, in 1881, but separated from him five years later after a scandalous case in which he alleged her adultery with four other men. She worked as an art critic for the World and the Ladies’ Field, and was admired for her athletic prowess in fencing, swimming and riding. Her published works include A Book of the Running Brook: and of Still Waters (1886), articles on English freshwater fish, and Etiquette of Good Society (1893). The Italian society painter Boldini imparted a special glamour to this alluring sitter, revelling in her provocative expression and voluminous black dress, and treating the rules of anatomy with magnificent contempt. Although much admired by some, the painter Walter Sickert later referred with scorn to the ‘Wriggle-&-Chiffon School of Boldini’.

  • McConkey, Kenneth, Edwardian portraits : images of an age of opulence, 1987, p. 177 number 56
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 195
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 197
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 99
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 174 Read entry

    Gertrude Campbell was an Irish-born writer, sportswoman and dilettante. She and Lord Colin Campbell became engaged just days after meeting and, despite his father the Duke of Argyll opposing the match, they married in 1881. The marriage proved to be a disaster, with Gertrude filing for divorce on the grounds of her husband concealing his venereal disease, and Lord Colin countering his wife’s claim by accusing her of adultery with four men. After a scandalous trial, her divorce was denied, prompting the suffragette Christabel Pankhurst to speak out against the double standards prevalent in Victorian England. Gertrude never quite recovered her reputation, but she built a successful career as a journalist and art critic for periodicals such as the World and the Art Journal, under pseudonyms including Véra Tsaritsyn. Her vivaciousness, wit and talents, ranging from fencing to singing and painting, led her to be welcomed into art circles, and she counted James McNeill Whistler and Oscar Wilde among her friends.

    With its exaggerated form and direct gaze, this portrait by the Italian society painter Giovanni Boldini (1842–1931) emphasises the statuesque beauty and engaging character of his sitter, who ‘never [tries], by any means, to appear other than she really is’ (Etiquette, 1893).

  • Wilton, Andrew, The swagger portrait : grand manner portraiture in Britain from Van Dyck to Augustus John, 1630-1930, 1992, p. [207]

Events of 1894back to top

Current affairs

Following Gladstone's resignation, Queen Victoria calls on the Liberal MP Archibald Primrose, the 5th Earl of Rosebery to become Prime Minister, a position he reluctantly accepts. His government is largely unsuccessful as the Tory-dominated House of Lords stop the whole of the Liberal's domestic legislation, and his foreign policy plans are defeated by internal Liberal disagreements.

Art and science

The Prince of Wales opens Tower Bridge, built over the Thames to improve access to the growing commercial district of the East End. The bridge was constructed from two bascules, or leaves, which could be raised to allow ships to pass underneath.
Rudyard Kipling's hugely popular collection of children's stories and poems, The Jungle Book, is published. The stories, based on Kipling's own experiences in India, have been adapted many times.


The arrest and court-martial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer, opens up divisions in France over anti-semitism continuing until Dreyfus's exoneration in 1906. The French President Sadi Carnot is assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Lyon.
Nicholas II becomes Tsar of Russia following the death of Alexander III.
Japan and China go to war over control of Korea, with the more modern Japanese army winning an easy victory.

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nat inalport rate

26 February 2018, 16:58

Gertrude Blood married Lord Colin Campbell, younger son of the Duke of Argyll, in 1881, but separated from him in 1886 after a scandalous case in which he alleged her adultery with four co-respondents. She worked as an art critic for the World and the Ladies' Field, and was admired for her athletic prowess in fencing, swimming and riding. Her published works include A Book for the Running Brook, articles on English freshwater fish, A Miracle in Rabbits and Etiquette of Good Society. The Italian society painter Boldini imparted a special glamour to this alluring sitter by treating the rules of anatomy with magnificent contempt.

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