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Thomas Carlyle

13 of 114 portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron

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Thomas Carlyle

by Julia Margaret Cameron
albumen print, printed in reverse, 1867
13 1/4 in. x 11 1/4 in. (337 mm x 286 mm)
Given by Alfred Jones, 1922
Primary Collection
NPG P123

Sitterback to top

  • Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Historian and essayist. Sitter associated with 84 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Pioneer photographer. Artist associated with 114 portraits, Sitter in 8 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The idea that learning about the lives of the famous could make us feel good about ourselves and our history, was taken up in an extraordinary way by the British historian Thomas Carlyle. He was also fascinated by faces and believed that a portrait was worth half a dozen biographies. Carlyle imagined that people would be uplifted by spending time in the company of the 'greats'. This Victorian ideal was behind the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG P122: Thomas Carlyle (from same negative)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 47 Read entry

    Julia Margaret Cameron photographed the historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) at Little Holland House, ‘to which place,’ she wrote, ‘I had moved my Camera for the sake of taking the great Carlyle.’ This amazing profile head of him as an old man, moving slightly in front of the camera, is deliberately and convincingly intended to make him look like an Old Testament prophet. Carlyle himself did not particularly like it, writing, ‘It is as if suddenly the picture began to speak, terrifically ugly and woe-begone, but has something of a likeness – my candid opinion.’ On the other hand, Roger Fry, who was an early enthusiast for Cameron’s work, was eulogistic, writing, ‘Neither Whistler nor Watts come near to this in the breadth of the conception, in the logic of the plastic evocations and neither approach the poignancy of this revelation of character.’ It is possible that it was taken while Carlyle was sitting for Watts’ portrait. Carlyle’s house in Cheyne Row, London, is now owned by the National Trust.

  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 137
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 137 Read entry

    This amazing profile head of Carlyle as an old man, moving slightly in front of the camera, is deliberately and convincingly intended to make him look like an Old Testament prophet. Carlyle himself did not particularly like it, writing that 'It is as if suddenly the picture began to speak, terrifically ugly and woe-begone, but has something of a likeness - my candid opinion.' On the other hand, Roger Fry, who was an early enthusiast for Julia Margaret Cameron's work, was eulogistic, writing that 'Neither Whistler nor Watts come near to this in the breadth of the conception, in the logic of the plastic evocations, and neither approach the poignancy of this revelation of character.'

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 104
  • Truss, Lynn, Tennyson and his Circle, 2015, p. 56
  • Truss, Lynne, Character Sketches: Tennyson and His Circle, 1999, p. 28

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1867back to top

Current affairs

The Second Reform Act, although effectively a Liberal measure, is expediently passed by the Conservatives, under Disraeli's influence, who believed it would widen Conservative appeal by making the party appear more progressive. The Act extended the vote to 1.5 million working men in British towns, and redistributed 52 seats from towns with populations under 10,000 to the newer urban towns.

Art and science

Karl Marx publishes his hugely influential Das Kapital, whilst living and researching in London. Its proclaimed aim was 'to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society', and it presented mid-Victorian capitalism in terms of a tragic drama.
Henry Irving rises to fame on the London stage, performing alongside Ellen Terry for the first time, beginning their famous theatrical association.

International

Francis Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, becomes King of Hungary, and thus ruler of the 'dual monarchy' of Austria-Hungary.
The dominion of Canada is formed, as the British North America Act unites four British colonies, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec. The Act defines much of Canada's constitution and operation of government, and Canada's dominion status is the first of its kind.

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