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George Eliot

2 of 12 portraits of George Eliot

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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George Eliot

by Caroline Bray
watercolour, 1842
7 in. x 5 3/4 in. (178 mm x 146 mm)
Given by Caroline Bray, 1899
Primary Collection
NPG 1232

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Caroline Bray (1814-1905), Artist. Artist associated with 2 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This watercolour is the earliest known portrait of Eliot. It was made from life by her friend Cara Bray when she was twenty-two and known to her friends as Mary Ann (she had dropped the 'e' from her name in 1837). Eliot did not believe that a portrait could ever provide an accurate representation of a person’s facial expression or their true character. She wrote that the 'benevolence' with which Bray had apparently painted her 'extends to the hiding of faults in my visage, as well as my character.'

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Eger, Elizabeth; Peltz, Lucy, Brilliant Women: 18th Century Bluestockings, 2008 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 13 March to 15 June 2008), p. 138 Read entry

    George Eliot is depicted here as a young woman of twenty-three by her close friend Caroline Bray (1814-1905), wife of the philanthropist and reformer Charles Bray. The Brays' house near Coventry formed a haven for radical intellectuals, including Caroline's brother Charles Hennell, whose Inquiry Concerning the Origins of Christianity (1838) investigated the evidence of the truth of the gospels and formed an important influence on Eliot's thought.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 198

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1842back to top

Current affairs

Edwin Chadwick publishes his damning report, Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Poor, which details the shocking living conditions of the urban poor and prompts government to take a new interest in public health issues.
A year-long depression and the rejection of the Chartist petition leads to riots, with workers striking in the Midlands, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and parts of Scotland.

Art and science

Mudie's Lending Library opens, becoming one of the largest circulating libraries in the period. Made popular by the otherwise high cost of books, it exerts a great influence over literature; both by maintaining the more costly 'three decker' novel structure, and acting as moral censor.
Richard Owen, the English biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist, coins the term 'dinosaur', combining the Greek words for 'formidable' and 'reptile'.

International

Treaty of Nanjing, which allows China to trade with Britain and lends Hong Kong to the British crown for 150 years. In Afghanistan, the Anglo-Afghan war ends as the British abandon Kabul, withdrawing to India and losing most of their garrison force in the operation with only one member, Dr William Brydon, surviving.

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