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George Eliot

George Eliot, by Sir Frederic William Burton, 1865 - NPG 669 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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George Eliot

by Sir Frederic William Burton
chalk, 1865
20 1/4 in. x 15 in. (514 mm x 381 mm)
Given by the sitter's husband and, Charles Lee Lewes, 1883
Primary Collection
NPG 669

On display in Room 25 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Sir Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), Watercolour painter and Director of the National Gallery. Artist associated with 11 portraits, Sitter in 6 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This chalk portrait shows Eliot in her mid-forties. It was made by the artist Frederic Burton, a close friend of Eliot’s which may account for the closely-cropped, full-frontal and altogether more intimate portrayal of her face. Unlike her reaction to other portraits, particularly photographs, Eliot seems not to have recoiled from Burton’s image or the process of sitting to him, taking an interest in how the portrait developed over the course of a year. In December 1865, she told the artist D'Albert Durade that her friends considered it 'a remarkably fine portrait of me' and that she had agreed to its reproduction by the engraver, Paul Adolphe Rajon. In 1867, she was even content for Burton to exhibit the portrait at the Royal Academy of Arts. It was later engraved.

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Events of 1865back to top

Current affairs

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson is the first female to be awarded a doctor's licence. She is also involved in collecting signatures for the Manchester Suffrage Committee, the first suffrage organisation, formed this year. John Stuart Mill was also elected to parliament this year on the platform of women's suffrage.
Palmerston dies in October, and is replaced as leader of the Liberal government by his Foreign Secretary, Lord Russell.

Art and science

Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is published, inspired by Carroll's relationship (as Oxford don Sir Charles Dodgson) with his friend Henry George Liddell's daughter Alice.
Matthew Arnold publishes the first series of Essays in Criticism, a defining text in the development of English literature as an academic discipline.

International

In the American civil war, Robert E. Lee surrenders the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, leading to the surrender of the Confederacy's remaining field armies. A few days later, US President Abraham Lincoln is shot dead by Confederate sympathiser John Wilkes Booth. Later this year slavery is officially abolished after years of fierce campaigning. In response, the first branch of the Ku Klux Klan is founded on Christmas Eve.

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