Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens

by Daniel Maclise
oil on canvas, 1839
36 in. x 28 1/8 in. (914 mm x 714 mm)
Transferred from Tate Gallery, 2015
Primary Collection
NPG 1172

On display in Room 21 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Daniel Maclise (1806-1870), History and portrait painter. Artist or producer associated with 108 portraits, Sitter associated with 17 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Dickens and Maclise had become close friends the summer before this portrait was painted. Dickens recorded in a letter of 28 June 1839 that 'Maclise has made another face of me, which all people say is astonishing'. At the time of this portrait had just published Nicholas Nickleby.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 69
  • Victorian Portraits Resource Pack, p. 9
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 41 Read entry

    Dickens’s fellow novelist Thackeray wrote: ‘as a likeness perfectly amazing: a looking-glass could not render a better facsimile. Here we have the real identical man Dickens.’

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 76
  • Edited by Rab MacGibbon and Tanya Bentley, Icons and Identities, 2021, p. 27
  • Funnell, Peter, Victorian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 9
  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 36 Read entry

    Charles Dickens (1812-70) was the greatest novelist of his age and a highly prolific writer. He established his name with The Pickwick Papers in 1836, and at the time of this portrait had just published Nicholas NIckleby. The Irish artist Daniel Maclise was a close friend of the novelist and painted him on more than one occasion, as well as making portraits of his wife and children. Dickens recorded in a letter of 28 June 1839 that ‘Maclise has made another face of me, which all people say is astonishing’.

  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 76
  • Lucinda Hawksley, Charles Dickens and his Circle, 2016, p. 4
  • Ormond, Richard, Early Victorian Portraits, 1973, p. 139
  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 68
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 171
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 173
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 122
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 122 Read entry

    Daniel Maclise, the Irish artist, was a close friend of Charles Dickens and undertook a number of portraits of him. This one was commissioned by Dickens' publishers, Chapman & Hall, so that it could be engraved as the frontispiece for Nicholas Nickleby, first published as a serial in October 1839. On 28 June 1839 Dickens wrote that Maclise has made another face of me, which all people say is astonishing.' It has remained one of the most lively and lifelike images of him, looking more like a figure from the Regency period, with his handsome frock coat and green trousers, than one of the great moralists of Victorian England. Thackeray certainly was impressed by it and described it 'as a likeness perfectly amazing; a looking-glass could not render a better facsimile. Here we have the real identical man Dickens.'

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 178
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 137 Read entry

    Charles Dickens was one of the greatest novelists of his age, with an international reputation. A prolific writer, he established his name with The Pickwick Papers (1836–7) and went on to write a total of fifteen novels. These include some of the best-known works in the English language, such as Oliver Twist (1837–9), A Christmas Carol (1843), Bleak House (1852–3) and Great Expectations (1860–1). Most were initially published as serials in literary journals, such as Household Words, which Dickens co-founded and edited. In addition to his novels, he worked extensively as a journalist.

    This portrait was painted in 1839, when Dickens had just published Nicholas Nickleby. He had met the artist Daniel Maclise (1806–70) the previous summer and they had become close friends. Maclise painted him on several occasions and also made portraits of Dickens’s wife and children. In a letter dated 28 June 1839, Dickens wrote that ‘Maclise has made another face of me, which all people say is astonishing’.

Events of 1839back to top

Current affairs

The Bedchamber crisis strains relations between the government and the monarchy, after Queen Victoria refuses to dismiss her Whig-appointed ladies of the bedchamber at the request of the new, Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Peel resigns and Melbourne returns as Prime Minister.
The Grand National is first held at the Aintree race course, won by the horse Lottery, and the first Henley Royal Regatta, the rowing event, is held on the Thames.

Art and science

The French and British scientists Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot separately publicise their experiments with the new form of photography.
The prolific journalist Harriet Martineau publishes her three decker novel Deerbrook, the story of middle class country life.


The first Opium War with China is sparked after the British government refuses to try six British soldiers accused of killing a Chinese man protecting a temple from looters. Relations were strained as Britain had promoted the drug opium in China to boost trade. Winning the war, Britain secured vital trading rights.
African captives aboard the Spanish ship La Amistad revolt, resulting in a highly publicised court case.

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