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King George V

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King George V

by Sir Oswald Birley
oil on canvas, circa 1933
23 1/4 in. x 16 7/8 in. (591 mm x 429 mm)
Purchased, 1957
Primary Collection
NPG 4013


Like some other 20th-century artists, Oswald…

Sitterback to top

  • King George V (1865-1936), Reigned 1910-36. Sitter in 488 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Oswald Birley (1880-1952), Painter. Artist associated with 16 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 242
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 23, 185 Read entry

    Carved and gilt poplar, lap jointed, the punched frieze water gilt and burnished over a red bole, the sight and top edge mitred and planted. 5 inches wide.

    This is a case of putting the frame before the picture. Like some other twentieth-century artists, Birley had a fondness for carved frames and would have a canvas made to fit a particular antique frame.1 Hence the non-standard measurements of this portrait. The frame is a very fine Italian cassetta frame of a type used in Bologna and elsewhere in Emilia in the first half of the seventeenth century. 'The hallmark ... of Emilian cassetta frames', Paul Mitchell has written, 'is the use of granito (punchwork) to create subtle arabesques, running flowers, blossom and leaves ... Also Emilian in character is the preference for foliate rather than architectural ornament'.2 In the case of this frame, the punchwork frieze consists of an arabesque of running leaves set between a sight edge and top edge of overlapping leaves reversing at a central motif.

    1 Information from Sir Oswald's son, Mark Birley, 14 February 1995, who also thinks that Bourlet may have made some frames for his father.

    2 Paul Mitchell, 'Italian Picture Frames 1500-1825: A Brief Survey', Furniture History, vol.XX, 1984, p 22.

Subjects & Themesback to top

Events of 1933back to top

Current affairs

Sir Norman Angell is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Angell was recognised for his book, Europe's Optical Illusion (or The Great Illusion) first published in 1910 and updated in 1933, which argued that war between modern powers was futile as neither the looser or victor would gain economically from it.

Art and science

British Art embraces abstraction with the establishment of 'Unit 1', the first group of British Artists dedicated to producing abstract art. The critic Herbert Read formed the group by bringing together the artists Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Paul Nash and the architect, Wells Coates.
The Duveen Wing extension at the National Portrait Gallery is opened by King George V.


The Nazi party comes to power in Germany as part of a coalition government with Hitler as Chancellor. Over the next year, the party consolidated its position through the Enabling Act (allowing them to pass legislation without the support of the coalition), by banning and purging opposition, and by making Hitler Führer in 1934: granting him the combined powers of Chancellor and President.

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