William Ewart Gladstone

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William Ewart Gladstone

by Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt
oil on canvas, 1879
49 1/2 in. x 36 in. (1257 mm x 914 mm)
Transferred from Tate Gallery, 1957
Primary Collection
NPG 3637

On display in Room 19 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), Prime Minister and writer; Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Sitter associated with 321 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt (1829-1896), Painter and President of the Royal Academy; ex-officio Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Artist or producer associated with 43 portraits, Sitter in 76 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Gladstone sat for five, one-hour sittings for this portrait, remarking in his diary of July 6, 1879 that Millais' 'ardour and energy about his picture inspire a strong sympathy'

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Victorian Portraits Resource Pack, p. 35
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 42 Read entry

    In five hours of sittings, Gladstone got on famously with Millais. Queen Victoria, however, much preferred the flirtatious wit of Disraeli to Gladstone’s worthy dissertations.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 80
  • Funnell, Peter, Victorian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 35
  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 54 Read entry

    William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98), the grand old man of British politics, was leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister in four governments from 1868 to 1894. He was responsible for major reforms in every sphere of national life, for the development of imperial foreign policy and for dividing the party on the issue of Irish Home Rule. Gladstone, a considerable scholar and author, stamped his moral authority on the politics of his time. He sat for five, one-hour sittings for this portrait, remarking in his diary of 6 July 1879 that Millais’ ‘ardour and energy about his picture inspire a strong sympathy.’

  • Funnell, Peter; Warner, Malcolm, Millais: Portraits, 1999 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 19 February to 6 June 1999), pp. 150; 166
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 80
  • Livingstone, Natalie, author., The mistresses of Cliveden / Natalie Livingstone., 2015, p. 307
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 203
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 248
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 160 Read entry

    Four times prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone, who had first held office in 1834 and left it for the last time in 1894, was one of the commanding political, intellectual and moral presences of the Victorian period. This is the first of four portraits of Gladstone painted by John Everett Millais (1829–96), made at the artist’s request and painted when Gladstone was out of government: he was to defeat Disraeli and become prime minister for the second time in April 1880. There were six sittings for the portrait between 26 June and 6 August 1878, Gladstone noting in his diary that it took a total of eight hours. He was impressed by the way Millais tackled the portrait, writing to the artist’s son and biographer of ‘the intensity with which he worked’ and ‘the extraordinary concentration with which he laboured’. The contemporary critic Claude Phillips wrote in a review of Millais’s 1898 memorial exhibition of the portrait that it gave ‘the whole man with mind and body in perfect balance, with breath in his nostrils as well as speculation in his eyes’. It was a painting, Phillips thought, that was ‘perfect as a portrait’, masterly in ‘its concentrated force and simplicity’.

Events of 1879back to top

Current affairs

Women's education continues to grow, with the founding of women's colleges in Oxford. Somerville College took its name from the late Scottish scientific writer Mary Somerville. Lady Margaret Hall was founded by Elizabeth Wordsworth, great niece of the poet, and named after Margaret Beaufort, a medieval noblewoman and mother of Henry VII.

Art and science

Edison invents the first practical electric light bulb.
The first prehistoric paintings, dating back 14,000 years, are discovered in the Altamira caves in Northern Spain when a young girl notices paintings of bison on the ceilings.
The French actress Sarah Bernhardt, already acclaimed for roles in plays such as Racine's Phèdre and Victor Hugo's Hernani, celebrates a successful season at London's Gaiety Theatre.


Anglo-Zulu war fought between British forces and the Zulus, after disputes between the Boers and Zulu leader Cetshywayo over the Utrecht border attracted British intervention. The British victory marked the end of the independent Zulu nation, although the Zulu's initial victory at Isandhlwana was a major surprise. The Battle of Rorke's Drift was dramatised in the film Zulu, starring Michael Caine, in 1964.

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24 May 2017, 14:43

judging from the interational papers of 1946. I know, a second sitter was used for the lower body and hands, the name being Alfonzo manzi. Whom Millais used in other works.