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Thomas Hardy

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Thomas Hardy

by William Strang
oil on panel, 1893
17 in. x 15 in. (432 mm x 381 mm)
Bequeathed by the sitter's widow, Florence Emily Hardy (née Dugdale), 1938
Primary Collection
NPG 2929


Reeded Whistler cushion frames of this type w…

Sitterback to top

  • Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Novelist and poet. Sitter in 60 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • William Strang (1859-1921), Painter and etcher. Artist or producer associated with 66 portraits, Sitter in 11 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 46 Read entry

    Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is known as one of the last great novelists of the nineteenth century. His writing is both visionary and naturalistic and his characters play out their lives against a rural landscape, often set in his native Dorset. Among his major works are Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Return of the Native (1878), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the D’Ubervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1896). The painter William Rothenstein described Hardy as having ‘a small dark bilberry eye which he cocked at you unexpectedly. He was so quiet and unassuming, he somehow put me in mind of a dew-pond on the Downs.’ Hardy’s Cottage, his birthplace, and Max Gate, where he lived from 1885 until his death, are now owned by the National Trust.

  • Motion, Andrew (edited), Interrupted Lives: In Literature, 2004, p. 47
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 159
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 159 Read entry

    This is an early oil portrait by William Strang, who was known principally at this period for his etchings. Indeed, the commission followed on from an etched portrait that Strang produced in 1893 as the frontispiece to Lionel Johnson's The Art of Thomas Hardy. William Rothenstein described Hardy as having 'a small dark bilberry eye which he cocked at you unexpectedly. He was so quiet and unassuming, he somehow put me in mind of a dew-pond on the Downs.' Hardy himself said that he was often mistaken for a detective.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 280
  • 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. 77, 181 Read entry

    Gilt soft woods (the back frame pine, the main frame a closer-grained timber), mitred and pinned. 3 1⁄ 4 inches wide plus 3⁄ 4 inch slip.

    The Scottish etcher William Strang studied at the Slade under Alphonse Legros in the late 1870s, only taking up painting seriously in the 1890s when he came under Whistler's influence. This small early sketch was bequeathed to the Gallery by Thomas Hardy's widow in 1938. It is framed in a small-scale reeded Whistler cushion frame of a type still being used by Whistler himself in the 1890s, but with variations such as the use of twelve reeds instead of the more usual fifteen on the inner face of the reeded cushion.

  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 171 Read entry

    Thomas Hardy was one of the last great novelists of the nineteenth century. His writing centred on tragic characters, such as Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), whose lives were played out in rural settings, most often his native Dorset. Other key works include Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and Jude the Obscure (1896), in addition to volumes of poetry and an epic drama, The Dynasts (1904–8). The printmaker William Strang (1859–1921) only took up painting seriously in the 1890s under the influence of James McNeill Whistler.

    This commission followed on from an earlier etched portrait of 1893. An inscription on the back of the painting notes it was completed in the markedly short time period of half an hour, a legacy of Strang’s rigorous training at the Slade School of Fine Art under Alphonse Legros.

    Strang captures the reserved writer in a moment of contemplation. The painter William Rothenstein described Hardy as having ‘a small dark bilberry eye which he cocked at you unexpectedly. He was so quiet and unassuming, he somehow put me in mind of a dew-pond on the Downs.’ Hardy himself said that he was often mistaken for a detective.

Subjects & Themesback to top

Events of 1893back to top

Current affairs

Keir Hardie is among the group who formalise the Independent Labour Party, and is elected chairman and party leader at the opening conference. Gladstone continues with his campaign for home rule in Ireland, introducing the Second Home Rule Bill, which is passed by the Commons but vetoed by the Lords.

Art and science

Art Nouveau becomes a fully established movement in European art and design, after emerging in different countries and across different disciplines at the start of the decade. Key figures include the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, architects Victor Horta and Paul Hankar, and the designer Alphonse Mucha. Art Nouveau is characterised by the 'whiplash' line, a decorative line which represents graphically the desire to break free from traditional aesthetic constraints.


Gandhi's ejection from a South African train carriage on account of his race is the catalyst for his non-violent activism in leading the struggle for Indian independence from British rule.
New Zealand becomes the first self-governing country to grant women the vote.
The Chicago World's Fair is visited by more than 200 million people, with Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse introducing electrical power to illuminate the fair.

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