attributed to Charles Mercier
oil on canvas, circa 1870
43 1/4 in. x 55 1/4 in. (1099 mm x 1403 mm)
Given by T. Chatto, 1929
This portraitback to top
Author of It is Never Too Late to Mend (1856) and The Cloister and the Hearth (1861), Reade was one of the most popular of all Victorian novelists and dramatists. He lived with his mistress, the actress Laura Seymour, for nearly thirty years and to avoid scandal she was said to be his housekeeper and hostess. In this portrait Reade is shown in his 'workshop' overlooking Hyde Park at their home at 2 Albert Terrace, Knightsbridge. He spent at least one hour every afternoon in his workshop filling ledgers with notes or with cuttings which interested him. A cat with two kittens dozes on one of these books and Puff, the white German spitz which belonged to Seymour, waits to be taken out for a walk.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 58
- Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 93 Read entry
Author of The Cloister and the Hearth (1861) and It Is Never too Late to Mend (1856), Reade was one of the most popular of all Victorian novelists and dramatists, though his work has not stood the test of time. With an inclination for melodrama, he was a sort of English Victor Hugo, though his social concerns led him to associate himself with Emile Zola, whose L’Assommoir he adapted for the stage under the uncompromising title of Drink (1879). Given the striking respectability of this most Victorian of interiors, his private life has long been the subject of speculation, and for nearly thirty years he lived with an actress, then described as his house-keeper and hostess, Mrs Laura Seymour.
Relatives recalled that the room depicted in this portrait was in his house at 2 Albert Terrace, Knightsbridge, London, and that ‘in a large room on the ground floor, looking into Hyde Park, which he called his workshop, he laboured until the end of his life for at least one hour every afternoon at ponderous ledgers, which he filled with notes of cuttings from books or newspapers on topics that appealed to his interest.’ There is little doubt that the painting depicts one of these afternoons, and his cat with her two kittens doze lazily on one of the many ledgers scattered round the room. Reade was said to have had a whole menagerie, but his niece remembered the white German spitz waiting patiently to be taken out into the park belonged to Mrs Seymour and was called Puff. One of the portraits on the walls, presumably the one on the right, was of Mrs Seymour, Reade never recovered from her death in 1879 and was buried beside her in Willesden five years later.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 514
Placesback to top
- Place portrayed: United Kingdom: England, London (sitter's home, Albert Terrace, London)
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1870back to top
Current affairsWilliam Edward Forster's Education Act is passed, making provisions for education for all under-13s. It demonstrated the balance in Gladstone's first ministry between progressive reform and conservativism by spreading literacy, whilst maintaining the status of Church schools.
The Married Women's Property Act gives wives rights over their own earnings.
Art and scienceThe Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet, based on Shakespeare's play and written with the aid of composer Mily Balakirev, debuts in Moscow, conducted by Nikolai Rubenstein.
W. G. Grace becomes cricket captain of Gloucestershire, marking the start of a successful decade for the club in which they won three 'Champion County' titles.
InternationalIsaac Butt, an Irish MP at Westminster, forms the Home Rule Association.
The Franco-Prussian war breaks out between France and a coalition of German states led by Prussia. Provoked by the candidacy of German Prince Leopold Hohenzollen-Sigmaringen for the Spanish throne, France declared war in July after Bismark published the deliberately provocative Ems telegraph, in which the French were represented in an offensive light on the issue.