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Robert Baden-Powell

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Robert Baden-Powell

by Sir Hubert von Herkomer
oil on canvas, 1903
55 7/8 in. x 44 1/8 in. (1419 mm x 1121 mm)
Purchased, 1988
Primary Collection
NPG 5991


An example of Herkomer's later framing style…

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914), Painter and illustrator. Artist associated with 51 portraits, Sitter in 11 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 75
  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 57 Read entry

    Army officer Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) took part in the Zululand (1888), Ashanti and Matabeleland (both in 1896) campaigns in South Africa. During the Boer War he held Mafeking under siege for 217 days until relieved. In 1910 he retired from the army in order to devote himself to the Scouting movement, the foundation of which was initiated by the publication of his book Scouting for Boys (1908). The uniform he is wearing in this portrait is one that he designed himself for the South African Constabulary; the hat was later adapted for the Boy Scouts. Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset, the location of the first Boy Scout camp in August 1907, is now owned by the National Trust.

  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 75
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 28
  • 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. 108, 178 Read entry

    Compo on pine, mitred and pinned, finished in a lacquered Dutch or similar metal leaf on a deep red ground, the compo uncracked and so perhaps resin based. 4 1⁄ 8 inches wide plus later slip.

    See NPG 1782.

  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 179 Read entry

    Baden-Powell is best remembered as the founder of the Boy Scout movement but he first came to public notice by virtue of his glittering military career. Selected for special duties in North Africa, he saw action in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), holding the town of Mafeking during a siege that lasted 219 days. This achievement depended on Baden-Powell’s organisational and reconnaissance skills, and force of personality in sustaining morale – qualities that he was later to encourage in the Scouts. His success against the odds made him a hero in Britain and is alluded to in this portrait by the inscription ‘Mafeking’ on the box on which he sits. A keen supporter of voluntary organisations for young people, Baden-Powell published Scouting for Boys in fortnightly parts from January 1908 onwards and founded the Boy Scout movement in the same year.

    His uniform in this portrait is one he designed himself for the North African Constabulary and the hat was later adapted for the Scouts. This image is by the Bavarian-born artist Hubert von Herkomer (1849–1914), who forged a successful career in Britain.

Events of 1903back to top

Current affairs

Emmeline Pankhurst forms the militant organisation, the Women's Social and Political Union, campaigning for greater rights for women and to secure them the vote. Its members were known as 'suffragettes', and adopted the slogan of 'Deeds, not words'.
Joseph Chamberlain resigns as Colonial Secretary to campaign for tariff reform and an end to free trade, a key economic issue which splits the Conservative party.

Art and science

Henry James publishes The Ambassadors. Autobiographical in tone, it movingly and humorously traces the conversion of the American Lewis Lambert Strether, sent to Paris to find his widowed fiancee Mrs Newsome's wayward son Chad, to European culture.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the leading Scottish arts and crafts designer and architect, designs the Willow tea rooms in Glasgow for his patron, Miss Catherine Cranston.


The Bolsheviks (meaning 'the majority'), a faction of the exiled Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, are formed after splitting from the Mensheviks at the Second Party Congress in London.
After gaining independence following the end of the Spanish-American war, Cuba is forced to accept a permanent US military presence at Guantánamo Bay.

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