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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

by Walter Wallis
oil on canvas, 1881
10 1/8 in. x 8 1/8 in. (256 mm x 205 mm) overall
Purchased, 1984
Primary Collection
NPG 5724

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Walter Wallis (1853-1934), Artist; principal of Croydon Art School. Artist of 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

Aged about seven, Coleridge-Taylor posed for painters associated with Croydon Art Club. According to his sister, 'They put a basin on his head and a shawl round his shoulders so he looks a bit African'; but here he can be seen wearing a plain cap and tunic. Two versions of the portrait exist, painted by different artists at differing angles. This one was purchased from the composer's family.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 85
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 136
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 167 Read entry

    Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was the son of a doctor from Sierra Leone and an English mother. Raised in Croydon, he posed for painters associated with the Croydon Art Club when he was about seven years old. One of the resulting portraits, by Walter Wallis, who was principal of Croydon Art School in the 1880s and 1890s, shows the sitter wearing a plain cap and tunic and is a rare example of a child’s portrait in the Gallery’s Collection.

    As a boy, Coleridge-Taylor learnt to play the violin and sang in the church choir, and in 1890 entered the Royal College of Music to study violin and composition. He was still a student when the first part of his best-known work, the cantata trilogy ‘The Song of Hiawatha’, was played in public. This remained a favourite with choirs until the 1940s. A composer of opera, orchestral, church and chamber music, he also wrote incidental music for the romantic plays at His Majesty’s Theatre, London. Coleridge-Taylor was appointed conductor of the Handel Society in 1904, and made three trips to the United States as visiting conductor in the first decade of the century. He died of pneumonia at his home in Croydon, aged just thirty-seven.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1881back to top

Current affairs

Benjamin Disraeli dies of bronchitis. He refuses a state funeral and is buried next to his wife, Mary Ann Viscountess Beaconsfield.
Gladstone's Irish Land Act is passed in a bid to stop violence carried out by the republican Land League, conducted in protest at the 1870 Land Act.
Henry Mayers Hyndman forms the Marxist Democratic Federation.

Art and science

The Natural History Museum is opened on Exhibition Road, South Kensington. The museum, a landmark gothic design by the architect Alfred Waterhouse, was built to house specimens from the natural sciences, previously in the British Museum's collection. Today, the museum comprises of over 70 million items, and is a world-renowned research centre.


Alexander II is assassinated in a bomb attack by members of a left-wing revolutionary movement. He was succeeded by his son, Tsar Alexander III.
US President James Garfield is shot by Charles Guiteau.
The first Anglo-Boer war ends. The war is started by a Boer uprising, as the British had annexed the Transvaal in 1877. Following Britain's defeat at the Battle of Majuba Hill, a truce is signed giving the Boers self-government and later independence.

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