Sir Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari with the Sirdars

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari with the Sirdars

by John Burke
albumen print, 1878-1879
9 1/4 in. x 11 3/8 in. (235 mm x 289 mm)
Purchased, 1987
Primary Collection
NPG P330

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • John Burke (circa 1843-1900), Photographer. Artist or producer of 3 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 97 Read entry

    The son of one of Napoleon's officers, Cavagnari, a naturalized British subject, became one of the most courageous servants of the Empire, first in India, and later in Afghanistan. In 1879, when this photograph was taken, he negotiated and signed the Treaty of Gandamuck with Afghanistan, and was made a KCB. He was then appointed British Resident in Kabul, but was murdered in the citadel there along with other Europeans on 3 September by mutinous Afghan troops. His head was split open with a blow, just as the citadel's burning roof fell in. His body was never found. Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India, heard of his death 'with unspeakable sorrow', and wrote to Cavagnari's widow that 'every British heart in India feels for you'.

    This photograph presumably commemorates the Treaty of Gandamuck, and shows Cavagnari surrounded by the Sirdars. The photographer worked variously in Murree, Peshawar and Rawalpindi in India, and in the Afghan War was employed by the British Army as 'Photographic Artist'.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 737

Placesback to top

  • Place made and portrayed: India

Events of 1878back to top

Current affairs

The University of London becomes the first English university to admit women to examination and degree, although women had been allowed to attend classes at the University since 1830.
The former British Prime Minister Lord John Russell dies at Pembroke Lodge, in Surrey.

Art and science

Libel trial between critic John Ruskin and artist Whistler, provoked after Ruskin's review of Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket accused Whistler of 'flinging a pot of paint in the public's face'. Whistler sued Ruskin, and although Ruskin was found guilty, he only had to pay one farthing in damages; the case bankrupted Whistler.
Frederic Leighton, the renowned painter and sculptor is elected President of the Royal Academy.


The Treaty of Berlin is signed following the end of the Turkish-Russo war (1877-8). In a major shake-up of the Balkans, Bulgaria became autonomous, and Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania gained independence and territory, and Bosnia-Herzegovina was assigned to Austria for administration. The British delegation, including Lord Russell and Disraeli, score diplomatic success in limiting Russian influence in the Balkans, continuing to prop up Turkey.

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