The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari

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The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari

by Jerry Barrett
oil on canvas, 1857
57 7/8 in. x 85 7/8 in. (1470 mm x 2182 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund, 1993
Primary Collection
NPG 6202

On display in Room 21 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Artistback to top

  • Jerry Barrett (1824-1906), Painter. Artist or producer associated with 9 portraits, Sitter in 4 portraits. Identify

Sittersback to top

This portraitback to top

Florence Nightingale, clearly highlighted in the centre of the group, is shown receiving casualties in the courtyard of the Barrack Hospital at Scutari, a suburb of Constantinople. Through the gateway can be seen more sick and wounded climbing up from a makeshift landing-stage on the Bosphorus and, in the distance, the gardens of the Seraglio and the Mosque of S. Sophia. Immediately to her left stand Selina and Charles Bracebridge, old friends who assisted her in her first nine months at Scutari and, next to them, Lord William Paulet, commander of British forces in the Bosphorus. Paulet's successor, General (later Sir Henry) Storks stands in the doorway on the extreme left of the painting alongside Dr. (later Sir William) Linton, one of the medical officers at the hospital. In front of them, holding a sunshade, is Alexis Soyer, former chef at the Reform Club who revolutionised dietary regimes at the Barrack Hospital. The stretcher-case in front of Florence Nightingale is tended to by one of her most loyal nurses, Mrs. Roberts, and Dr. Cruikshanks, a medical officer who was, in fact, resistant to Nightingale's changes. Behind him is Revd. Mother Mary Clare, another of her close allies, and next to her, the tall man in whiskers, Major Sillery, military commandant of the hospital at the time of Nightingale's arrival. The woman on the left next to Soyer is another nurse, Miss Tebbut and, near her, a boy drummer called Robert Robinson who ran errands for Florence Nightingale. The artist has included himself, looking down on the scene from the window.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 2939a: Sketch of 'The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari' (sketch)
  • NPG 4305: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari' (sketch)
  • NPG 2939: Florence Nightingale (study)
  • NPG D43044: Florence Nightingale at Scutari. A Mission of Mercy (after)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Victorian Portraits Resource Pack, p. 14
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 40 Read entry

    Nightingale surrounded by civilian nurses, nursing sisters, military medical officers, locals and renowned chef Alexis Soyer (on the far left with the white umbrella).

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 73
  • Funnell, Peter, Victorian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 14
  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 52 Read entry

    Few people came out of the Crimean War with credit, but Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), who campaigned on behalf of the sick and wounded British soldiers, was made a national hero for her achievements. In October 1854 she had travelled to Scutari, a suburb of Constantinople (Istanbul), where she transformed the appalling conditions at the Barrack Hospital and laid the foundations for lasting reforms in nursing care. Clearly highlighted near the centre of Barrett’s painting, Nightingale is shown receiving casualties in the quadrangle of the hospital. The artist has shown himself looking out from the window above her.

  • Hart-Davis, Adam, Chain Reactions, 2000, p. 89
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, pp. 72-73 Read entry

    The importance of Florence Nightingale’s overall contribution to the improvement of the Army's health and welfare provision during and in the half-century after the Crimean War is not in doubt. Recent work, though, questions the immediate benefit of her regime at Scutari, and suggests that her realisation of this failure to lower the death rate in the four months after November 1854 preyed on her conscience after her return. Barrett's painting bathes Florence Nightingale in a saintly light as she makes a Christ-like healing gesture with her right hand; notice, though, that she holds a prosaic notebook in her left hand. Her official notes and letters were formidable: the caring 'Lady with the Lamp' she certainly was to the sick and wounded, but to the army's medical chiefs she must have been more frightening than the Russians. Her analysis of the failings of the military medical system was decidedly unfeminine - by Victorian standards - in its fierce polysyllabic rigour:

    The grand administrative evil emanates from ... the existence of a number of departments ... each with its centrifugal and independent action, un-countered by any centripetal attraction, viz a central authority capable of supervising and compelling combined effort for each object at each particular time.

    The parlous state of the army's medical services is indicated by the lack of transport for the casualties as they stagger up from the quayside into the quadrangle of the Barrack Hospital at Scutari, just across the Bosporus from Constantinople. Surrounding Nightingale are a representa¬tive group of those who helped, and in some cases hindered, her improvements. Immediately on her left are her supportive friends Charles and Selina Bracebridge, who had guided her early endeavours to obtain professional training and who spent nine months with her in the Crimea. Major Sillery, the tall, bewhiskered figure on the extreme left in the doorway, was so enmeshed in military medical red tape and his own anxieties, that he was unable even to order the cleaning of the filthy lavatories. Alexis Soyer, on the other hand, on the far left in profile with an umbrella, was a civilian of vigorous and imaginative mind, whose famous culinary skills were recruited by Nightingale to the army's great benefit. The nun discernible to Nightingale's right is the Reverend Mother Mary Clare who led five Bermondsey nuns to Scutari; her saintly character and tactful handling of religious controversy were as important as her nursing skills.

    The artist Jerry Barrett appears at the window overlooking the scene, as if to emphasise the evidential reliability of an eye¬witness view. This is slightly misleading, as, although he did visit the scene, it was not until July 1856, by which time several of those depicted had gone home. The point of the painting, however, was a general commemoration of the 'Mission of Mercy', rather than a precise documentation of any one occasion.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 729
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, pp. 140 - 141 Read entry

    Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) pioneered major reforms in nursing care and organisation. This painting by Jerry Barrett (1824–1906) records her receiving the wounded at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1854. It was here that she intervened at a crucial point in the Crimean War (1853– 6), improving the atrocious conditions endured by the wounded soldiers. The painting was commissioned by the publisher and dealer Thos. Agnew & Sons, who also paid for Barrett to visit Scutari. To prove his presence on site, Barrett includes himself looking through the window above Nightingale. The painting also features portraits of thirteen others associated with Nightingale’s work at Scutari, including Alexis Soyer (far left, with grey jacket), who revolutionised dietary regimes at the hospital.

    Nightingale showed immense determination in the face of military red tape to realise her clear-sighted vision of improvements to be made to the nursing system. The Times created her now familiar nickname, ‘The Lady of the Lamp’, describing her legendary midnight vigils when ‘she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds’ and ‘every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her’. On her return to England in 1856, she was greeted as a national hero.

Placesback to top

  • Place portrayed: Turkey (Scutari, Istanbul)

Events of 1857back to top

Current affairs

Palmerston passes the Matrimonial Causes Act in the face of parliamentary opposition. The act establishes divorce courts, although women, unlike men, are not allowed to sue for divorce on the grounds of adultery.
The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition is held, a follow-up to the Great Exhibition of 1851, although highlighting Britain's private art collections rather than industry and technology. More than 1.3 million people visit the event.

Art and science

Elizabeth Gaskell publishes The Life of Charlotte Brontë, a year after the author's death. The controversial biography consolidates the myth of the Brontë sisters as isolated geniuses living in remote Yorkshire.
Illustrator George Scharf becomes the first Secretary of the National Portrait Gallery, overseeing the collection's growth and its several moves around London before a permanent home is established in 1896, the year after Scharf's death.


The Indian Revolt was a significant rebellion against the rule of the East Indian Company and a culmination of decades of discontent about British rule. After a year of horrific violence on both sides, the revolt was suppressed. It led to a more involved role by the British government in India, taking over responsibility from the East India Company.

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