Sir Leslie Stephen

Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London

 Like voting
is closed

Thanks for Liking

Please Like other favourites!
If they inspire you please support our work.

Buy a print Buy a greetings card Make a donation Close

Sir Leslie Stephen

by George Frederic Watts
oil on canvas, 1878
26 in. x 20 7/8 in. (660 mm x 530 mm)
Lent by Matthew Synge, 2006
Primary Collection
NPG L238

On display in Room 22 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), Writer, philosopher, mountaineer and first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography; Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Sitter in 13 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), Painter and sculptor; Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Artist or producer associated with 92 portraits, Sitter in 43 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This portrait was painted in a single sitting on 17 January 1878 as a wedding present for Stephen's fiancée, Julia Duckworth. A contemporary reviewer described Stephen's appearance in the painting as 'critical yet deprecating, sarcastic and mournful, fastidious, thoughtful and Bohemian: not one who ranks either himself or others very high, or expects much from a life that appears to him full of errors of taste, weaknesses of intellect, and futilities of aim'. The introspective, even melancholic, tone seems characteristic of Stephen's personality.

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.

Tell us more back to top

Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, information that is missing (a sitter’s life dates, occupation or family relationships, or a date of portrait for example) or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have information to share please complete the form below.

If you require information from us, please use our Archive enquiry service. You can buy a print of most illustrated portraits. Select the portrait of interest to you, then look out for a Buy a Print button. Prices start at £6 for unframed prints, £25 for framed prints. If you wish to license this image, please use our Rights and Images service.

Please note that we cannot provide valuations.

We digitise over 8,000 portraits a year and we cannot guarantee being able to digitise images that are not already scheduled.

Robert Todd

31 December 2021, 18:08

The portrait would have initially been at 46 Gordon Square (V. Woolf, 'Old Bloomsbury', p. 195) after the Stephen siblings moved there from Hyde Park Gate in late 1904, and then taken by Virginia and Adrian to 29 Fitzroy Square, where they lived from 1907 to 1911, and where Duncan Grant recalled seeing it on the drawing room wall (Recollections of Virginia Woolf, ed, J.R. Noble, 1972, p. 19). It would then seem to have come down through the family of Adrian and Karin Stephen, whose daughter Ann married Richard Millington Synge.

Constance Judkins-Law

11 April 2020, 18:49

In Virginia Woolf's 'A Sketch of the Past', she mentions the following in her description of 22 Hyde Park Gate in 1897, where she and her father (Leslie Stephen) lived:
'...the Watts portrait of father faced the door, flattered, an idealised picture, up to which father would lead admiring ladies; and pause and contemplate it, with some complacency. But 'Lowell said it makes me look like a weasel,' he once said.'

What can you tell us?close

There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.


How do you know this? Please could you let us know your source of information.

* Permission to publish (Privacy information)
Privacy Informationclose

The National Portrait Gallery will NOT use your information to contact you or store for any other purpose than to investigate or display your contribution. By ticking permission to publish you are indicating your agreement for your contribution to be shown on this collection item page. Please note your email address will not be displayed on the page nor will it be used for any marketing material or promotion of any kind.

Please ensure your comments are relevant and appropriate. Your contributions must be polite and with no intention of causing trouble. All contributions are moderated.

Your Emailclose

Contributions are moderated. We'll need your email address so that we can follow up on the information provided and contact you to let you know when your contribution has been published.