Jane Baillie Carlyle (née Welsh)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Jane Baillie Carlyle (née Welsh)

by Robert Scott Tait
albumen print, April 1855
5 3/4 in. x 4 5/8 in. (146 mm x 116 mm)
Given by Christopher Geoffrey Woolner, 1975
Photographs Collection
NPG x5665

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Robert Scott Tait (1816-1897), Painter and photographer. Artist or producer associated with 18 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. 33 Read entry

    The self-willed and precocious daughter of a country doctor - on her tenth birthday she burnt her doll on a funeral pyre in imitation of Dido - Jane Welsh was known because of her wit and beauty as 'the flower of Haddington'. In 1826 she married, against her mother's wishes, the essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle, her social inferior, determined to make a great man of him. Together, in Edinburgh and later in London, they forged one of the legendary marriages of literary history, formidable in public, turbulent in private: Carlyle was demanding and self-absorbed, Jane frugal yet deeply romantic, obsessed by her childlessness, intensely jealous, and, in her later years, a great invalid.

    Tait, a relatively obscure portrait and genre painter and amateur photographer, became friendly with the Carlyles in the 1850s, and painted and photographed them and their house at 5 Cheyne Row, London. This photograph conveys much of Jane's passionate Angst, within the confines of a conventional format. It once belonged to the sculptor Thomas Woolner, who in 1855, the year it was taken, made a medallion portrait of Carlyle which is in the Gallery's collection.

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Events of 1855back to top

Current affairs

Palmerston becomes Prime Minister, leading a coalition government after Lord Aberdeen loses a vote of confidence over his handling of the Crimean war. Known by the nickname 'Lord Pumicestone' for his abrasive style, Palmerston is the oldest prime minister in history to take up the post for the first time at the age of 71.
Stamp duty on newspapers is abolished, creating the mass media market in the UK as newspapers became more widely and cheaply available.

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The social theorist and sociologist Herbert Spencer and philosopher G. H. Lewes, publishes Principles of Pyschology, exploring a physiological basis to psychology.


The Fall of Sebastopol in the Crimean war, as Russia retreats, and the exhaustion of the Turkish alliance means the war nears its end. Despite being rebuffed by Florence Nightingale's team of nurses, Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole travels to the Crimea, opening a 'British Hotel' for sick and injured soldiers. She gains significant attention and praise for her nursing work.

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