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Margot Asquith

18 of 62 portraits by Howard Instead

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Margot Asquith

by Howard Instead
matte bromide print, 1920s
11 1/4 in. x 6 1/2 in. (286 mm x 165 mm)
Purchased, 1983
Photographs Collection
NPG Ax24999

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Howard Instead (active 1918-1935), Photographer. Artist of 62 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. 193 Read entry

    The wife of a Prime Minister who possessed 'a modesty amounting to deformity', Margot Asquith was a very different spirit. 'Unteachable and splendid', she was energetic, opinionated, impetuously generous, and a master of the bon mot. A passionate idealist, with a crusading passion to right wrongs, she once wrote: 'When I hear nonsense talked it makes me physically ill not to contradict'. It is questionable whether these qualities were entirely welcome in the wife of a Prime Minister, but they made her one of the leading personalities of the day. One of the independent group known as 'the Souls', she was also a writer on a wide range of intellectual and aesthetic themes, as exemplified by her Lay Sermons (1927). She also produced volumes of memoirs, including her Autobiography (1920), and a novel.

    Margot Asquith's features were as idiosyncratic as her personality, and this portrait, though Instead worked in the prevailing soft-focus idiom of the 1920s, conveys the force of both. Seen at full length and from below, as if on stage, she looks down her formidable nose and turns as if to address an unseen audience.

    This print is from an album of Instead's work, which mainly comprises portraits of theatrical figures. Little is known of his career, but, according to Cecil Beaton, 'he started life as a painter, but became a photographer instead', making 'delightful Chelsea-ish compositions'. He worked freelance for Vogue around 1918-20. His first studio was at 30 Conduit Street, London. He subsequently moved to 5 Vigo Street nearby, and in the 1930s to the Chenil Studios on the King's Road.

Events of 1920back to top

Current affairs

The Government of Ireland Act (Fourth Home Rule Bill) partitions Ireland into the Irish Free State with a devolved parliament in Dublin and Northern Ireland with a devolved parliament in Belfast.
The Communist Party of Great Britain is founded in London, uniting a number of independent socialist and Marxist parties into a single, united party.

Art and science

Queen Alexandra unveils a monument to Edith Cavell in St Martin's Place opposite the National Portrait Gallery. The English nurse was executed in Germany for helping hundreds of allied soldiers to cross the border from occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands.
George V officially opens the Imperial War Museum at the Crystal Palace.


The Kapp Putsch threatens the newly formed Weimar Republic. In defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, the leaders of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt refused to disband and marched on Berlin, occupying it on the 13th March. With the general army refusing to defend the city, the government fled to Stuttgart. The rebellion, however, failed after the workers joined a general strike, disabling their plans.

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