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Sir Max Beerbohm

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Sir Max Beerbohm

by Filson Young
bromide print, 1916
11 3/4 in. x 8 7/8 in. (297 mm x 224 mm)
Purchased, 1975
Primary Collection
NPG P864

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

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. 181 Read entry

    The caricaturist and humorist Beerbohm married in 1910 the American actress Florence Kahn, and thereafter the couple lived for most of their time in Italy, not least because they were poor and it was cheap. In 1915, however, following the outbreak of war, Beerbohm felt compelled to return to England, and there he remained until 1919. This photograph, taken at that time, is conceived as an hommage à Whistler, for Beerbohm's pose, indeed the whole composition, follows closely that painter's Arrangement in Grey and Black, No.2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (1872-3; City Art Gallery, Glasgow). Beerbohm caricatured both artist and sitter in his 'Blue China' (Tate Gallery, London), published in Rossetti and His Circle (1922), but, while one suspects that he had little time for the egocentric Scots historian, Whistler, as the first of the late nineteenth-century dandy-aesthetes, was to some extent a role-model for him.

    Whether it was Beerbohm or Young who suggested the parody - the photographer's inscription implies that it was his idea - the image is the perfect vehicle for Beerbohm, urbane, aesthetic and gently facetious, and shows the author of the ironical and fantastic Zuleika Dobson, in the guise of the self-absorbed and deadly serious 'sage of Chelsea'.

    Young worked at this time from 124 Ebury Street, London, and despite the evident distinction of the few known examples of his photographic work - mainly portraits and topography - is better known as a writer. His first published work, written under the pseudonym 'X. Ray', was A Psychic Vigil (1896), but he also wrote novels, poetry, and works on art, music, the Navy, motoring, famous trials (including that of Dr Crippen), and a two-volume study of Christopher Columbus. He ended his career as Adviser on Programmes to the BBC, and his last book was Shall I Listen? Studies in the Adventure and Technique of Broadcasting (1933). His portrait of Beerbohm was published in Photograms of the Year (1916), plate II.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 46

Events of 1916back to top

Current affairs

As war drags on with heavy losses conscription is introduced with the Military Service Act. Conscientious objectors who refused to fight were compelled to do non-military war work, and some were jailed.
British Summer Time is introduced, putting the clocks forward an hour during the summer in order to capitalise on daylight hours.

Art and science

C. Hubert H. Parry sets William Blake's poem, Jerusalem, to music popularising the poem and tune as a patriotic English anthem. On hearing Edward Elgar's orchestrated version in 1922, King George V suggested that it replace God Save the King as the National Anthem.


The Irish Citizen Army starts a Nationalist rebellion in Dublin: The Easter Rising.
Massive losses are suffered on the Western Front at the battles of the Somme and Verdun.
The Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire (1916-18) led by Prince Faisal is assisted by T.E. Lawrence, who became known as Lawrence of Arabia.

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