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Florence Nightingale

19 of 36 portraits of Florence Nightingale

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Florence Nightingale

by Henry Hering, published by Alfred William Bennett
albumen carte-de-visite, (late 1856-1857)
3 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (88 mm x 58 mm)
Given by Hugh Tolson, 1936
Photographs Collection
NPG x16139

Sitterback to top

  • Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), Reformer of hospital nursing and of the Army Medical Services. Sitter associated with 36 portraits.

Artistsback to top

  • Alfred William Bennett (1833-1902), Botanist and publisher. Artist associated with 31 portraits.
  • Henry Hering (1814-1893), Photographer. Artist associated with 54 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This photograph was considered by the Nightingale family to be the best likeness. It was frequently reproduced, such as the vignetted version. The wide dissemination of these images made it the iconic representation of Florence Nightingale. At the time of the sitting, she was working on her pioneering statistical report Notes on matters affecting the health, efficiency, and hospital administration of the British Army (1858), which concluded, 'Our soldiers are being enlisted to die in barracks'.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Hamilton, Peter; Hargreaves, Roger, The Beautiful and the Damned: The Creation of Identity in Nineteenth Century Portrait Photography, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 6 June to 7 October 2001), p. 48
  • Hart-Davis, Adam, Chain Reactions, 2000, p. 87
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 51 Read entry

    Florence Nightingale arrived in the Crimea with a band of thirty-eight nurses on 4 November 1854. She went there in the face of official opposition, and found appalling conditions. But 'the Lady-in-Chief', as she became known, established herself at Scutari, and succeeded against all odds in transforming the military hospitals there. In the process she laid the foundations of the reforms which led to the modern nursing system. A national heroine, she nevertheless returned to England in 1856 with a minimum of fuss, and lived afterwards the retired life of an invalid, though never slow to give encouragement to those who continued her work. She was the first woman member of the Order of Merit.

    At the time of Florence Nightingale's greatest fame there was an enormous demand for photographs, and this image, by the obscure Derby photographer Goodman, was widely published in carte-de-visite form. She is said to have referred to it, with characteristic incisiveness, as 'Medea after killing her Children'.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1856back to top

Current affairs

Queen Victoria introduces the Victoria cross, an award for British soldiers who displayed exceptional valour in battle. Each medal was produced from Russian guns captured in the British war. In 2006, Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry became the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross since 1965, for his actions in the Iraq war.

Art and science

The National Portrait Gallery is founded by Philip Henry Stanhope, 5th Earl of Stanhope, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and Thomas Carlyle, all biographers and historians. Historical rather than artistic in focus, the Gallery's aim was to collect original portraits of outstanding figures from British history, notably from politics, the arts, literature and science.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning publishes her epic and autobiographical poem Aurora Leigh.


The Treaty of Paris ends the Crimean war. Russia concedes to the Anglo-French-Austrian Four Points of August 1854 including the guarantee of Ottoman sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia also agreed to a demilitarisation of the land islands in the Baltics, a term which lasted until the outbreak of the First World War.
Britain launches the second Opium war against China.

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