George Eliot

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- npg number matching '1405'

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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George Eliot

replica by François D'Albert Durade
oil on canvas, 1850-1886, based on a work of 1850
13 1/2 in. x 10 1/2 in. (343 mm x 267 mm)
Purchased, 1905
Primary Collection
NPG 1405

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Eliot's own writings indicate that she was less suspicious of sitting to the portrait painter than the photographer, perhaps because of the photograph’s unlimited reproducibility which could become the object of the gaze of so many people. Visiting Geneva in 1850 she wrote to a friend: ‘You will be amused to hear that I am sitting for my portrait’. The result was two portraits by the Swiss artist François D'Albert Durade, of which this one is the second. She nevertheless wrote that they were painted at his request 'not mine [...] The idea of making a study of my visage is droll enough.'

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 59 Read entry

    The novelist George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Cross, 1819-80) is one of the greats of nineteenth-century English literature. She wrote of herself: ‘I have turned out to be an artist – with words.’ The author of many acclaimed works, starting with Adam Bede (1859), her masterpiece is Middlemarch (1871-2), subtitled A Study of Provincial Life. Her novels are mostly about rural provincial life and feature weavers, millers’ daughters and carpenters (of which her father was one). An intellectual and a famed literary stylist, thinker and observer, she earned her living from a career in writing that began at the Westminster Review. Her literary circle included the philosopher and critic G.H. Lewes, with whom she lived until his death in 1878, after which she married John Cross. In her own name she worked as an editor and critic, and although she published her novels under a male pseudonym, she nonetheless challenged the masculine bias of her world. She did things her way, regardless of the opprobrium this attracted, especially of her personal life.

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  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 198
  • Various, William Morris: Words & Wisdom, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 16 October 2014 - 11 January 2015)

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Events of 1850back to top

Current affairs

Cardinal Wiseman, a Catholic priest who had exerted a strong influence on the Oxford movement, is made a Cardinal and leader of the Catholic church in England, thus restoring Roman Catholic hierarchy in England.

Art and science

Death of poet laureate William Wordsworth; his great autobiographical poem The Prelude is published posthumously, famously charting the growth of the poet's mind.
Tennyson's In Memoriam is also published. A poignant record of his grief over the death of his friend Arthur Hallam, the poem also movingly questions the strength of faith in an increasingly scientific age.


Up to 50,000 pioneers travel west in wagons on the Oregon trail in the United States, one of the main overland migration routes across the continent. Spanning over half the continent, the trail led 2,170 miles through territories and land which would later become six US states, including Kansas, Wyoming and Oregon, helping the US to implement its goal of Manifest Destiny - building a nation spanning the North American continent.

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