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George Hamilton Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen

7 of 50 portraits of George Hamilton Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen

Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue

George Hamilton Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen

by John Partridge
circa 1847
45 1/2 in. x 57 in. (1156 mm x 1448 mm)
NPG 750

This portraitback to top

Like Partridge's portraits of Melbourne (NPG 941), Macaulay (NPG 1564) and Palmerston (NPG 1025), this portrait is closely related to the figure of Aberdeen in Partridge's group, 'The Fine Arts Commissioners' (NPG 342), and was presumably painted as a finished study for it. Aberdeen is shown in the NPG portrait with a sketch of the Acropolis in his hands, a Greek vase on the table and a model of the Parthenon behind, an expression of his antiquarian interests. He was president of the Society of Antiquaries from 1812-46, and wrote a book on Greek architecture. [1] Partridge painted most of the Fine Arts Commissioners individually between 1844 and 1849, and retained these portraits himself, many of which he exhibited at his own Gallery (copy of catalogue, NPG archives; it does not list Aberdeen's portrait), following his refusal to exhibit at the Royal Academy after 1846. At his death in 1872, his executors attempted to sell these portraits to the original sitters or their descendants, auctioning the remainder in 1874. The Dowager Countess of Aberdeen wrote to Sir John Clarke, one of the executors, on 9 April 1873, thanking him for the offer of her husband's portrait:

'The portrait of Lord Aberdeen does not strike me as at all a good likeness. The eye and expression are not his, but I should like (in case any of my family might wish to save it from being sold away) to ask at what price it is valued, and also the sketches for the pictures of my father and mother, Mr and Mrs Baillie of Mellerstain, called Metterstein in the catalogue.' [2]
In a letter of 17 April 1873, Lady Aberdeen agreed to buy the portraits of her parents (both the kitcat size portraits and the two smaller sketches), but postponed a decision on the portrait of her husband until her son had seen it. As it appeared in the sale, and as Lady Aberdeen only paid £26 12 0 to the executors 'on account of the pictures' (letter of 8 July 1873), it is clear that the family had decided not to buy the portrait of Lord Aberdeen.
In the past the date 1846 has been given to the portraits of the Commissioners, as well as to the finished picture of the whole group, presumably because this is the date of the meeting depicted. It is clear, however, from contemporary evidence that the big picture was still in progress in 1854. A letter from Lord Aberdeen to Partridge, dated 6 October 1844, informs the artist that he will be pleased to sit for his portrait, and another letter from Lady Aberdeen to Partridge, dated 6 July 1845, states that her husband will call the following day for a sitting. Since Partridge did not apparently start work on the group portrait till 1846, it seems doubtful if the two letters refer to this portrait, which is a study for it. In his MS notebook, Partridge dated this portrait 1847.

Footnotesback to top

1) Inquiry into the principles of beauty in Grecian Architecture (1822).
2) This letter, and others mentioned above, are in the NPG archives. The original full-length portraits of Mr and Mrs Baillie, painted in 1828 (see Partridge's MS 'Sitters Book', NPG archives) are in the collection of the Earl of Haddington, and so also are the studies.

Physical descriptionback to top

Brown eyes, and brown hair with grey streaks. Dressed in a white stock, white shirt, and black suit. Seated in a high backed mahogany chair with red velvet covering. Holding a print with green and brown foreground and blue sky. On the left a table with a red table-cloth, black Greek vase with red figure decoration, quill pen, writing pad, and silver and glass inkstand. Behind on left a stone-coloured model of the Parthenon. On the right, behind, a red dispatch box on a wood and gilt side-table. Background colour very dark brown.

Provenanceback to top

The artist; Partridge Sale, Christie's, 15 June 1874 (lot 62), bought Smith; Henry Willett, presented by him, 1886.

Exhibitionsback to top

SKM, 1868 (401).

Reproductionsback to top

R. L. Ormond, 'John Partridge and the Fine Arts Commissioners', Burlington Magazine, CIX (1967), 402, figure 24.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Ormond, Early Victorian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1973, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.