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Charles Babbage

Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Charles Babbage

by Samuel Laurence
50 in. x 40 in. (1270 mm x 1016 mm)
NPG 414

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed on the stretcher: Samuel Laurence/21 Wigmore St/R.A ... [last part indecipherable]

This portraitback to top

Two undated letters from Babbage to Laurence in the British Museum concern sittings (British Museum, Add MS 37200, f 406-7). The one headed '21 Wigmore St.' probably refers to this portrait, as Babbage only moved to this address in c.1844. The letter headed '36 Charlotte St.' probably refers to the portrait of Babbage by Laurence painted in 1837. This was exhibited RA 1837 (366), and VE 1892 (296), lent by Mrs Isaacs. On entering the collection, the canvas size of the NPG portrait was reduced by folding part of it under the stretcher, so as to reveal only the head and shoulders. This was done at a time when the NPG was very short of space. It led to an exchange of correspondence between Scharf and Colonel Babbage, the sitter's son, who, under the impression that the picture had been cut down, accused the NPG of mutilating his father's portrait, and even threatened to publish the correspondence between himself and Scharf in the Athenaeum. The correspondence only ceased when the portrait was restored to something like its original size in January 1882. In one of his letters, Colonel Babbage wrote (NPG archives):

'I always considered the portrait of my father very good not only as regards the face but as regards the figure and the attitude of the body. I think an earlier one by the same artist was superior, but this one is very good. The other was taken to S. Australia by my eldest brother and was unfortunately burnt there with his house - this one is the only other Portrait that I know of at least in oils.'
The picture owned by Colonel Babbage's brother must have been a replica of the 1837 portrait, as the original was still in the possession of Mrs Isaacs in 1892 (see above). Its present location is unknown. Sir Edward Ryan was a friend and contemporary of Babbage at Trinity College, Cambridge, and presumably commissioned this portrait from Laurence.

Referenceback to top

F. Miles, 'Samuel Laurence' (typescript copy, NPG library).

Physical descriptionback to top

Brown complexion, brown eyes and hair. Dressed in black stock, white shirt and dark brown coat. Elbow leaning on chair covered in black material. Behind at right table covered in plum red velvet cloth, with a folder and a pair of dividers resting on it. Above table on right is a dark green curtain. General background colour reddish-brown.

Provenanceback to top

Sir Edward Ryan, bequeathed by him, 1876.

Exhibitionsback to top

RA, 1845 (227).

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.

View all known portraits for Charles Babbage

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