Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- Extended catalogue entry
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
by Field Talfourd
23 3/4 in. x 17 5/8 in. (603 mm x 448 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
Signed and dated (bottom left): Field Talfourd/Rome. March./1859.
Inscribed on a label, formerly on the back of the drawing: Elizabeth Barrett Browning/Drawn by Field Talfourd-Rome, - 1859./Belonging to, and commissioned by,/Miss Heaton./6. Woodhouse Square./Leeds.
This portraitback to top
This forms a pair with the drawing of Browning (NPG 1269). On 10 February 1859, Mrs Browning wrote to her sister, Henrietta (Huxley, p 306):
'Tell him [Storm] I shall send him a photograph of Mr Talfourd's picture, if it is at all successful, and he is one of the first of the portrait-artists here. He won't let any one see what is done, but seems confident of not missing the mark.'
She wrote again to the same correspondent on 4 March 1859 (Huxley, pp 312-13):
'A photograph from Mr Talfourd's portrait of me (which has been greatly admired and considered very like by the Roman world) will be sent to you by an early opportunity. It is too flattering - much idealized, in fact - but there must be a good deal of likeness, or it would not strike so universally. As a work of art, it is certainly most beautiful. Don't let me forget to say that the Prince of Wales told Robert very graciously that he had gone to see it - which he did really - and I was very glad, for the artist's sake.'
Miss Heaton commissioned this drawing specifically to rival the portrait of Mrs Browning by Gordigiani (NPG 1899), which had been commissioned by Mrs Eckley in 1858. Both ladies cordially disliked one another, and resented each other's friendship with Mrs Browning. Hence the insistence with which each claimed that she had the best portrait. Mrs Browning herself wrote perceptively to her sister, Arabella, later in the year (McAleer, p 31):
'It is however all made up to me in the Talfourd portrait - for which Miss Heaton gave the commission. She has made herself so unpopular by her ... let me whisper to you Arabel ... by her singular want of refinement & delicacy - & resolution to 'have the only portrait in the world of Mrs Browning' ... dear Sophie Eckley being really wounded by the slight done to herself and her Gordigiani in Florence.'
In a letter to Browning of 18 March 1868 (NPG archives), Miss Heaton wrote that this portrait was ‘nearer to a true representation of her than any other ... You know that I speak of the head in chalk, - for which she so kindly consented to sit, when you were both in Rome in 1859 - to Mr F. Talfourd. – I am glad to know that you approve of this destination for it'. Browning was more cautious, writing to Scharf on 19 March 1868 (NPG archives): 'The portrait is that which I referred to as the best in existence, perhaps'. A copy of the portrait was in the Browning Sale, Sotheby's, 1 May 1913 (lot 5). Four letters from Browning to Miss Heaton, 1868-71, two of them about a photographic reproduction of this portrait, were sold Christie's, 16 July 1969 (lot 112), bought Quaritch.
Referenceback to top
Huxley (ed.) 1929
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Letters to her Sister, 1846-59, edited L. Huxley (1929), pp 306 and 312-13.
Dearest Isa: Robert Browning's Letters to Isa Blagden, edited E. C. McAleer (1951), p 31.
W. M. Rossetti, 'Portraits of Robert Browning', Magazine of Art (1890), p 187.
Physical descriptionback to top
Faint red in the cheeks, dark blue eyes, dark hair.
Provenanceback to top
Presented by Miss Ellen Heaton, 1871.
Exhibitionsback to top
SKM, 1868 (600); Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Centenary Exhibition, St Marylebone Central Library, London, 1961 (106).
Reproductionsback to top
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Letters to her Sister, 1846-59, edited L. Huxley (1929), facing p 306.
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 Elizabeth Barrett Browning