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Robert Browning

Robert Browning, by Field Talfourd, 1859 -NPG 1269 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Robert Browning

by Field Talfourd
24 7/8 in. x 17 5/8 in. (632 mm x 448 mm)
NPG 1269

Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated (lower right): Field Talfourd/Rome 1859
Inscribed in Browning's hand (bottom left): This portrait was executed at Rome, in 1859,/as a companion to that of E. B. B. now in the/National Portrait Gallery, by Field Talfourd, - whose/property it remained. I rejoice that it now belongs/to my friend Gosse. Robert Browning,/Apr.10. '85.

This portraitback to top

This forms a pair with the portrait of Elizabeth Browning (NPG 322). Gosse wrote to W. M. Rossetti at some length about the history of the picture ('Portraits of Browning', p 187):

'Of all the portraits of his middle lift, that in which Browning took most interest was the crayon drawing, life-size, made in Florence in 1859 by Field Talfourd, the younger brother of the author of 'Ion'. This portrait, which is now in my possession, was lost for nine years, and the history of its vicissitudes is rather curious. It was the pendant to that drawing of Mrs Browning which is the best known of all her heads, and which is now in the National Portrait Gallery. Mr Browning intended to secure it, but his wife's serious illness led his thoughts away from the matter, and, meanwhile, Field Talfourd left Florence. After Mrs Browning's death in 1861, her husband made several efforts to find Talfourd, but in vain. At last, early in 1874, that artist died. The poet did not hear of his death until the contents of the studio were dispersed beyond the hope of being traced. It was not heard of again until, in March, 1885, Mr Hamo Thornycroft, R.A., happened to notice in the back of a shop in Hammersmith a large crayon portrait, which attracted his attention with something vaguely familiar in the face. He pointed it out to me, and I bought it; the only clue to its identity being that the dealer, who had had it for years in his possession, remembered that he had been told that it was 'one of them poets'. Without warning Mr Browning, I dropped in at 19, Warwick Crescent, with the Talfourd drawing under my arm. At the first glimpse of it, the poet shouted out: 'At last! here is the long-lost portrait of me;' and he wrote on the base of it the inscription which is engraved in facsimile (on page 183). He frequently in later years, referred to his interest in this portrait. In a letter to me, dated February 23rd, 1888, in reference to the illustration of his complete works, he says of the Talfourd picture: 'My sister - a better authority than myself— has always liked it, as resembling its subject when his features had more resemblance to those of his mother than in after-time, when those of his father got the better - or perhaps the worse - of them'.'
There is a photogravure print after the portrait by the Berlin Photographische Gesellschaft (example in NPG).

Referenceback to top

De Vane and Knickerbocker (eds.) 1951
New Letters of Robert Browning, edited W. C. De Vane and K. L. Knickerbocker (1951), pp 112-3, 115.

G. E. Wilson, Robert Browning's Portraits, Photographs and Other Likenesses and their Makers, edited A. J. Armstrong, Baylor Bulletin, XLVI (December 1943), no.4, 56-8.

Physical descriptionback to top

Light blue eyes, dark hair.

Provenanceback to top

The artist, sold at his death, 1874; J. Glendinning, purchased from him by Edmund Gosse; purchased from Gosse, 1900.

Exhibitionsback to top

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Centenary Exhibition, St Marylebone Central Public Library, London, 1961 (107).

Reproductionsback to top

W. M. Rossetti, 'Portraits of Browning - I', Magazine of Art (1890), p 187, p 183.

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 Robert Browning