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Robert Browning

Robert Browning, by (Wilhelm Augustus) Rudolf Lehmann, 1884 -NPG 839 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Robert Browning

by (Wilhelm Augustus) Rudolf Lehmann
37 in. x 28 in. (940 mm x 711 mm)
NPG 839

Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated (bottom left): RL (in monogram) 1884
Inscribed on the back of the canvas: Robert Browning/painted by/Rudolph Lehmann/London 1884

This portraitback to top

This is almost identical in pose and format with Lehmann's oil portrait of Browning of 1875 at Baylor University, Texas (purchased from the Lehmann family, 1946), exhibited RA, 1875 (90). The latter is reproduced in Lehmann's Men and Women of the Century (1896), no.10. According to W. M. Rossetti, both portraits were begun at the same time, the NPG version being finished some years later. Lehmann himself wrote (Reminiscences, p 222):

'I drew him and Mrs Browning in Rome for my Album of Contemporary Celebrities in 1858 [sic] [1]; painted in 1875 the first portrait, in possession of my nephew, R. C. Lehmann; made a second pencil drawing in 1878, now belonging to Mrs Henry Schlesinger; and painted his second portrait, presented by me to the National Portrait Gallery, in 1883 [sic].'
It is clear that Lehmann got further sittings from Browning for the NPG portrait in 1884, as it represents the poet as a much older man than the Baylor University version, although both are almost identical in pose, and were presumably started at the same time (i.e.1875) [2]. Evidence about further sittings is provided by Lewis Hind, who apparently obtained his information from the artist (Art Journal, pp 62-3):

'Browning was an excellent sitter - patient, tractable, and entertaining to a degree. Eight sittings were given for this portrait, and throughout them he talked, always with vivacity, and, apparently never with fatigue. He was no picker of words or subjects, as frank on his own religious beliefs as in a criticism of the last Academy ... When the eight sittings for the oil painting were finished, and the face, hands, and form had grown upon the canvas, Mr Lehmann sent a messenger to the poet asking for the loan of the clothes in which it had been arranged he should be painted. Directly Browning gathered that his beautiful frock-coat would be fitted upon a model and there painted, he started off post haste to Campden Grove, swung into the studio in a whirl of vigour, and thus unbosomed himself "Look here! I'd sooner sit for ever than have my frock-coat put on one of those infernal Italian rascals".'
Another story connected with these sittings is told by the Globe (8 January 1896). Lehmann tried to finish Browning's hands from a model, but 'found that no model's wrist was sufficiently pliable to give the movement he had sketched from the poet's hand. So Browning was summoned again, when he came quite good naturedly as was his wont - although disappointed of his freedom'.

Footnotesback to top

1) Both the drawing of Browning and of his wife were executed in May 1859, and are in the British Museum. They are reproduced in Lehmann's Men and Women of the Century (1896), nos.10a and 11. When Browning came on the drawing of his wife in the artist's studio after her death, he wept. He much preferred the 1859 drawing of himself to the 1875 oil painting, and did not want the latter to be reproduced in Men and Women of the Century. Eventually both were reproduced.
2) The NPG portrait is also distinguished by the absence of a signet ring on the little finger of the right hand, and the addition of a watch-fob to the chain. Browning's watch and watch-chain are now in the British Museum.

Referenceback to top

'Art and Artists', The Globe (8 January 1890), p 6.

Hind 1890
C. L. Hind, 'Portraits of Robert and Elizabeth Browning', Art Journal (1890), pp 62-3.

Lehmann 1894
R. Lehmann, An Artist's Reminiscences (1894), p 222.

Rosetti 1890
W. M. Rossetti, 'Portraits of Robert Browning - III', Magazine of Art (1890), pp 261-3.

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, 139-40.

Physical descriptionback to top

Healthy complexion, blue(?) eyes, grey hair, moustache and beard. Dressed in a white shirt, dark tie, medium grey suit, gold watch-chain and fob, grey gloves. Background colour dark brown.

Provenanceback to top

The artist, presented by him, 1890.

Reproductionsback to top

W. M. Rossetti, 'Portraits of Robert Browning - III', Magazine of Art (1890), reproduced as an engraving, p 261; C. L. Hind, 'Portraits of Robert and Elizabeth Browning', Art Journal (1890), p 63.

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

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