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Frederick Burnaby

Frederick Burnaby, by Harry Furniss, 1880-1885 -NPG 3428 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Frederick Burnaby

by Harry Furniss
Pen and ink with faint pencil underdrawing, 1880-1885
12 1/2 in. x 5 in. (318 mm x 127 mm)
NPG 3428

Inscriptionback to top

Signed in ink lower right: ‘Hy F.’;
inscr. in another hand in pencil upper right: ‘Col. Burnaby’.
On reverse pen and ink sketch (approx. 30 mm x 40 mm) of Burnaby’s features (eyebrows, eyes [open], ears, nose, moustache) with pencillings below as if an alternative beginning; plus an unrelated profile sketch of another male, possibly identified as Sir William Harcourt.

This portraitback to top

Harry Furniss does not allude to Burnaby in his memoir volumes, but was active as a political caricaturist when Burnaby stood for parliament in 1880 and when he made his solo cross-Channel hot-air balloon trip in April 1882. Here Furniss portrays Burnaby as a tall, formally dressed ‘man about town’ who nonetheless strikes a relaxed pose, as if going to the races. A less raffish but comparable image was drawn by Leslie Ward (‘Spy’) for Vanity Fair (see ‘All known portraits, Paintings, drawings sculptures and prints, 1876’). Assuming Furniss sketched Burnaby from life (he sometimes drew from memory) the drawing dates from the early 1880s, when Burnaby was at the height of his celebrity as a military man, balloonist, aspiring politician and ardent jingoist. A photograph taken in Birmingham in 1882, presumably while he was campaigning against the Gladstone government’s handling of the crisis in Egypt, shows him similarly dressed, wearing a top hat and pale waistcoat over his broad chest and holding a cigar and an umbrella (see ‘All known portraits’).[1]

Appointed regimental lieutenant-colonel in 1881, Burnaby later volunteered during leave to join an expeditionary force in Sudan, becoming controversial for his participation in and conduct during the battle of El Teb in February 1884, when he used a double-barrelled twelve-bore to kill soldiers of the Mahdist army. It is possible that Furniss drew the angle of Burnaby’s walking stick to suggest a shotgun, although a double reference may be intended as during rowdy political meetings Burnaby carried and sometimes used sticks, of which he acquired a collection presented by admirers. Furniss certainly captures the confident spirit which with Burnaby faced both supporters and detractors when he spoke to cheering crowds in Birmingham ‘in his role as returned hero’.[2] The drawing also illuminates the nickname ‘Captain Bobadil’ bestowed on Burnaby by Joseph Chamberlain in allusion to Ben Jonson’s military braggart (in Every Man in his Humour), as well as hinting at the negative characteristics discerned by a political opponent, who noted ‘He is a dull, heavy fellow in my opinion, with a dash of cunning and more than a dash of brutality.’[3]

Despite the shotgun controversy, Burnaby was appointed full colonel in September 1884; two months later he left Britain, again as an individual, to take part in the planned rescue of General Gordon, and died in the battle of Abu Klea.

See NPG collection 3337–3535, 3554–3620

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Alexander 1957, pl.7. The photograph was possibly taken by or in collaboration with Sir Benjamin Stone, Burnaby’s political colleague in Birmingham.
2) Alexander 1957, p.170.
3) Wilfrid Scawen Blunt Diary, 29 Apr. 1884, quoted Alexander 1957, p.173.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length to front, hands in trouser pockets, wearing civilian clothes and top hat, walking stick over right wrist.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1980.

Provenanceback to top

The artist; his sons, from whom purchased (through Theodore Cluse), April 1947.

View all known portraits for Frederick Gustavus Burnaby

View all known portraits for Harry Furniss