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Thomas Carlyle

9 of 33 portraits by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, 1st Bt

Thomas Carlyle, by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, 1st Bt, circa 1875 -NPG 658 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Thomas Carlyle

by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, 1st Bt
circa 1875
22 in. (559 mm) high
NPG 658

Inscriptionback to top

Incised (left hand side of base): BOEHM/Fecit

This portraitback to top

This bust is closely related to the head of the life-size statue of Carlyle by Boehm. The original plaster model, said to have been executed in January 1875, [1] was formerly in the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh (destroyed c.1945), apparently the statue exhibited RA, 1875 (1301), engraved by E. Roffe for the Art Journal (1878), p 148. A marble version was commissioned by the Earl of Rosebery in 1881, exhibited RA, 1882 (1672), now in the Scottish NPG; a bronze cast of 1883, presumably done from the plaster, is on the Chelsea Embankment, and a copy of 1929 is at Ecclefechan. Boehm also produced an edition of statuettes after the statue (examples in Carlyle's House, London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Royal Collection, and elsewhere), as well as casts of the head like the NPG bust (other examples in the London Library, formerly collection of J. Ballantyne (said to be dated 1874) and elsewhere). Boehm wrote about the NPG bust in a letter to Scharf of 24 January 1882 (NPG archives):

'The reason why I was so remiss with sending the Carlyle bust is that the mould from which the squeezes for terra-cotta copies are to be made was already too blunt as I had a great many busts to do in spite of "The Reminiscences" - and as I wish to give as good an one as possible to your collection I had a new mould made.'
The terracotta bust by Boehm exhibited RA, 1881 (1481) must have been of the NPG type, but presumably cast from the earlier mould mentioned by Boehm.
An earlier statuette, showing variations from the statue (for instance, Carlyle is wearing a short and not long coat, and there are differences of detail), was modelled in 1874, possibly as a trial-run for the life-size statue; examples in terracotta and bronze (both dated 1874) are in the Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery, and Carlyle's House, London, respectively, the latter exhibited Bicentenary Exhibition, RA, 1968-9 (761). Both are described as 'from life'. Boehm received a series of sittings from Carlyle, almost certainly in 1874. When Carlyle first sat, he briskly informed the sculptor: 'I'll give you twenty-two minutes to make what you can of me'. [2] When Boehm punctually finished working, Carlyle was so impressed that he gave him another twenty-two minutes, and then allowed him as many sittings as he required. Referring apparently to the 1874 statuette, Carlyle wrote:

'He [Boehm] seems to me by far the cleverest Sculptor or Artist I have ever seen ... He says he will complete the affair in four sittings, but I fear this will hardly be the case.' [3]
According to Wilson and MacArthur, [4] Carlyle sat to Boehm on 25 June 1875, but it is not clear for which portrait; if the plaster statue was the one exhibited RA, 1875 (1301), then it must have been finished by May for the opening of the exhibition.
Boehm also modelled a medallion of Carlyle in 1874; the original wax study and casts in plaster and bronze are in Carlyle's House, London; another bronze cast is in the Scottish NPG. This medallion was later adapted as a medal to celebrate Carlyle's eightieth birthday. The original gold medal presented to Carlyle was formerly in the collection of Alexander Carlyle; examples in silver and bronze are in Carlyle's House, London, and elsewhere. A plaster cast of the medallion, together with an interesting letter from Boehm of 1880, about his medallions and statues of Carlyle, was sold at Sotheby's, 2 July 1971 (lot 75).

Footnotesback to top

1) See J. A. S. Barrett, 'The Principal Portraits and Statues of Thomas Carlyle', section C of I. W. Dyer, A Bibliography of Thomas Carlyle's Writings and Ana (1928), p 3.
2) C. Eaglestone, 'A Memoir of Sir Edgar Boehm', Blackwood's Magazine, CXLIX (1891), 348.
3) See J. A. S. Barrett, p 3.
4) D. A. Wilson and D. W. MacArthur, Carlyle in Old Age (1934), p 354.

Provenanceback to top

The artist, presented by him, 1882.

Reproductionsback to top

D. Piper, The English Face (1957), pp 289-90, plate 128.


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.

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