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Richard Cobden

2 of 50 portraits of Richard Cobden

Richard Cobden, by Lowes Cato Dickinson, 1870, based on a work of 1861 -NPG 316 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Richard Cobden

by Lowes Cato Dickinson
1870, based on a work of 1861
72 1/4 in. x 48 in. (1835 mm x 1219 mm)
NPG 316

Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated (bottom left): LCD (in monogram) 1870

This portraitback to top

In 1865 the Reform Club organized a 'Cobden Memorial Fund' among its members in order to purchase a bust of Cobden. The fund was heavily over-subscribed, and, after commissioning a marble bust from Noble (dated 1866), it was decided in 1868 to devote the surplus to a further two portraits of Cobden, one for the Club and one for the NPG. Lowes Dickinson executed both portraits, which were based on photographs, a drawing he had made from the life in 1861, [1] and a miniature by Bean; the latter was exhibited SKM, 1868 (461), lent by Mrs Cobden. Bean may be identified with Adolphe Beau, a photograph of Cobden by whom Dickinson is known to have used for his picture (see RA catalogue). The pose in Bean's miniature, which must pre-date both of Dickinson's pictures, is identical with that which Dickinson adopted. According to Cobden's family and friends, Dickinson's portraits were extremely like and characteristic.
The NPG and Reform Club versions are very similar. [2] The figure and pose of Cobden are identical, and the box, inscribed 'Cobden', and the papers (including a copy of The Times) lying on the ground in the left-hand corner, appear in both. The Reform Club version, which was exhibited VE, 1892 (123), is considerably larger (112 x 56 inches), and has an arched top, in order to fit a special panelled niche in the main hall of the Club. The chests of drawers in both portraits differ, and a curtain in the NPG version replaces a screen in the other. An engraving by C. H. Jeens (example in NPG), [3] probably after the Reform Club version, shows a table instead of the chest of drawers. The VE Catalogue also describes the chest of drawers as a table, presumably because it was too dark to be clearly distinguished.
When this portrait was offered to the trustees of the NPG they were in something of a quandary, as they already had two portraits of Cobden, and did not want a third. They attempted to elicit an opinion from Mrs Cobden as to whether she preferred the Dickinson portrait or the one already in the NPG by Fagnani (NPG 201), but she declined to give judgement on this delicate matter. [4] Opinion generally, however, seems to have been in favour of the Dickinson. Baxter, the Reform Club secretary wrote, for instance (letter of 28 June 1870, NPG archives):

'Fagnani's portrait is certainly not a satisfactory one. - I knew Cobden intimately, and I think I never saw a more characteristic likeness of any one than Lowes Dickinson's picture.'
The trustees suggested to the Reform Club that they should take the Fagnani in exchange for the Dickinson, but the Club declined to do this, suggesting the New Town Hall at Rochdale (Cobden's old constituency) as an alternative for the Fagnani. Eventually the trustees decided to keep both portraits. Dickinson himself wrote to Scharf on 27 July 1870 (NPG archives):

'I am very glad your Trustees have accepted the picture - as I took an infinite amount of pains with it ... I think I may venture to hope however that f it be determined now to part with one of the three, it will not be with mine.'
A copy of the NPG version by G. Hillyard-Swinstead is owned by the National Liberal Club. An engraving by J. H. Baker, probably after Dickinson's drawing of 1861, was exhibited RA, 1862 (920).

Footnotesback to top

1) This drawing is reproduced E. I. Barrington, The Servant of All (1927), I, facing 14. A tracing from it by Sir G. Scharf is in the NPG.
2) Dickinson may possibly have painted an earlier portrait of Cobden, before the NPG and Reform Club versions. In 1865 a Mr Fairless offered a portrait of Cobden by Dickinson to the NPG trustees. It does not seem to have been the 1861 drawing.
3) Reproduced Cobden's Speeches (1870), frontispiece.
4) Letter from R. C. Fisher, 23 June 1870, written on behalf of Mrs Cobden (NPG archives).

Physical descriptionback to top

Healthy complexion, brown eyes, grey hair and whiskers. Dressed in a white shirt, dark tie, black suit and shoes. Seated in a red covered chair. Wooden chest of drawers at right, with a large blue bound volume on top, two red volumes, and papers. Blue and white papers at left with a wooden box. Blue and red figured carpet. Background colour brown.

Provenanceback to top

Commissioned from the artist by the Reform Club, and presented by them, 1870.1

1 A letter of 6 June 1870, from the secretary of the Reform Club, Richard Baxter, explaining the commission, and other letters relating to its presentation (NPG archives).

Exhibitionsback to top

RA, 1870 (910).

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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