George Du Maurier

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George Du Maurier

by George Du Maurier
Oil on canvas, circa 1879
19 in. x 15 1/4 in. (484 mm x 386 mm)
NPG 3656

Inscriptionback to top

On back of frame fragment of a Smith & Uppard label: ‘… MORTIMER …T / REGENT ST / LONDON W / French colours & brushes’.

This portraitback to top

This unfinished portrait is not inscribed or dated. It remained with Du Maurier’s descendants until offered and readily accepted by the Gallery in 1949, as a possible self-portrait. [1]

The attribution was strengthened in 1966 when the Du Maurier scholar Derek Pepys Whiteley made the connection between a self-portrait drawing in his collection and the portrait at the NPG: ‘I think there can be no doubt that this portrait [NPG 3656] is in fact by du Maurier since I have a pencil drawing signed by him and dated February 1879, which is clearly related to the portrait and indeed was probably used as a preliminary sketch for the painting. This drawing was given to me about 1947 by the late T.H. Coles, C.B., du Maurier’s son-in-law.’ [2]

In his memoirs Thomas Armstrong – Du Maurier’s fellow student at Gleyre’s Academy in Paris in the 1850s – referred to an unfinished self-portrait which almost certainly corresponds to NPG 3656:

About this time [1856] du Maurier did a little painting of Osbaldiston and Di Vernon. I took this home with me to England and sold it for a ‘fiver’ […] This little work is very interesting from the fact that the five pound note I was able to send him at Malines in payment for it was the first money du Maurier ever earned by artistic work. It is a good composition, and it is interesting to his friends as the only existing oil painting by him, except a portrait of himself, done long afterwards in London, which shows very much better workmanship, but is unfinished. [3]

In fact there was at least one other oils self-portrait (see ‘All known portraits, Self-portraits, c.1856’).

Negotiations to give the portrait to the Gallery were handled by Oliver Millar, one of Du Maurier’s great-grandchildren. His account of the artist’s iconography is a useful summary of family information in 1949. ‘Du Maurier’s iconography is obscure,’ he wrote to the director. ‘Pepys Whiteley is of course the leading expert and he has a pen and ink head of 1875 [pencil, 1879, see above] which he regards as very good and important […] there are a number of self-portrait heads in opaque water-colour which we temporarily possess, but which are of poor quality. A very good pen and ink head was reproduced by Whiteley as the frontispiece of his recent short book on Du Maurier, but the original is lost. There are also a lot of self-portrait drawings in pen and ink of various periods, which are scattered about the family; the earlier and better ones are mainly with my cousin, Peter Llewellyn Davies. Finally, Du Maurier’s daughter, May had two oil portraits, one of which is the portrait which we are offering to the Gallery; the other is still in the family.’ [4]

An accident to his left eye had left Du Maurier unable to pursue a career as a painter, and forced him to turn to graphic art. He worried about straining his remaining good eye and going completely blind. The fact that this is a painted self-portrait, one of only two extant, gives it much added value. It is a frank and searching work, in tonal browns and creams; only the head is finished. A Smith & Uppard label on the back of the gilt Watts frame suggests it was framed between 1889 and 1898, some time after it was painted; it may have remained in the studio until Du Maurier’s death in 1896, when it was left to his favourite daughter May, later Mrs E.H. Coles. Pepys Whiteley’s account reveals that both painting and preparatory drawing had once been in her collection.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) NPG Report of the Trustees 1949–50.
2) Letter from D. Pepys Whiteley, Cambridge, to D. Piper, 21 Apr. 1966, NPG RP 3656. ‘T.H.’ is an error for E.H. (Edward Horsman) Coles. See the photograph in NPG SB (Du Maurier), showing the closeness of the pose.
3) Lamont 1912, pp.145–6, cataloguer’s italics.
4) Letter from O. Millar (Deputy Surveyor of the King’s Pictures) to C.K. Adams, 22 June 1949, NPG RP 3656. For the portrait ‘still in the family’ in 1949 see ‘All known portraits, Self-portraits, c.1856’.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders, slightly to right, eyes turned to left, mouth hidden under thick brown moustache and goatee beard.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1950; 1991.

Provenanceback to top

The sitter; by descent in the family; given by members of the [Millar] family, June 1949.

Exhibitionsback to top

Punch 150th Anniversary Exhibition, Royal Festival Hall, London, 1991 (24).

View all known portraits for George Louis Palmella Busson Du Maurier