Sir Alfred Gilbert
- Extended catalogue entry
Sir Alfred Gilbert
by John McLure Hamilton
Pastel on blue wove paper, laid on to canvas, 1887
17 7/8 in. x 23 7/8 in. (455 mm x 608 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
Signed and dated lower left: 'Hamilton / 1887.’
This portraitback to top
In 1920 the American John McLure Hamilton – who had been born in Philadelphia but lived in England from 1878 – offered four of his works to the National Portrait Gallery: the present pastel of Gilbert and further portraits of sculptor (Edward) Onslow Ford (NPG 1866), landscape painter Matthew Ridley Corbet (NPG 1867), and poet and critic William Cosmo Monkhouse (NPG 1868). ‘These four men, contemporaries, were intimately associated with each other in friendship and work throughout their careers,’ he wrote to the Gallery’s director, J.D. Milner. ‘All were at one time my intimate friends: the only one still living, Gilbert, is an exile.’  Gilbert had been living in Bruges since 1903 and would not return to England until 1926. In a sense the arrieriste Hamilton and (to a lesser extent) Gilbert were both involved in a comparable struggle for recognition in a changed, post-war society.
Soon after this gift Hamilton published his memoirs, Men I Have Painted (1921). Here he relates that at the time of the drawing Gilbert was working on the Shaftesbury Memorial fountain for Piccadilly Circus; describing him as ‘a stoutly built, powerful man with a strong, square head and masterful jaw’, he rated Gilbert as ‘the modern Cellini and the greatest of all English sculptors’. 
A portrait of Gilbert by Hamilton was shown at the annual exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1912 (135, possibly NPG 1865; no further details).
Hamilton drew the sculptor in his working clothes, as confirmed by photographs of the late 1880s/early 1890s. Another report of a studio visit describes Gilbert as ‘a sturdy man, of medium stature, with clean shaven, determined features, almost boyish in their frankness’, dressed in ‘a white flannel coat and vest, low collar, and necktie à la Française’; he stood out among his smock-clad assistants by ‘the hat on his head, and sneezing more or less all the year round’.
Footnotesback to top
1) Letter from J.M. Hamilton to J.D. Milner, 15 June 1920, NPG RP 1865. In the 1880s Gilbert, Corbet and Ford were neighbours in the complex of studios at The Avenue, Fulham Road; Dorment 1985, p.58. For an account of Hamilton’s views on glazing pastels, see his letter to Milner, 23 June 1920, NPG RP 1865.
2) Hamilton 1921, pp.123–5. He describes his drawing (at this date accessioned but not displayed, under the NPG’s ten-year rule) as ‘designed for the National Portrait Gallery’ (p.14).
3) C. Lewis Hind, ‘An Hour with Mr Gilbert ARA’, Globe and Traveller, no.29, 27 Jan. 1890, p.3, cited Dorment 1985, pp.101–2. For discussion of Gilbert’s cultivation of the artist-dandy persona, and his style of dress, see Edwards 2006, pp.32–6.
Physical descriptionback to top
Head-and-shoulders to right, head lowered, wearing hat and floppy bow tie.
Provenanceback to top
The artist; given to the NPG 1920.
Exhibitionsback to top
Royal Society of Portrait Painters, 22nd Annual Exhibition, London, 1912 (135).
Reproductionsback to top
Hamilton 1921, facing p.122.
View all known portraits for Sir Alfred Gilbert