Sir Henry Irving
17 of 122 portraits of Sir Henry Irving
- Extended catalogue entry
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Sir Henry Irving
by Harry Furniss
Pen and ink, with traces of pencil, on card, published circa 1913-1916
15 1/4 in. x 12 1/2 in. (387 mm x 317 mm) overall
Inscriptionback to top
Signed in ink lower left-hand corner: ‘H.y.F.’;
and inscr. in pencil, almost rubbed out, top right-hand corner: ‘Sir Henry Irving’.
Blind stamp top left-hand corner: ‘Bristol Board Winsor & Newton’.
This portraitback to top
This brilliant depiction showing Henry Irving towards the end of his life is by Harry Furniss, who drew the actor on and off stage for over thirty years. Such a stream of satire did not spoil a relationship which, according to Furniss at least, was grounded in respect and artistic fellowship. Furniss’s writing on Irving was mainly flattering; and his sketches of him edgy but not cruel: he believed that artist and actor were useful to each other. In a 1906 memorial article on Irving he wrote: ‘although there is no denying the fact that he was very sensitive to caricature, he knew that I was a genuine admirer of his genius, and that in common with all artists I knew him to be a true artist also, and his poses and the management of his hands and drapery were well worth studying by the brethren of the pencil and the brush.’  See the Henry Irving Correspondence for evidence of their exchanges during the 1890s. 
In this image, executed on prepared card for optimum definition, Furniss has concentrated on the head, especially the deep-set eyes. There are some working corrections, especially to the lower lip which has been scratched out and redrawn; but the verve of his pen and years of observation allow Furniss to capture elements of Irving’s complex personality.
See NPG collection 4095(1–11). For other drawings and further information relating to Furniss’s career as an artist, see collection entry NPG 3337–3535, 3554–3620.
Footnotesback to top
1) Furniss 1906, pp.41–2; this extract also appears in Furniss , p.189.
2) Henry Irving Correspondence, Ref. Nos 1619 to 1622 (THM/37/7/24).
3) ‘For reproduction I always draw on hot-pressed Bristol Boards’; Furniss 1914, p.30.
Physical descriptionback to top
Almost whole-length to right, seated with legs crossed, right arm resting on chairback, left hand extended, eyes glaring over pince-nez, smoking cigar.
Conservationback to top
Provenanceback to top
Blenheim Galleries, London, from whom purchased February 1959.
Exhibitionsback to top
Edward Gordon Craig: Man of the Theatre, centenary exhibition, Camden Arts Centre, London, 1972 (3).
Edward Gordon Craig 1872–1966, Ferens AG, Kingston upon Hull, 1972 (3).
Harry Furniss 1854–1925: Confessions of a Caricaturist, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1983 (2).
Reproductionsback to top
Furniss [c.1923], pl.113.
View all known portraits for Harry Furniss