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Sir Henry Irving

Sir Henry Irving, by Harry Furniss, late 1890s-early 1900s -NPG 3471 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Henry Irving

by Harry Furniss
Pen and ink with traces of pencil on paper, late 1890s-early 1900s
9 3/8 in. x 5 1/8 in. (239 mm x 130 mm) overall
NPG 3471

Inscriptionback to top

Signed in ink lower left-hand corner: ‘HyF’;
and inscr. along bottom: ‘Sir Henry Irving / The Serviette’.

This portraitback to top

Henry Irving is dressed in formal white tie, apparently making a speech. Harry Furniss recalled listening to Irving on several such occasions: ‘Irving was a wretched speaker. His set speeches at banquets and other functions were written for him, and he read them from the printed slips so cleverly that only those seated near detected that the words were not spoken extempore.’ [1] This could be Furniss’s sketch of such an occasion, with Irving using the serviette to hide his stack of slips.

The actor proved an endlessly fascinating subject: ‘Perhaps no one in our time lent himself more to caricature than Irving.’ [2] There are 26 caricatures of him by Furniss at the National Portrait Gallery alone, divided between the Reference and Primary collections. Most of the earlier ones show him in character parts, but as Irving grew older Furniss drew him more often in private dress, from the angle of a fellow diner, as here. [3] The inscription ‘Sir Henry Irving’ suggests it was made after his knighthood in 1895.

See NPG collection 3337–3535, 3554–3620.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Furniss 1924, pp.144–5.
2) Furniss 1906, p.45.
3) For other examples, see Garrick Club, London, G0319; and the undated, untraced drawing repr. Bridgeman AL, UIG 866215.

Physical descriptionback to top

Three-quarter-length to right, standing at a dinner table, holding table knife in right hand and a napkin in left hand.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1980.

Provenanceback to top

The artist; his sons, from whom purchased (through Theodore Cluse), April 1947.

Exhibitionsback to top

Edward Gordon Craig 1872–1906, Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull, 1972 (4).

View all known portraits for Harry Furniss


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