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William Eden Nesfield

2 of 2 portraits of William Eden Nesfield

William Eden Nesfield, by Sir William Blake Richmond, circa 1859 -NPG 4354 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue Search

William Eden Nesfield

by Sir William Blake Richmond
Pencil and chalk on wove paper, circa 1859
17 3/4 in. x 12 3/4 in. (452 mm x 323 mm)
NPG 4354

Inscriptionback to top

Inscr. in pencil lower right-hand corner: ‘April / W.B. Richmond’;
and (faintly) centre right on left shoulder, possibly: ‘March 31st’.
Note formerly pasted below image (now NPG RP 4354): ‘W. Nesfield F.I.B.A.[sic] / Distinguished Architect / drawn by me probably / in 1859. W.B. Richmond’.

This portraitback to top

This portrait of Nesfield was found by the donor, E.G. Millar, ‘many years’ before he offered it to the National Portrait Gallery;[1] William Blake Richmond was still alive and Millar was able to show it to him. Richmond thought he had ‘probably’ drawn it in 1859,[2] but it is now generally considered to be later, c.1865.[3] The portrait certainly accords with Swinburne’s description of the architect in 1863: ‘A fat, jolly, hearty fellow, genuinely good natured, very fond of smoking and, I deeply grieve to say, of women.’[4] The drawing is signed and inscribed ‘April’. There are no details regarding the commission, or of relations between the two men (Nesfield was seven years older), but they were both friends of Albert Moore and moved in similar circles.

In the early 1860s Richmond was producing portraits in a style influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites. The life-size drawing of Nesfield is actually more freely drawn than many of these works, and effectively conveys the sensuality and hubris of his personality: ‘Among [Nesfield’s] strongest characteristics’, wrote the architect John Hebb, ‘were his singular uprightness and a sturdy independence in his bearing towards his clients. He could never be persuaded that he was the servant of an employer, and treated him in something of the same manner that Michelangelo assumed to Pope Julius – as a friend and patron and nothing more.’[5]

Nesfield’s iconography is small, and Richmond’s drawing is the only non-photographic portrait to show him in his prime.

Footnotesback to top

1) Eric George Millar F.S.A. (1887–1966), Keeper of Manuscripts, BM 1944–7 and authority on illuminated manuscripts (Who Was Who 1972, p.782).
2) ‘Dr Eric Millar brought in to-day a drawing which he picked up many years ago of William Nesfield the architect by Sir William Blake Richmond. He showed it to Richmond who wrote a note which is pasted beneath it stating that it was drawn by him around 1859.’ C.K. Adams, memorandum, 10 Feb. 1964, NPG RP 4354.
3) Nesfield 1988, repr. p.12.
4) Lang 1969, vol.1, p.44.
5) Hebb 1903, p.398.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders, almost three-quarters to left, against a panelled background.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1982.

Provenanceback to top

Dr Eric G. Millar, who gave it to the NPG, Apr. 1964.

Exhibitionsback to top

Richard Norman Shaw exhibition, RIBA, London, 1976–7 (no cat.).

Reproductionsback to top

Asleson 2000, p.26.

James-Fowler 2004.

View all known portraits for William Eden Nesfield

View all known portraits for Sir William Blake Richmond

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