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Florence Nightingale

2 of 36 portraits of Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale, by Elizabeth (née Rigby), Lady Eastlake, 1846 -NPG 3254 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Florence Nightingale

by Elizabeth (née Rigby), Lady Eastlake
Red and black chalks on paper, 1846
12 1/8 in. x 10 in. (309 mm x 253 mm), oval, uneven
NPG 3254

Inscriptionback to top

Inscr. in pencil lower left (very faint): ‘E Rigby July [?]4 1846’.

This portraitback to top

In 1846, the date of this drawing, Elizabeth Rigby presented a formidable figure. [1] Unmarried, nearly six feet tall, she was a linguist, an author and professional journalist, well connected in Edinburgh and in London. In her twenties she had studied with Henry Sass and her work was admired by the artist Edward Thomas Daniell: ‘Your drawings go far beyond what I expected, particularly those of your mother and yourself. … I must say that, although there are many London performers who would do the head with greater facility, I know of no one capable of giving such a chaste simplicity of character.’ [2]

At the end of June 1846 Rigby was returning from London to Edinburgh. She travelled in stages, touring Derbyshire beauty spots, as she reported to her publisher, John Murray: ‘Matlock, after Scotch glens, I thought but little of. We revisited this from the Lea Hurst – the home of Mr. Nightingale – whose wife is sister to Mrs. Nicholson, and whose little plain, but nice and accomplished daughter, was one of the party to the Queen’s Summer House.’ [3] By 7 July she was on the train to Darlington, and the week after back in Edinburgh.

That same June the Nightingales had migrated from Embley Park, Hampshire, to Lea Hurst near Matlock, Derbyshire, as they did every summer. Florence’s usual sense of frustration was to an extent soothed by these northern visits, when she could escape to neighbouring cottages. [4] Formidable or not, Rigby – and her sketching of Florence’s head – made little impression. Only days later Nightingale wrote: ‘What is my business in this world and what have I done this last fortnight? I have read the Daughter at Home to Father and two chapters of Mackintosh; a volume of Sybil to Mama. Learnt seven tunes by heart. Written various letters. Ridden with Papa. Paid eight visits. Done company. And that is all.’ [5] Equally, Rigby’s view of the 26-year-old Florence as ‘little plain, but nice and accomplished’ is at odds with the usual descriptions of her as a tall and attractive young woman. (It is possible, but unlikely, that Rigby was referring to Parthenope Nightingale.) Needless to say, Rigby went on to become one of Nightingale’s great admirers. [6]

In spite of the initial lack of rapport, and some artistic licence (see the enlarged eyes and shapely lips), this drawing has value as an outsider’s view of Nightingale, executed at a time when she agreed to pose for nobody outside the family. Emery Walker photographed the drawing after Nightingale’s death, around 1913, and it was published as a large photogravure (collotype) (see NPG D38969). [7]

The original drawing, NPG 3254, was unknown to Nightingale’s biographer E.T. Cook in 1914. Barbara, Lady Stephen, rediscovered it in the family collections in 1935, and included it in her 1936 list of portraits of Nightingale. [8] When her husband, Sir Harry Stephen, Bt, offered it to the National Portrait Gallery in May 1945 (together with a watercolour of the Nightingale sisters, NPG 3246) he described it as ‘a copy by Parsons of a drawing by Lady Eastlake about 1852, aetat 32, which no longer exists’. [9] This is incorrect as NPG 3254 is signed and dated July 1846. It seems that Stephen confused the drawing in his possession with Cook’s 1914 references to a destroyed drawing by Eastlake, c.1852 [10], and to its copy by John Robert Parsons, c.1880, known to Barbara Stephen in 1936. [11] Evidence provided by Barbara’s sister Rosalind Nash only fuelled the confusion. [12]

In August 1945 Sir Harry sent the Gallery an Emery Walker collotype in error for the original drawing. [13] He died some weeks later. His sister D.V. Stephen then sent in the original in November, framed and set behind a gold oval mount; the glass cracked in transit, but the Gallery’s director, Henry Hake, reported no damage to the portrait. And, he added warmly, ‘the drawing of Florence Nightingale which you have just sent is an even more precious document for us [than the portrait by William White, NPG 3246]’. [14] Elizabeth Rigby’s 1846 drawing was finally accepted by the trustees in February 1946.

Nash reported that the drawing had been conserved in the 1940s: ‘Not very long ago, I think it must have been in 1944, my sister … told me she had had the picture cleaned & that it had been a success’; [15] in December 1945 the sheet was described as ‘badly torn and carefully repaired’. [16] The old backing was removed and replaced with a thicker support in March 1979, when the drawing was again repaired and cleaned. To appreciate the drawing it is best looked at together with Walker’s photogravure. [17]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) For Rigby’s appearance in the mid-1840s see the calotypes by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, e.g. NPG P6(124). She married Sir Charles Lock Eastlake in April 1849.
2) Letter from E.T. Daniell to E. Rigby, 2 Jan. 1831, quoted in Smith 1895, vol.1, pp.6–7.
3) Letter from E. Rigby to J. Murray, 14 July 1846, quoted in Sheldon 2009, p.106. (‘Queen’s Summer House’ perhaps refers to Osborne House, IoW, purchased by Queen Victoria in 1845.)
4) F. Nightingale, private note, 16 July 1846: ‘Rubbed Mrs Spence for the second time. I am such a creeping worm that if I have anything of the kind to do, I can do without marriage, or intellect, or social intercourse’ (quoted in O’Malley 1931, p.119).
5) F. Nightingale, diary entry, Lea Hurst, 7 July 1846, quoted in Cook 1914, vol.1, pp. 63–4. Daughter at Home is S. Stephen, Anna; or, Passages from the Life of a Daughter at Home, a religious publication offering ‘counsels of submission’; and Sybil is Mrs (E.C.) Grey, Sybil Lennard: A Record of Woman’s Life, publ. 1846.
6) Letter from Lady Eastlake to Fanny Nightingale, 22 Aug. 1856, congratulating her on ‘safe return’ of Florence; ‘give her my love & thanks – for it is the divine nature of such deeds as hers to benefit even such idle undeserving lookers-on as I am’; Claydon House Trust, N232.
7) Prints in other collections include Florence Nightingale M., London, 0006 and 0765; and Duke U. Medical Center L., Durham, NC, 01939. See also three postcards of the Emery Walker photograph, presented to the NPG in 1925, now NPG SB (Nightingale).
8) See Stephen 1936, p.6; and A. Attewell, ‘Authentic Representations of Florence Nightingale’, Florence Nightingale M., London, Collection Handlist no.3, 1997, p.1. But Attewell conflates references to the 1846 and 1852 portraits by Rigby/Eastlake.
9) Letter from H.L. Stephen to NPG, 26 May 1945, NPG RP 3246.
10) ‘Large pencil head, copied about 1880 by J.R. Parsons from a drawing by Lady Eastlake. The original was in bad condition and is believed to have been destroyed. The copy is at Lea Hurst’ (Cook 1914, vol.2, p.468, no.8).
11) See Stephen 1936, p.6.
12) Letter from R. Nash (née Nightingale) to C.K. Adams, 21 Mar. 1946, NPG RP 3254: ‘There has never been any doubt that no copy was made of the picture. My sister Lady Stephen & I have known it all our lives as the original, painted by Lady Eastlake at Embley where she stayed with the Nightingales, my great aunt & uncle. After the sale of Embley – in my father’s lifetime – it was moved to Lea Hurst, the Nightingales’ home in Derbyshire, and was brought back to this neighbourhood [Fordingbridge, Hants] after my brother’s death at Lea Hurst by my sister’.
13) Accepted by the Trustees for the ‘reference portfolios’; now NPG D38969.
14) Letter from H.M. Hake to D.V. Stephen, 13 Nov. 1945, NPG RP 3254.
15) Letter from R. Nash to C.K. Adams, 21 Mar. 1946, NPG RP 3254.
16) Letter from H.M. Hake to D.V. Stephen, 28 Dec. 1945, NPG RP 3254.
17) See also old photographs of the drawing showing less damage, NPG SB (Nightingale).

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders in oval, full-face, hair smooth and centrally parted, covering the ears.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1940s (before acquisition); 1979.

Provenanceback to top

The Nightingale family; given by Sir Harry Lushington Stephen, Bt, February 1946.

Reproductionsback to top

Three postcards of Emery Walker’s photograph of NPG 3254, NPG SB (Nightingale).

View all known portraits for Elizabeth (née Rigby), Lady Eastlake

View all known portraits for Florence Nightingale