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Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale, by Jerry Barrett, 1856 -NPG 2939 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Florence Nightingale

by Jerry Barrett
Pencil, pen and ink and watercolour on paper, 1856
6 7/8 in. x 5 in. (174 mm x 128 mm) overall
NPG 2939

Inscriptionback to top

Signed in iron gall ink lower right: ‘Jerry Barrett.’;
inscr. in iron gall ink along bottom: ‘Florence Nightingale / a sketch made in Scutari. June 1856.’
On reverse inscr. in pencil: ‘7’ beside sketch of dog.

This portraitback to top

Jerry Barrett’s principal reason for travelling to Turkey was to paint Florence Nightingale, in an authentic Crimean war hospital setting. He arrived at Scutari, opposite Constantinople, in May 1856, and was given studio space in the Barrack Hospital, where Nightingale had her own quarters. [1] At the time she was away touring the Crimean war zone, for even though a peace treaty had been signed at the end of March the hospitals were still busy: ‘Florence Nightingale is “up at the front” – so being at Balaclava is termed here – and Jerry says, that if she does not return when he is ready to paint her, we must go up to the front also,’ reported Barrett’s travelling companion Henry Newman. [2] Nightingale returned at the end of June, and Barrett obtained his first ‘interview’ on 7 July. See The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari (NPG 6202 and NPG 4305) for details of this and other meetings.

Barrett has inscribed NPG 2939 ‘a sketch made in Scutari June 1856’, which places it before the interview, before realization that he would never get her to pose. It is the earliest Crimean image of Nightingale at the National Portrait Gallery, probably worked up from a brief sighting, very different from the grim profiles (NPG 3303) he drew on the eve of her departure. (At the back is a pencil sketch of a sleeping dog that appears in the foreground of all versions of The Mission of Mercy.) Crimean period drawings of Nightingale are rare, and NPG 2939 can be compared to the heads sketched by the Hon. George Cadogan, presently in the National Army Museum, London. [3]

In April 1938 the drawing, together with Barrett’s sketch key to The Mission of Mercy (NPG 2939a), was offered for purchase to the Gallery by G.D. Thomson of the Palser Gallery, St. James’s, on behalf of P.F. Armstrong of Messrs Harry Armstrong & Sons, King’s Road, London, for £21. [4] The Gallery’s response was that it was not interested in the key, and at £20 the Nightingale portrait on its own was too expensive. Armstrong then generously halved the asking price to £10 and made a gift of the key. [5]

Soon after the Gallery acquired the portrait the director, Sir Henry Hake, contacted Rosalind Vaughan Nash, Nightingale’s ‘honorary great-niece’ and a favourite. [6] In a memo he recorded:

Mrs Nash came and saw the drawing of Florence Nightingale by Jerry Barrett recently purchased. She approved of it saying that the expression of the eyes was what she always remembered but that the nose and mouth were wrong, but her verdict on the whole was favourable and she seemed to think that it was an acquisition worth having. [7]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) See [Newman] 1910, p.545.
2) [Newman] 1910, p.547; and p.552: ‘On the 12th [July] Crimea was given up, and the last fragments of our army withdrawn, so I rejoice in thinking the question of our visiting it is wholly set at rest.’
3) See ‘All known portraits, Paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints from life, 1856’. Note the same hairstyle, with hair parted and cut short at the temples.
4) Letter from G.D. Thomson to the Gallery, 8 Mar. 1938, NPG RP 2939/2939a.
5) Letters from H. Hake to G.D. Thomson, 12 Apr. 1938, and G.D. Thomson to H. Hake, 21 Apr. 1938, NPG RP 2939/2939a.
6) Rosalind Vaughan Nash, née Shore Smith (1862–1952); see Bostridge 2008, p.479.
7) Memo from H. Hake, 13 July 1938, NPG RP 2939/2939a.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders, three-quarters to left, grey eyes, hair short at temples; wearing grey outfit and bonnet with bow under chin.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1979.

Provenanceback to top

Purchased from P.F. Armstrong, May 1938.

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