Sir James Paget, 1st Bt

Sir James Paget, 1st Bt, by George Richmond, 1867 -NPG 1635 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir James Paget, 1st Bt

by George Richmond
Black and red chalks with white heightening, 1867
23 1/4 in. x 17 3/4 in. (591 mm x 451 mm)
NPG 1635

Inscriptionback to top

Signed, lower left: ‘Geo. Richmond delt. 1867’.

This portraitback to top

In 1867, the year of this portrait, James Paget was promoted to Sergeant-Surgeon Extraordinary to Her Majesty the Queen, having previously attended the Prince and Princess of Wales. Despite his relatively modest background and modest wealth at this date, Paget was becoming very well connected, both through his membership of the Royal Society and his court connections, his father-in-law being chaplain to the Prince of Wales.

Such status evidently merited a portrait drawing, and the work is recorded in the artist’s account book as ‘Mr Paget Sergt Surgeon’ alongside a price of 40 guineas.[1] The choice of artist was probably influenced by the fact that 20 years previously George Richmond had executed a portrait drawing of Paget’s wife Lydia;[2] he was also the leading artist for this type of portrait. His portrayal endows Paget with a more fashionable demeanour than is seen in photographs, where the hair is often lank and the nose beakier.

Over 300 portraits by Richmond are in the National Portrait Gallery's collection, of which around 30 are in his preferred medium of chalks, many on buff-coloured paper, as here. Presenting male sitters as handsome, refined gentlemen with deft use of white highlights, Richmond perfected this suave style at an early date, as in, for example, the likenesses of Earls Canning (NPG 1057) and Cranbrook (NPG 1449). Comparable drawings from the 1860s include that of John Lubbock (NPG 4869). From 1847 to 1864, he was the preferred artist to the Grillion’s Club,[3] an elite male dining group of politicians and eminent professionals inaugurated in 1812, with a long-standing tradition whereby each member was expected to pay for a portrait of himself to be reproduced as an engraving (later a photographic autotype) for presentation to fellow-members, with the original work being available for purchase by the sitter (see NPG Portrait Set 'Grillion's Club').

When Paget was elected to the club in 1873[4] – by which time he was a baronet as well as an FRS – the present work served as a ready-made Grillion’s portrait, and was duly engraved by Charles Holl (see NPG D20705) in 1874, the date confirmed by a marginal addition in Richmond’s account book, reading ‘1874 E[ngrave]d’.[5] While therefore not strictly a Grillion’s portrait, it shares so many features of that series, as well as Richmond’s ‘Grillion’s style’, that it has understandably come to be identified with the series.

The drawing was inherited by Paget’s son Rev. Francis Paget, who became Bishop of Oxford, and then by Francis’s brother Stephen, who followed their father into medicine. Offering it to the Gallery, he wrote:

On the death of my Brother, late Bishop of Oxford, I have come into possession of George Richmond’s drawing of my Father, Sir James Paget. It is one of the Grillion series of portraits. I think you might like to acquire it for the National Portrait Gallery.

As my Brother never enriched himself out of his Bishopric, he left very little to his children: and I therefore wish to sell the portrait for them … I will accept whatever offer you make, but I do want to gain something for them. [6]

In a subsequent letter he added that if the Gallery declined to purchase the work, the family would present it as a gift. [7] In the event the Trustees agreed to pay ten guineas, leading Stephen Paget to express gratitude: ‘It will be a great happiness to all the family, that his portrait will be in the National Portrait Gallery.’ [8]

Presumably as the work had been hanging framed in the family homes for four decades beforehand, both the paper support and the pasteboard mount were found on acquisition to be discoloured from exposure to light and staining from a wooden backboard.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) George Richmond account book, 1853–93, NPG Archive, MS 31; and ‘Extracts from Diaries of George Richmond Esq. R.A.’, undated, typescript, NPG Archive, MS 30, f.82.
2) Recorded in Richmond’s index of sitters for 1846 – see ‘Extracts from Diaries of George Richmond Esq. R.A.’, undated, typescript, NPG Archive, MS 30, f.41, listed after a similar portrait of Mrs Henry Acland. A possible companion portrait of Paget from this date is a soft-ground etching executed by Charles Holl ‘after George Richmond’ in RCS England (see ‘All known portraits, Paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints, c.1846’). This work, however, is not recorded in Richmond’s account books and indexes, so its authorship is uncertain.
3) [Hart] 1914, pp.100–101. In 1864 Henry J. Wells was appointed as Richmond’s successor.
4) [Hart] 1914, p.77.
5) George Richmond account book, 1853–1893, NPG Archive, MS 31, record for 1867.
6) Letter from Stephen Paget to C.J. Holmes, 25 Oct. 1911, NPG RP 1635.
7) Letter from Stephen Paget to C.J. Holmes, 8 Nov. 1911, NPG RP 1635.
8) Letter from Stephen Paget to C.J. Holmes, 8 Dec. 1911, NPG RP 1635.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders to right.

Conservationback to top

report 5 August 2004, when described as discoloured

Provenanceback to top

The sitter’s brother Francis (1851–1911); his brother Stephen (1855–1926), from whom purchased 1911.

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