Sir William Blake Richmond

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue Search

Sir William Blake Richmond

by George Phoenix
Charcoal and white chalk on buff-brown paper, 1897
20 3/8 in. x 14 7/8 in. (517 mm x 379 mm)
NPG 2065

Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated lower right: ‘Geo Phoenix / 1897’.
On back of frame label (now removed to Primary Collection Associated Items plan chest, NPG Archive) inscr. in ink: ‘No 3 George Phoenix / 5 Clarendon Street / Wolverhampton / Sir W.B. Richmond / R.A.’

This portraitback to top

The portrait was offered to the National Portrait Gallery only three years after the sitter’s death but the Trustees agreed to waive the Ten Year Rule; [1] William Blake Richmond’s reputation was deemed sufficiently solid for the portrait to enter the collection directly, without the usual pause for evaluation. [2]

George Phoenix (born George Edwards) was a Wolverhampton artist, an illustrator for Punch and a figure and landscape painter. He was alive to be consulted on the circumstances of the sitting, two years after the drawing was acquired by the Gallery, writing:

The drawing you have of Sir WB Richmond was exhibited in R.A. – I think 1898 […] It was reproduced in the Magazine of Art – full page – in a rather pale red ink (which I never thought did it justice) […] I made one copy for the Wolverhampton Literary Club. which has since been destroyed. Sir WB. himself was quite pleased with it. [3]

This life-size head-and-shoulders was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1898 (1535). Richmond had recently been awarded honorary degrees at Oxford and Cambridge, and had been knighted in 1897. His name was in the news as the designer of the controversial mosaic scheme in St Paul’s Cathedral. [4]

In 1924 the date on the portrait was read as 1897, but the end digit is ambiguous and the date was later read as 1893. [5]. But this earlier date does not agree with the exhibition and biographical data, nor with Phoenix’s hand. [6] For a photograph of Richmond of around this date (showing the same unusual hair parting) see the photographs by Sarah Angelina Acland ('All known portraits, Photographs, c.1896’).

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) ‘I have been offered an excellent Portrait of Sir W.B. Richmond (in charcoal) It was exhibited at the Academy & has been reproduced in the Magazine of Art. If you would care to accept it the owner would gladly present it to the National Portrait Gallery.’ Letter from W.H.J. Winter to J.D. Milner, 6 Oct. 1924, NPG RP 2065.
2) Minutes of the 361st Trustees Meeting, 23 Oct. 1924.
3) Letter from G. Phoenix to C.K. Adams [undated but acknowledged 2 Nov. 1926].
4) ‘The portrait of Sir William Richmond [by George Phoenix] will, we think, be specially welcomed by our readers at a time when the question of the decoration of St Paul’s Cathedral has made Sir William’s name one of the most quoted and discussed in the United Kingdom. Whatever may be thought of the appropriateness of his designs, it will be agreed that he has been engaged on epoch-making work, through which his name will most easily be remembered.’ MA, 1899, p.446, facing the reproduction of Phoenix’s drawing.
5) Reynolds 1995, p.242; and NPG CIC, 2004, p.522.
6) See the handwriting on a 1903 portrait of G.K. Chesterton: NPG AB (Phoenix).

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders to left in academic robes.

Provenanceback to top

Presented by Dr W.H.J. Winter, Oct. 1924.

Exhibitionsback to top

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, 1898 (1535).

Reproductionsback to top

Magazine of Art, 1899, p.447.

View all known portraits for Sir William Blake Richmond