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Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Bt

Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Bt, by Luke Fildes, 1896 -NPG 2917 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Bt

reduced replica by Luke Fildes
Oil on canvas board, 1896
18 7/8 in. x 13 3/4 in. (480 mm x 350 mm) overall
NPG 2917

Inscriptionback to top

Signed, lower right: ‘Luke Fildes 1896’.

This portraitback to top

This portrait is a smaller replica of the prime version presented to the (Royal) London Hospital Medical School where the sitter was senior surgeon and the popular first president of the students’ union. The larger version was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1896 and described thus in the catalogue: ‘Frederick Treves Esq., F.R.C.S, surgeon to the London Hospital. Presentation portrait.’ [original italics] As was common practice, a second version of the painting was produced for the sitter and his family; this one is duly signed and dated by the artist.

Luke Fildes painted this portrait when Treves was aged 43 and at the height of his reputation as anatomist and demonstrator, but before his later fame from success in treating Edward VII or publication of his memoir on Joseph Merrick. It shows him in full professional mode, lecturing to medical students, with a selection of anatomical teaching aids. His confident posture and steady expression, combined with the uniformly smooth painting surface, support the depiction of serious endeavour and status, but give little hint of the clarity, vigorous style and racy humour that ‘brought crowds of students to his daily demonstrations’. [1]

The precise circumstances of the commission are as yet unclear. The prime version was described as a ‘presentation portrait’, a term that usually applies to portraits commissioned by or for an institution – which in this case would prima facie be the medical school where Treves taught. However, as the Royal London Hospital Archives show, its version of Fildes’s portrait was ‘presented to the London Hospital Medical College in fulfilment of the dying wish of Mrs Isaac Hoyle as a grateful memorial of Mr Treves’ skill and kindness’. [2] In donating the work, the former Liberal MP Isaac Hoyle wrote:

I have much pleasure in asking the London Hospital Medical College to accept the portrait of Mr Frederick Treves painted by Mr Luke Fildes R.A. now exhibited to the Royal Academy. My son has replied to my letter and we think, subject to the approval of the College Board, the enclosed inscription would carry out what my dear wife would have preferred [3]

The ‘enclosed inscription’ is that quoted above.

The inference from this correspondence is that the work was commissioned from Fildes by Hoyle by pre-arrangement with the London Hospital. Hoyle was an MP from 1885 until 1892, and the further inference is that at some date Treves had professionally attended his wife or child. Hoyle was twice married; his first wife died in 1870 and as at that date Treves was a schoolboy, the ‘dying wish’ presumably refers to Hoyle’s second wife, Mary Hamer Kay, the date of whose death has not yet been ascertained. [4]

If Treves attended Mrs Hoyle or her child, he will have done so at their home, where surgical operations on well-to-do patients were usually carried out. Extending the supposition, the Hoyles (if they were responsible for the commission) may have chosen the artist thanks to his acclaimed painting The Doctor (RA 1891, now Tate Coll., N01522), which shows a sympathetic physician at the bedside of a sick child in a poor household, representing to many viewers the ideal of a medical practitioner. Having begun his artistic career in graphic illustration, with works such as Houseless & Hungry (Graphic, 4 December 1869; later painted as Admission to a Casual Ward, 1874, RHUL), Fildes developed into a leading portraitist, who became well known for his much-reproduced portraits of Edward VII (see NPG 1691) and Queen Alexandra (see NPG 1889). In addition, both Hoyle and Fildes were from south-east Lancashire and may have had acquaintances in common.

The commission is mentioned in Fildes’s correspondence during the winter of 1895–6. He wrote:

I have now got to work again for the winter Season and I have plenty to do and plenty in anticipation. I shall have ‘Surgeon Treves’, ‘Mrs Bibby’, ‘Mrs Samuel’ (the shepherdess) [5] large portraits: & a child, Jack Speed (Prinsep’s nephew) then smaller ones of Miss Bibby & Mrs Brace. I trust to get them all done … it’s all very well to talk of painting more ‘Doctors’ but I don’t know how I am to get at it unless I chuck all these things, that are coming in, away from me. To do so, I think, would be the height of folly. [6]

In the event, Fildes exhibited five portraits at the Royal Academy in May 1896: those of Mrs Stuart Samuel, Mrs Frank Bibby, Mrs Frank Brace and two medical men: Dr Thomas Buzzard and Frederick Treves.

A few months later, Fildes described Treves as ‘a first rate fellow’, writing to ask his brother-in-law in Venice to call on him. ‘He may be at one of the hotels and he would be sure to be sailing as he went there for that with Mrs Treves and his daughter.’ [7] Five years later, when in 1901 the artist’s son Paul Fildes suffered from a recurrence of appendicitis, Treves was called on to complete the operation, remarking that he wished the previous surgeon ‘would stick to his bloody skulls and leave bellies to me’. [8]

In his will, Treves directed that the replica portrait be offered to the National Portrait Gallery on his wife’s death. In the event, she moved house in 1937 and through her solicitors asked if the Gallery would accept it at once. The work was seen by the Trustees and duly accepted on 26 June 1937. [9] On Lady Treves’s death in 1944 the gift was confirmed. [10]

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Keith 1937; this DNB entry, published the year NPG 2917 entered the Gallery’s collection, makes only passing reference to Merrick, in relation to whom Treves’s posthumous fame dates from the 1970s and 1980s, following the Elephant Man book and later dramatizations.
2) See 3). This information was first published with the first reproduction of the portrait in the Graphic supplement of 18 Nov. 1899.
3) Isaac Hoyle to Munro Scott, warden, 1 June 1896; recorded London H. Medical College Board Minutes, Royal London H. Archives. Our thanks to archivist Richard Meunier.
4) Treves ordered all his patient case notes to be destroyed unread after his death.
5) Mrs Stuart M Samuel as Phyllida the Shepherdess, formerly with Roy Miles Ltd.
6) Letter from Luke Fildes to Henry Wood, 8 Nov. 1895, NAL (MSL/1972/6970-6972 Box 5).
7) Letter from Luke Fildes to Henry Wood, 23 Aug. 1896, NAL (MSL/1972/6970-6972 Box 5).
8) Paul Fildes, quoted in Trombley 1989, p.52.
9) Correspondence between C.K. Adams and Walters & Co., 1937, NPG RP 2917.
10) Correspondence between C.K. Adams and Midland Bank Ltd, 1944, NPG RP 2917.

Physical descriptionback to top

Three-quarter-length standing to front, fresh complexion with dark receding hair and fair moustache, wearing stiff white collar and cream-coloured Eton-knot tie, dark waistcoat and jacket, grey trousers, left hand holding papers resting on desk lectern, right hand to hip; on table in foreground an assemblage of bones including a skull, together with biological specimens in jars.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1995; 2002.

Provenanceback to top

The sitter, by whom bequeathed.

View all known portraits for Sir (Samuel) Luke Fildes

View all known portraits for Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Bt


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