Benjamin Waugh

Benjamin Waugh, by Lady Edna Clarke Hall, circa 1904 -NPG 3909 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Benjamin Waugh

by Lady Edna Clarke Hall
Oil on canvas, circa 1904
15 in. x 13 in. (382 mm x 330 mm) overall
NPG 3909

This portraitback to top

Edna Clarke Hall was the tenth of twelve children born to Benjamin Waugh and his wife. From an early age she showed considerable artistic talent and was enrolled part-time at the Slade School of Art in October 1893, at the age of 14. For three days a week Edna would usually accompany her father on the early morning train to London, from the family home in St Albans. In the evenings she was allowed to return home alone from the school, feeling exhilarated by the day’s events. [1] Edna’s fellow students at the Slade included Gwen and Augustus John, John’s future wife Ida Nettleship, Ambrose McEvoy and Albert Rutherston, among whom there was a strong sense of comradeship. [2] Occasionally, after working at the Slade all day, she would go with the Johns to their lodgings in Charlotte Street, where they would continue to draw, paint and sit for one another. [3] Edna’s work impressed many, especially her drawing master Henry Tonks, who ‘predicted she would be a second Burne-Jones, to which she replied that on the contrary she would be the “the first Edna Waugh”’. [4] In 1897 she won the prestigious Summer Figure Composition Prize at the Slade for her watercolour, Rape of the Sabine Women.

Although successful in having her work exhibited by the New English Art Club in early 1899, Edna’s artistic ambitions were largely curtailed by her marriage, on 22 December 1898, to a barrister and colleague of her father’s at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, William Clarke Hall. Hall was an early promoter of her abilities, suggesting to her family that Edna should be given every opportunity to develop her talents. Once she became his wife, however, Hall began to view such artistic sensibilities as less than satisfactory. He became more interested in Edna’s role as housekeeper at their first married home, Red Cottage in Thames Ditton, on one occasion actually asking her to remove her drawings from the dining-room walls. [5] Despite this, Edna did not sever all ties with her old life, and continued to draw and paint, albeit covertly. Sometimes Augustus John would pay an unexpected visit, and would sit in the garden drawing her: ‘‘He talked as he drew,’ she remembered, ‘swiftly and casually but with such a learned hand.’ He always came on weekday afternoons and she would make sure he had gone and all evidence of his work – and hers – been hidden away by the time her husband got back from his law office.’ [6]

Edna shared similarities with John in the sense that both strove to capture the immediacy of the passing moment; to successfully express human experience through pen and brush. For this reason, Edna felt that the medium of watercolour suited her best: ‘I wanted to draw the subject quickly,’ she wrote, ‘seize it, convey my impression.’ [7] NPG 3909 is one of a few examples of work in oils by the artist, but there is evidence here also of an impressionistic approach to her subject. Many years later Edna wrote to David Piper, then Assistant Keeper at the National Portrait Gallery: ‘I am very glad to know that the portrait sketch of my father, Benjamin Waugh, has been accepted. My regret is that it is so very slight …’. [8] While attention is focused on the head and face, which is sensitively rendered and maintains a benign expression, the beard and shoulders are loosely worked. Arguably, the sketchy quality of the representation is indicative of Edna’s attempt to rapidly translate the nature of her perception; painterly finish has been rejected in favour of registering the essence of her father’s character and likeness.

The portrait shows Waugh towards the end of his life. In May 1954, Edna’s sister wrote, ‘It was made from life when my father, having been ill, was worried at the thought of being painted! … But it is certainly like him in his later years, when in a reflective mood.’ [9] Waugh served as the Director of the NSPCC from 1895 but was forced to resign his position in 1905 due to failing health, after a lifetime of tireless campaigning on behalf of children’s rights. Something of this vulnerability is reflected in the artist’s depiction. It is likely to have been painted after Edna’s marriage, but before she fell pregnant with her first child in December 1904. After her son’s birth in 1905, Edna did not paint for a sustained period. In the spring of 1907, she wrote to her father, ‘I took up my brushes and palette for the first time this morning for nearly two years. It made me so happy.’ [10]

NPG 3909 was offered to the Gallery in 1954 by Waugh’s three surviving daughters, who were eager to see their father represented within the collection. It was accepted by the Trustees on 24 June 1954. Although Bertha Stapley and Rosa Hobhouse were involved with the donation, the gift was made in Edna Clarke Hall’s name. The portrait was put out on display at the end of 1954, with the rest of the year’s acquisitions. This prompted another round of correspondence in relation to the inscription accompanying the portrait, which initially read ‘A Founder of the National Society for The Prevention of Cruelty to Children’. Mrs Hobhouse was concerned that this designation could allow either of the two other leading names on the Committee of the London SPCC to claim this title, when they had been ‘avowed “opponents” of Nationalisation’. [11] Both Frederick Agnew and Baroness Burdett-Coutts strongly opposed Waugh’s scheme, which delayed its realization for a number of years. In due course the offending ‘A’ was removed from the inscription, after this sentiment was reiterated in a letter to Charles Kingsley Adams from the Reverend Arthur Morton, then Director of the NSPCC: ‘we have always regarded Benjamin Waugh as our founder in a peculiar sense. Without him, I do not believe that this Society would have come into existence, though of course he had notable assistance in the great labours which he undertook.’ [12]

Elizabeth Heath

Footnotesback to top

1) Thomas 1994, pp.9–10.
2) Thomas 2004.
3) Hall 1971, introduction.
4) As quoted in Holroyd 1996, p.50.
5) Thomas 1994, pp.58–9.
6) Holroyd 1996, p.139.
7) As quoted in Thomas 1994, p.63.
8) Letter from Edna Clarke Hall to David Piper, 29 June 1954, NPG RP 3909.
9) Letter from Rosa Hobhouse to David Piper, 24 May 1954, NPG RP 3909.
10) As quoted in Thomas 1994, p.98.
11) Letter from Rosa Hobhouse to Charles Kingsley Adams , 24 May 1954, NPG RP 3909.
12) Letter from Rev. Arthur Morton to Charles Kingsley Adams, 21 March 1955, NPG RP 3909.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders, nearly profile to left.

Provenanceback to top

Presented to the National Portrait Gallery by Lady Edna Clarke Hall, 1954.

View all known portraits for Benjamin Waugh