The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

Sir George Scharf

Sir George Scharf, by William Edward Kilburn, circa 1847 -NPG P859 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue Search

Sir George Scharf

by William Edward Kilburn
Daguerreotype, circa 1847
3 1/8 in. x 2 3/8 in. (78 mm x 59 mm)
NPG P859

This portraitback to top

The date c.1847 attributed to NPG P859 is based on the prominence in the photograph of a copy of Lord Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, at Scharf’s right hand. The seventh (and first illustrated) edition was published by Longman’s in 1847 ‘with illustrations, original and from the antique, drawn on wood by G. Scharf, jun.’ The success of this publication brought George Scharf the younger’s name to a wider public. [1]

Scharf was actually abroad between October 1845 and October 1847. [2] It seems that soon after his return, flush with confidence from the Lays, he arranged to be photographed at one of the best studios in London – rather as when visiting Paris in 1867 he made a point of sitting to Nadar (see ‘All known portraits’). The Kilburn daguerreotype is the first known photograph of Scharf and one of the most flattering portraits in the iconography.

Photographs form the bulk of his portraiture. He was evidently not camera-shy but nor did he display any particular appreciation for the medium. He probably regarded it as a useful tool; at various times photographers were employed by the National Portrait Gallery. However, it is remarkable that during his directorship photographs were not acquired for the Collection even though it was an intensely busy period for photographic portraiture. [3]

William Edward Kilburn opened a studio in Regent Street in 1845 and for the next twenty years was one of the leading West End photographers, self-styling himself after a few royal commissions ‘Her Majesty’s Daguerrotypist’. [4]

The daguerreotype was acquired from Scharf’s estate at an unknown date. Initially part of the Photographic Collection (x15421) it was transferred to the Primary Collection in November 2000 and renumbered P859. [5]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) The first edition had been published in Oct. 1842. It was enormously successful and went into many editions: 18,000 copies were sold by 1852 and over 100,000 copies by 1875 (L. Stephen, ‘Macaulay, Thomas Babington, Baron Macaulay (1800–1859)’, DNB, London, 1893).
2) See Sir George Scharf Papers (Personal diaries 1845–7, NPG7/3/1/1, NPG7/3/1/2, NPG7/3/1/3, NPG Archive).
3) For a discussion of Scharf and photography, see Rogers 1989, pp.9–11.
4) In Apr. 1847 Kilburn photographed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in a greenhouse at Buckingham Palace. He won the Grand Prize for Daguerreotypes at the 1851 Great Exhibition. See NPG NoP (Kilburn).
5) See NPG Annual Review 2000–1, p.39. No documentation in NPG RP P859.

Physical descriptionback to top

Three-quarter-length, seated to left, head three-quarters to left, sketchbook in left hand and pencil in right, two books and a map on table at left.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1982.

Provenanceback to top

Transferred to the Primary Collection from the Photographic Collection, November 2000.

Reproductionsback to top

Rogers 1989, frontispiece (not exhibited).

Slatter c.1994, p.16.

Hulme, Buchanan & Powell 2000, p.19.

View all known portraits for Sir George Scharf


Our channel

View a wide collection of video content on our YouTube channel from past projects to our latest films.

Sit back and watch

Artist and sitter interviews

Get insights into creating portraiture from BP Portrait Award 2020 artists and their sitters.

Explore behind the scenes

Sleeping Awake

Watch our film created to say ‘goodbye’ to the Gallery before we closed for our major transformation project.

Hear our story