Saturday, March 28, 2020

Portraits of Gladstone

William Ewart Gladstone's portrait was painted, sculpted, and photographed many times, given that he was one of the most influential figures in British politics of the 19th century.

According Royal Academy chronicle: "[John Everett] Millais’s portrait showed the seventy-year-old statesman standing, in a three-quarter view. It was a sombre portrait, in colour and tone: black clothing, dark skin tones, and a dark umber background. Gladstone’s famous turned-up collar, a feature endlessly exploited in his caricatures, provided the only lightly coloured note in the picture. Millais captured the intensity of expression and fierce eyes of Gladstone, but he succeeded also to convey modesty and gravity, even kindness, through his clasped hands and averted gaze."

"Nine years later, [Frank] Holl attempted to equal and surpass Millais, taking inspiration from the latter in the standing, three-quarter pose of Gladstone and his sombre dress...Holl, again, like Millais, focused on Gladstone’s head, leaving the right side in dramatic shadows and rendering his eyes in a deep black, almost glossy charcoal colour, which evoked the statesman’s oft-cited demoniac expression. Holl’s Gladstone was a visibly older man, but a more energetic character than Millais’s: his incipient movement captured by his hands clasping a vivid red book. If in Millais’s portrait Gladstone seemed to be intent in listening, Holl’s picture appeared to have captured him in the instant just before speaking."

Commentators at the time said Gladstone was difficult to capture in a painting because his expressions were varied and dynamic, and his legacy meant many things to many people. 

1 comment:

Susan Krzywicki said...

The Holl portrait seems somehow a bit comical to me - the drawn-in chin and the odd posture - jutting forward in that exaggerated way. The Millais portrait seems tame. But the last one you showed - the face - seemed to capture his political worldview: sharp.