A little known portrait of John William Waterhouse, painter of the hugely popular The Lady of Shalott, has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery
. One of hundreds of portraits from the later Victorian era fully catalogued for the first time by Gallery researchers, it goes on public display for the first time today.
The story behind the mystery of who painted the Waterhouse portrait is set out in the Later Victorian Portraits catalogue, www.npg.org.uk/lvc, the first such period publication to be published by the Gallery online, launched today (5 July).
As well as the portraiture of famous artists such as Beardsley, Julia Margaret Cameron, Holman Hunt, Leighton, Morris, Ruskin and Whistler, the catalogue contains a mass of hitherto untapped information on many lesser known figures of the nineteenth century art world. Gallery research has revealed great discrepancies in how often subjects sat for portraits, as in the case of J W Waterhouse, a well known Royal Academy exhibitor, of whom very few images are known to exist.
The attribution of the Waterhouse self-portrait was questioned as long ago as 2002 by Dr Peter Trippi, the leading authority on the artist. He realised that the head was similar to other sketches by William Logsdail for his great cityscape, The Bank and Royal Exchange, 1887. Armed with this and other information kept in its Archives and Library, the Gallery was able to move swiftly when the painting came up for sale in Canterbury in May 2011. Described by Dr Trippi as absolutely a modern-life image made by a trusted colleague/friend, it is the only known painted head of Waterhouse, and the first example of Logsdails work to enter the Gallerys collection.
The portrait can be seen, together with full information, in the Gallery's Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue, www.npg.org.uk/lvc, the first of the Gallerys period catalogues to be published online. It is also on display in the National Portrait Gallerys nineteenth century galleries.
Rather than following the conventional A-Z sequence, research for the catalogue has been conducted according to subject or vocational area. The first phase entries on artists and art world figures is now online consisting of 145 individual subjects together with relevant group portrait and collections entries.
The catalogue, funded by The Getty Foundation, The Paul Mellon Center for British Art, and a contribution from the Lerner Gift, provides detailed accounts of the portraits of these individuals in the Gallery’s Collection, and includes listings of other known portraits of them in all media.
It represents an important contribution to our understanding of portraiture during the mid and later Victorian periods, an age of photographic portraits, mass reproduction, publicity, and the production of portrait imagery private as well as public on an unprecedented scale.
Dr Peter Funnell, Curator, 19th Century Portraits and Head of Research Programmes, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: Among the great advantages of publishing such a catalogue online is the ability it gives us to update it when items like the Waterhouse portrait enter the collection and the fact that it makes the research free and accessible to all.