This canvas is a smaller version of Barraud's large signed and dated 1868 group portrait of Gladstone's Cabinet of 1868 in the collection of the National Liberal Club. The present painting may be preparatory to the larger work or perhaps have been executed as a...

This painting is an important record of the members of Gladstone's Cabinet, which was appointed after he assumed the premiership on December 3rd 1868. This was his first term as Prime Minister, and his administration lasted until his defeat at the election of February 17th 1874. Gladstone was to preside over a further three governments until his resignation on March 2nd 1894.
When painted it cannot have been so apparent to contemporaries as it is now to posterity that the character and person of Gladstone would dominate British politics for the succeeding three decades. It is felicitous that this early record of a British cabinet should be of one appointed by such a titan of the Westminster scene, but at the date of its execution, this painting may have been conceived less as a record of an individual's government, than as a record of the body that was by this date assuming its modern importance in government — the Cabinet....


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This painting is an important record of the members of Gladstone's Cabinet, which was appointed after he assumed the premiership on December 3rd 1868. This was his first term as Prime Minister, and his administration lasted until his defeat at the election of February 17th 1874. Gladstone was to preside over a further three governments until his resignation on March 2nd 1894.
When painted it cannot have been so apparent to contemporaries as it is now to posterity that the character and person of Gladstone would dominate British politics for the succeeding three decades. It is felicitous that this early record of a British cabinet should be of one appointed by such a titan of the Westminster scene, but at the date of its execution, this painting may have been conceived less as a record of an individual's government, than as a record of the body that was by this date assuming its modern importance in government — the Cabinet.
In the previous century the group of cronies that had often comprised the Prime Minister's Cabinet was seldom portrayed together except in the satirists' cartoons, and then only as a means of exposing them to ridicule. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, political reform and a new enthusiasm for British parliamentary democracy as a government worthy of export to the entire civilised world had increased popular respect for the persons and institutions that formed the government.
By the mid-nineteenth century this spirit manifested itself not only in the romanticised historical conception of British democracy expressed in Barry's new Houses of Parliament, but in a political iconography that defined politicians as the public servants of a venerable institution, rather than as great individuals and founts of patronage in their own right.
The very composition of the group is symptomatic of the new era, and although some of the names — Devonshire, Argyll and Granville, for example — would not seem out of place in a gathering of Whig grandees a hundred years previously, other figures such as the radical reformer, the celebrated orator John Bright, were more egalitarian figures whose presence indicates the slowly changing character of nineteenth-century politics.
This canvas is a smaller version of Barraud's large signed and dated 1868 group portrait of Gladstone's Cabinet of 1868 in the collection of the National Liberal Club. The present painting may be preparatory to the larger work or perhaps have been executed as a guide to the engraver}. Scott who published a print of the composition in 1871. It may also have been produced for one of the sitters. Production subsequent to the large picture seems probable on the evidence of the overpainting — most probably by the artist — of a further figure which appears in the large painting, just visible as a head and shoulders behind Hugh Childers. The man's lack of direct engagement with any member of the group has led to a suggestion that he may be a servant or secretary, and his rudimentary characterisation leads one to believe that perhaps Barraud decided not to include him in the painting at a point relatively early in its execution. Certainly this extra figure is not present in the engraving or in our painting.
The sources for the portraits in this painting are not presently certain. Some may have derived from sittings to the artist, perhaps in the case of the principal figures, such as the Prime Minister, but others may have been drawn from photographs or the work of other artists. In some instances it is tempting to propose a direct source for Barraud's likeness; his portrait of the Duke of Argyll is very closely comparable with the portrait by George Frederick Watts painted some eight or nine years earlier (National Portrait Gallery, London) but the resemblance may be mere coincidence, since Lord Sherbrooke''s portrait by Watts (National Portrait Gallery, London) was not painted until five years after Barraud's large portrait.
Henry Barraud had begun his career as a painter of animals, especially horses and of their owners, and in collaboration with brother William (1810 — 1850) began to produce group portraits of sporting subjects such as The Wiltshire Great Coursing Meeting at Amesbury 1847 with Stonehenge beyond (Christie's November 21st 1975 lot 114). After the death of his brother, Henry Barraud continued and developed this genre, expanding it to accommodate a new interest in Parliament and the nation's government, as well as equestrian Society, producing works of remarkable scope. Parliamentary subjects include The Lobby of the House of Commons with 160 Portraits of Members (artist's studio sale Christie's June 24th 1875 lot 113) and Lionel de Rothschild taking his seat in the House of Commons 1858 (Palace of Westminster) which features portraits of Gladstone and Disraeli among the members. The most extreme example of the multiple portraiture is The London Season 1864 portraying some two hundred and fifty members of Society riding in Rotton Row by Hyde Park Corner, and measuring eleven feet by four and a half. This giant painting appeared in the artist's studio sale as lot 111. The portraits in this example are mostly taken from carte-de-visite photographs pasted onto the canvas, and provide an interesting glimpse into the artist's working practice. In Gladstone's Cabinet the portraits are not actually decoupe photographs but it is very likely that in the majority of cases a photograph is the direct source.

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500 Years of British Art