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GIRARDOT, Ernest Gustave R.B.A. (1840 – 1904)

Portrait of William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)
GIRARDOT, Ernest Gustave R.B.A. (1840 – 1904)
Portrait of William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)
Oil on canvas, laid on panel
Signed and dated 1898
12x10 inches (30.5 x 25.5cm)

A member of a well-known artistic family, Girardot worked as a genre and portrait painter throughout his life, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and the British Institution. Most of his exhibited work though was shown at the Royal Society of British Artists, where he was elected member in 1874. His titles show him initially to have favoured a form of historical genre painting, which was popular in the middle of the 19th century. Towards the end of his life however, he concentrated increasingly on portraiture, with his portraits of Tennyson and Lady Lytton being particularly highly regarded . This present portrait of England’s long-serving Prime Minister W.E.Gladstone is a very fine example of Girardot’s meticulously detailed brushwork and close observation of his subject.

William Ewart Gladstone was Britain’s most famous Liberal statesman. In a career in politics lasting some 50 years he held the post of Prime Minister on four separate occasions and of Chancellor of the Exchequer four times also. He was 84 years old when he resigned for the last time, making him Britain’s oldest Prime Minister as well. He entered Parliament as a Tory in 1832, but, a firm supporter of Robert Peel, he broke with the main body of the Conservative party and in 1859, when the Peelites, Whigs and Radicals merged to form the liberal party, Gladstone was highly prominent amongst their number. As a Prime Minister he is remembered for his firm commitment to electoral reform, to the policy of Home Rule for Ireland and for his opposition to Britain’s more aggressive foreign policies of the time. He established the Liberal party as distinct from the Tories, but also as distinct from any serious move towards Socialism. His years in office were also marked by an intense rivalry, both professional and personal, with the Tory Benjamin Disraeli. His reputation finally earned him the nickname “G.O.M.” (The Grand Old Man” – or as Disraeli put it: “God’s One Mistake”). But a more friendly term by which he became known was “The People’s William”, largely due to his giving so many more of the country the opportunity to vote.

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