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Portraiture, caricature and visual culture in Britain, c. 1830–80
Author: Henry Miller

This book examines the role of political likenesses in a half-century that was crucial for the political modernisation of Britain, a two-party system that began to take shape and politicians became increasingly accountable and responsive to public opinion. Political language, especially electoral rhetoric, has been accorded considerable weight by recent studies in building broad coalitions of political support in popular and electoral politics. The book studies political likenesses, the key mode of visual politics at this time, as part of a nuanced analysis of contemporary political culture and the nature of the representative system. It examines a diverse range of material including woven silk portraiture, oil paintings, numismatics and medals, banners, ceramics, statuary and memorials as well as items printed on paper or card. After an analysis of the visual culture spawned by the reform bills of 1831-1832, the book shows how Conservative and Liberal/Reformer identities were visualised through semi-official series of portrait prints. The pictorial press, photographs and portrait testimonials, statues and memorials, MPs were venerated as independent representatives and champions of particular localities, trades, interests or issues, and not party hacks. Depictions of Lord Palmerston and his rivals, including Lord John Russell and Lord Derby, in the 1850s and 1860s often underplayed in pictorial representations to emphasise physical and political vigour. The role of political portraits and cartoons in the decade after the passing of the 1867 Representation of the People Act is also discussed.

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Henry Miller

Conclusion The period from 1830 to 1880 was characterised by a vibrant visual culture in which political likenesses were central, and without understanding this it is impossible to understand the broader evolution of political culture in this period. This book has addressed the narrowness of a number of assumptions to be widely found in the historiography of Victorian politics. Existing accounts have paid little attention to political portraiture. Since the 1990s historians influenced by the ‘new political history’ or the ‘linguistic turn’ have increasingly

in Politics personified
MPs and portraiture
Henry Miller

5 Representing the representatives: MPs and portraiture This chapter shows how portraits of MPs presented them as independent representatives and parliamentarians rather than merely party hacks or delegates. The proliferation of parliamentary portraits shows that the popularity of political likenesses was not limited to leading figures. These images reveal a more personal side to the representative system before the mass politics of the post-1880 era, in contrast to the earlier chapter on party portraits. The previous chapter focused on group portraits that

in Politics personified
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Henry Miller

Introduction The political likeness attained a remarkable popularity and cultural resonance between 1830 and 1880. Portraits and political cartoons were produced commercially on an ever-increasing scale. The proliferation of likenesses was not simply due to the exploitation of new visual technologies, but clearly answered a very real demand. This book examines the role of political likenesses in a halfcentury that was crucial for the political modernisation of Britain, in which the electorate gradually expanded, a two-party system began to take shape and

in Politics personified
Henry Miller

were made of political likenesses. This chapter does not offer an exhaustive account of depictions of Gladstone and Disraeli in the 1868–80 period, but focuses on how they symbolised the two parties and the extent to which they had any control over their images, and places these in the context of political developments after 1867. The role of national leaders in an era of mass politics created by the expansion of the electorate has long been recognised. For historians of popular Liberalism such as Eugenio Biagini and Patrick Joyce, the appeal of Gladstone, expressed

in Politics personified
Henry Miller

political likenesses to large audiences. As with HB, the avoidance of excessive physical caricature meant that Punch cartoons were seen as good likenesses. In 1851 the Morning Chronicle argued that the cartoons of HB and John Leech, Punch’s main artist, were ‘most valuable as portrait galleries’.92 These images mattered, and through their regular repetition to a large, middle-class audience they were important in representing prime ministers and party leaders to a broad public. This was recognised at the time. Russell’s nephew admitted that, for better or worse, Punch

in Politics personified
Henry Miller

undermine the constitution. With its focus on caricature and political satire, this chapter may appear to be slightly removed from the central theme of this book: the political likeness. However, this chapter provides an essential context for what follows and it is worth briefly stating what it is and is not intended to do. This chapter does not intend to be the last word on the decline and transformation of caricature in the 1830s, a subject to which Brian Maidment offers a much more comprehensive guide.1 Rather, it aims, firstly, to highlight important changes in visual

in Politics personified
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Political group portraiture and history painting
Henry Miller

differed about other sitters. For example, Althorp’s and Stanley’s likenesses were singled out for approbation and criticism by different commentators.67 As this suggests, political likenesses were carefully scrutinised for their quality by contemporary observers, but such judgements were always essentially subjective. Hayter finally finished his monumental picture in 1843. It included 375 individual portraits and was 170 square feet in size. It was exhibited at the Egyptian Hall in London from April to August 1843, but the costs exceeded the receipts by £700.68 When the

in Politics personified