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.
often dissipated by the time they
were eventually completed, one reason why the genre declined after the 1840s.
The popularity of political likenesses in this period is testimony to the cultural
prestige of politicians generally. As chapter 5 demonstrates, in the pictorial
press, photographs and portraittestimonials, statues and memorials, MPs were
venerated as independent representatives and champions of particular localities, trades, interests or issues, and not party hacks. This sheds important light
on the culture of representation in the Victorian era, and
general elections, MPs’ portraits in the newspaper were printed in rows, with
perfunctory biographical notices comprising a few sentences.72 Interestingly,
these biographies still rarely mentioned the party label of the MP, but the
overall effect was to diminish their individual character and distinctiveness.
This was perhaps appropriate given the increase in party cohesion in whipped
votes and the corresponding decline of independence after 1867.73
Constituency commemoration, portraittestimonials
and local public service
The nineteenth century was the golden age of
system during this period of transition. Furthermore, portraits also
help to explain how the relationship between MPs and constituents was recast
after 1832. Whatever else they might be, as parliamentarians, MPs were generally presented favourably as respectable public men. Such was the respect in
which MPs were held that constituents voluntarily subscribed to fund portraittestimonials and public memorials. Portraits, then, were one of the ways in
which the gap between high/parliamentary/elite/national politics and low/
electoral/popular/local politics was bridged