- Museum number
Portrait of Sir Henry Ellis, K.H. (1777-1869), half-length, head turned half-right, body nearly full.
Oil painting on canvas
- Production date
- c. 1856-57
Height: 75 centimetres (canvas)
Width: 62.20 centimetres (canvas)
- Curator's comments
- Sir Henry Ellis was described as “short and plump, with a broad, open face and full lips, ... industrious, learned, and helpful to scholars, genial, kind-hearted, and unfailingly calm and good-humoured.” He was, however, a conservative in a time of change and his comment that “the mere gazing at our curiosities is not one of the objects of the Museum” (ONDB) reflects this attitude. A librarian, he joined the Museum in 1805 and was appointed Principal Librarian in 1827. He was only persuaded to retire in 1856 when, in the absence of a pension, the Trustees agreed to continue paying his full salary.
The artist, Margaret Carpenter, was by contrast the leading female artist of her day. She was the first woman to be nominated for selection to the Royal Academy for 76 years but, as a woman, was refused entry. Her husband was appointed Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the Museum in 1852 and the couple lived in one of the staff residences.
This portrait is noted as being in the Boardroom in 1879. It was one of a number of portraits not transferred to the National Portrait Gallery in 1879 but, by agreement, retained by the British Museum because of its considerable historical importance for that institution.
No. 179 at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1857 is listed as Carpenter's "Sir Henry Ellis KH FRS and President of the Society of Antiquaries". (With thanks to Martin Hopkinson, by email, February 2018).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
Old Board Room (1879)
New Wing Board Room (to 2003)
Trustees' strongroom (in storage)
- Examined 21.iv.63. Surface cleaning and re-stretching.
For most recent condition report see Lynne Harrison, DCDS 2.8.05.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Trustees' Standing Committee Minutes 10 Nov 1866 (c. 11,108) - Read a letter from Dr Gray dated 29 of October, presenting to the Trustees a portrait, by Mrs Margaret Carpenter, of Sir Henry Ellis, formerly Principal Librarian of the BM'.
No other papers have so far been traced. The donor, Dr J E Gray, was keeper of Zoology 1840-74.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number