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William Charles Bell (1831-1904)

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-81)  c. 1878

Enamel on copper | 4.6 x 3.4 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 421553

  • William Charles Bell trained as an enamel painter in Geneva before securing his first royal commission in March 1850. From then onwards, he was employed constantly by Queen Victoria for almost 50 years, painting enamel miniatures, often copied after Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s oil portraits, for her own collection and for distribution as gifts. His enamels were usually smaller than those by Henry Pierce Bone, William Essex or John Simpson, whose services she had previously employed, and many were set into items of jewellery, particularly Maid of Honour brooches. Queen Victoria’s last payment to Bell, in July 1899, was for ‘6 Miniatures on Gold for Maid of Honour brooches’. Owing to his advanced years, the Queen then gave him no further work but awarded him an annual pension of £20.

    The miniature is based on a three-quarter-length cabinet photograph taken by Jabez Hughes at Osborne House, on 22 July 1878 (NPG, London: no. X7740), although an identical photographic print at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire, given by Queen Victoria to the Duchess of Connaught as a posthumous memorial to Disraeli, is identified as by West, photographers of 1 St James’s Street, London.

    Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, Prime Minister and novelist, was the son of Isaac D’Israeli and his wife Maria Basevi. He was propelled into high office by his leadership of the Protectionist faction within the Tory Party during the battle over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1845 – 6, serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1852, 1858 – 9, 1866 – 8) and later Prime Minister (1868, 1874 – 80). He championed the interests of Crown, Church and aristocracy during a period coloured by his personal and long-lasting rivalry with W.E. Gladstone, leader of the Liberal Party. Queen Victoria adored Disraeli: ‘The Q. is devoted to Dizzy,’ wrote General Ponsonby in 1875, ‘and I think and I suppose pours out her feelings to him. He has got the length of her foot exactly and knows how to be sympathetic’. On his death, a memorial to him was erected in the church of St Michael and All Angels, Hughenden, at the Queen’s behest bearing a verse adapted from Proverbs 16:13, ‘Kings love him that speaketh right’, and an inscription: From His Grateful Sovereign & Friend Victoria R.I.

    Signed and inscribed on the gilded counter-enamel in black paint: Benjamin Disraeli / Earl of Beaconsfield / painted by W.C. Bell / after a photograph / by Jabez Hughes / 1878

    Provenance

    First recorded in the Royal Collection in 1885
  • Medium & Techniques

    Enamel on copper

    enamel, copper

    Dimensions

    4.6 x 3.4 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    4.3 x 3.2 cm (sight)

    5.9 cm (frame (miniature), with ring closed/down)

    6.1 x 3.7 cm (frame (miniature), with ring open/up)