Dressed in a black velvet suit and bow tie, politician James Stansfeld sits at a table, holding a paper to be read. However, he is distracted and turns to his right with a faraway look.
When this portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1871, Stansfeld was President of the Poor-Law Board. The work received mixed reviews. ‘The Graphic’ described the portraits of statesmen in the exhibition that year (including this work, James Sant’s portrait of Earl Russell, Henry R. Graves’ of the Duke of Richmond and Henry T. Wells’ of the Right Hon. Mr Bruce), as ‘striking representations’ of statesmen, while ‘The Saturday Review’ commented on the same group of works: ‘…it does not appear that the type of statesmanship has of late years risen either in physique or intellect. The fault may sometimes lie with the sitter, in other cases with the painter.’ A reviewer from ‘The Art Journal’ commented on this work specifically but with only partial approval: ‘Either Mr Sidley, or his sitter, ‘The right Hon. James Stansfeld, M.P.,’ must be faulty in colour: otherwise, however, the picture is commendable.’
Samuel Sidley was born in York and studied at the Manchester School of Art, followed by the Royal Academy Schools in London. During his career, he exhibited 30 paintings at the Royal Academy and 11 at the Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street. Although best known as a portrait painter, Sidley also painted sentimental genre subjects, including the young girl smiling mischievously and holding a snowball in ‘The Challenge’ (1876). For some portraits he collaborated with animal painter Richard Ansdell; for example Ansdell painted the pony in Sidley’s portrait of ‘Annie and Ernest, The Children of Angus Holden’. Sidley died in 1896 at his home at Victoria Road, Kensington in London. He left a widow, Betty Ferns Sidley.
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