The Government Art Collection recognises its responsibility to artists, colleagues and all our audiences to represent the diversity of the UK and to embed anti-racist and equitable practices throughout our work. We are taking action to address inequality in the Collection and its interpretation.
This portrait of a young man, dressed in a suit and cravat, represents the politician and author George Cornewall Lewis. Lewis was described by Benjamin Disraeli as ‘rather above middle height… [with] a remarkable countenance; massy features, antique but not classical’.
This painting was offered to the Ministry of Works by the Reverend J. G. Walker in 1953, although a dispute over its ownership meant it was not accepted until 1962. In 1956, former curator Richard Walker made the following notes regarding its value to the Collection:
'Sir Geo. Cornewall Lewis. (1806-1863) Statesman & author. Chancellor of Exchequer, Home Sec., Secretary for War. Editor of Edinburgh Review 1852-5. Would be useful for Home, War, or Scottish Offices.'
John Watson Gordon, portrait painter, was born in Edinburgh, the son of a Captain in the Royal Artillery. He studied under John Graham, George Watson and Sir Henry Raeburn and added ‘Gordon’ to his surname to distinguish himself from his cousin and uncle (both artists). Gordon was influenced by the work of Raeburn and took over as the leading Scottish portrait painter after Raeburn’s death. In 1826, he became a founding member of the Royal Scottish Academy and, in 1851, a Member of the Royal Academy, London. Many of his sitters were Scottish, but English clients also travelled to Edinburgh to sit for him. He became President of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1850 and was knighted and appointed Royal Limner for Scotland soon afterwards.
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