Collection Online
Alfred Tennyson
oil on wood panel
61.0 × 50.4 cm
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1888
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
19th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International

Purchased from the artist, 1888.

George Frederick Watts first met the Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1857 and painted this portrait shortly after. It is the first of six oil portraits Watts made of Tennyson between 1858 and 1890, and may partly be based on a photograph Watts owned by the Rev. C. L. Dodgson, also known as the famed writer Lewis Carroll, author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). At the sitting Tennyson is said to have questioned the artist about his thoughts when painting a portrait and to have transposed Watts’ reply into verse:

As when a painter, poring on a face,
Divinely thro’ all hindrance finds the man
Behind it, and so paints him that his face,
the shape and colour of a mind and life,
Lives for his children, ever as its best
And fullest.


FRAME: Original Watts frame, by W. A. Smith, London

This is a fine example of the frame that carries the artist’s name, on one of his own paintings.2 The other painting in the collection by Watts, Love and Death, (p.312.05-1), purchased the same year as this one, is framed in an identical frame carrying the same label. Both paintings were shown at the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition, Melbourne 1887–8, as numbers 139 and 142 respectively.3 It is reasonable to assume that the paintings were given identical frames by the same framemaker for the exhibition. The style adopted by Watts was popular in the late nineteenth century, and was literally copied or used in variant form by a number of framemakers. Characteristically, in the construction of the Smith frame the veneered flat is joined in the vertical, not as the veneer over a mitred chassis. The frame may not be the first framing of the painting.


1 An invoice from the Office of the Agent-General for Victoria, dated 10th January, 1873, for Mr A. Smith, (late J. Green), for a frame 20 ft. 11 ins. x 12 ft. 1 in records the making, by Smith, of the huge frame for John Herbert’s Moses bringing Down the Tables of the Law, (p.306.4-1) acquired in 1878. This frame was made in six pieces, the long sections joined mid-way with metal plates. The dismantled frame is in storage along with the dismounted painting.

I am grateful to Liana Fraser for this reference (from research carried out in various archives for the Conservation Department in 1995).

2 For a discussion of the Watts frame, see ‘Artists’ frames from Watts to Whistler’ in Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame, National Portrait Gallery, 1996, pp. 73–77. W. A. Smith took over the framing of Watts’ paintings from Joseph Green in the early 1870s. (Jacob Simon, the Art of the Picture Frame, p. 173. See also Mitchell and Roberts, A History of European Picture Frames, p. 69).  Another Watt's frame by W.A Smith appears on Corn Threshing in Tuscany by Arthur Lemon (756-2).

3 I am indebted to the research of Annette Dixon, former Curator of European Art, National Gallery of Victoria, who first sourced this reference.

W. A. Smith
20 & 22 Mortimer Street, Regent Street, London W.
1887 1

The frame is made up from three sections: the outer frame, the flat, and the inner frame. The flat is oak veneer on a pine base and is butt-joined in the vertical as a complete section. There are three passages of composition ornament. The flat is gilded on the wood leaving the oak grain to show. The other surfaces appear to be matte gilded. The gilding is of a high quality with the junctions of the leaf sections remaining indistinct.


The frame is in good original condition with abrasion to the gilding of the leading edge.

91.5 x 81.4 x 5.8 cm; sight 59.5 x 49.5 cm
More Information
National Portrait Gallery