Henry Irving as Charles I

Henry Irving (1838-1905) as Charles I
James Archer (1822-1904)
Oil on Canvas
BORGM 00160
Image © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

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Henry Irving (1838-1905) as Charles I

Henry Irving (1838-1905) was a great Victorian actor-manager, based at the Lyceum Theatre in London, and a personal friend of Merton. He was the first actor to receive a knighthood. Among many roles, in 1872 he appeared as Charles I in the play of the same name by W. G. Wills.

This life-sized painting may have been purchased by Merton at Christie’s sale of Henry Irving’s property after his death. In the Irving Room upstairs is a suit of armour worn by Irving in his portrayal of Charles I. According to Merton’s autobiography, Irving had this painting hung in the ‘Beefsteak Room’ in his home in London.

Archer was educated at the Royal High School and studied at the Trustee’s Academy in Edinburgh under Sir William Allan and Thomas Duncan. In 1840 he was accepted as a student at the Royal Scottish Academy and first exhibited there in 1842, with the biblical painting, The Child St John in the Wilderness.

Archer worked in oils, pencil and chalk, and at the beginning of his career specialised in portraiture. His best-known work includes children and people in costume as its subjects – in fact, he was the first Victorian painter to portray children in period costume.

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