Getting Gladstone's Collar Up (Furniss, M.P.'s in Session, 9). [Click on this and the following images to enlarge them.]


In his Confessions of a Caricaturist, Furniss wrote, "The famous collars I 'invented' for grotesque effect, but I always saw Mr. Gladstone without them, for to me his head has never been, as some suppose, a mere block around which to wreathe a fantastic and exaggerated collar" (Confessions I: 163-64).

Gladstone, as shown in the frontispiece of Vol. I of the Confessions.

Furniss goes on to report the speech that he would make on his magic lantern tours about parliament:

I am told a Japanese artist who wishes to study a particular flower, for instance, travels to the part of the country where it is to be found; he takes no photographic camera, no superb sketching pad or box of paints, but he lives by the plant, watches day by day the flower grow, blossom, and decay, under every condition, and mentally notes every detail, so that ever afterwards he can paint that flower in every possible way with fiicility and knowledge. I have myself treated Mr. Gladstone as that Japanese artist treats the beautiful flower. I have frequently sat for many many hours watching every gesture, every change of expression. I have watched the colour leave his cheeks, and the hair his head; I have marked time contract his mouth, and have noted the development of each additional wrinkle. I have mused under the shade of his collars, and wondered at the cut of his clothes, sketched his three hats and his historical umbrella. More than that; during a great speech I have seen the flower in his buttonhole fade under his flow of eloquence, seen the bow of his tie travel round to the back of his neck. [Confessions I: 164]

Furniss noted that when he gave this description of his procedure, "the laugh always came with the collars" adding,

It was not as a serious critic that I was posing before the audience, so I could fittingly describe the collars rather than the man. But when I had left the platform and the limelight, and my caricatures, I have had many a chat with Mr. Gladstone's admirers, with regard to the light in which I saw the great man without his collars, and this fact I will put forward as my excuse for publishing in my "Confessions" a few studies that I have made from time to time of the Grand Old Man, as an antidote not only to my own caricatures, but to the mass of Gladstone portraits published, which, with very few exceptions, are idealised, perfunctory, stereotyped, and worthless. Generations to come will not take their impressions of this great man's appearance from these unsatisfactory canvases, or from the cuts in old-fashioned illustrated, in which all public men are drawn in a purely conventional tailor's advertisement fashion, with perfect-fitting coats, trousers without a crease, faces of wax, and figures of the fashionable fop of the period. The camera killed all this. But the photographer, although he cannot alter the cut of the clothes, can alter, and does alter, everything else. He touches up the face beyond recognition, and the pose is the pose the sitter takes before the camera, and probably quite different from his usual attitude. So it will be the caricatures, or, to be correct, the character sketches, that will leave the best impressions of Mr. Gladstone's extraordinary individuality. [Confessions I: 164-67]

In one respect, however, Furniss and his fellow-caricaturists were inclined to soften the focus. Gladstone lost the first finger of his left hand in a shooting accident, and wore a finger-stall. But following Furniss's example his fellow-caricaturists drew no attention to this. "We never make capital out of our subjects' deformities," he said (Confessions I: 121). The absence of the finger is clear in the portrait of Gladstone seated, above, but only to the reader who actually looks for it.

"Mr Gladstone: A Sketch from Life." Gladstone, looking exceedingly dignified in a sketch rather than a caricature, the high collar not as pronounced as in Furniss's caricatures (Confessions I: 163).

Related Material

Image capture and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Furniss, Harry. The Confessions of a Caricaturist. Vol. I. Toronto: William Briggs, 1902. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 20 April 2015.

_____. M.'s in Session, from Mr. Punch's Parliamentary Portrait Gallery. London: Bradbury Agnew & Co., 1889. Internet Archive. Contributed by University of California Libraries. Web. 20 April 2015.

Created 22 November 2015

Last modified 26 January 2020