5 Things You Never Knew

by Justin Cheong
...about this famous portrait of Sir Stamford Raffles, who founded Singapore in 1819.

We know his name from our history books as the man who founded Singapore in 1819, but this oil painting of him by prolific English portraitist George Francis Joseph is equally recognisable. On display till 26 March at the National Gallery Singapore’s Artist and Empire: (En)countering Colonial Legacies exhibition ( presented in association with Tate Britain, the imposing picture of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles is also an intimate study of a man who had a passion for flora and fauna, as we find out from Melinda Susanto, Assistant Curator, National Gallery Singapore. She tells us five interesting facts about it:


1. “This portrait of Sir Stamford Raffles by George Francis Joseph was painted while Raffles was in England for the publication of his book, The History of Java, in 1817. A copy of The History of Java book is also displayed in the exhibition along with this portrait.”


2. “During the 19th century, many British officers pursued their own scholarly interests alongside their official duties in the British Empire. Raffles was one such learned person. This portrait focuses on Raffles as a scholar, featured with a manuscript in his hand, with a table full of an inkbottle, a quill, papers and books. But he also took a keen interest in the natural history of the region, commissioning local artists in Malacca, Singapore and Bengkulu to paint its flora and fauna. The book, The History of Java, is shown on the table to his left in this portrait, alongside a figure of Buddha which alludes to Raffles’ interest in archaeology. During his time in Java, Raffles collected various artefacts and drawings. Today, the treasures of Raffles’ collection reside in the British Library and the British Museum.”


3. “Raffles founded the Zoological Society of London in 1826 and was its first President.”


4. “The work in this exhibition is the original portrait loaned from the National Portrait Gallery in London. This is an artwork often seen in primary and secondary school history textbooks in Singapore. Singaporeans may find it nostalgic to finally be able to see the actual artwork itself.”


5. “The National Museum of Singapore has another version of this portrait, painted in 1912 by John Adamson, which used to be displayed in the Victoria Memorial Hall.”

Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles

George Francis Joseph (1764-1846).
1817. Oil on canvas. 139.7 x 109.2 cm.
Gift of the sitter's nephew, WC Raffles Flint, 1859.
Collection of National Portrait Gallery, London.

On display till 26 March 2017 at the National Gallery Singapore’s Artist and Empire: (En)countering Colonial Legacies exhibition.

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