Holmes, Charles John (1868-1936) by Scholes, Robert

Charles John Holmes (1868 – 1936) Slade Professor of Art at Oxford, Holmes published in 1902 and in 1909. He was Director of the National Portrait Gallery in July, 1914, when a militant suffragette attacked Portrait of Thomas Carlyle. Constable and His Influence on Landscape Painting Notes on the Science of Picture-Making Millais’ Here is his report on the incident, from the National Portrait Gallery Archives: July 18th, 1914. At 11.20 yesterday morning I left the Board Room to interview a visitor, when in the corridor I met the Sergeant of Police and Attendant Wilson conducting to the waiting room a woman whose hand had apparently been cut. I asked whether there had been an outrage in the Gallery, and the Sergeant replied, “Yes sir, a serious one”. I asked which was the picture; there was no answer for a moment, and then the woman – who by this time had been placed in a chair in the waiting room – answered, “Oh, its the Millais Carlyle”. A messenger went to fetch a basin of water to bathe the woman’s injured hand, and I went up to the East Wing and saw the damaged picture. Attendant MacNamara, who was in charge of the East Wing, stated that he had been arranging for a student (Miss Payne) to copy the portrait of Lord Tennyson by Watts, and had turned for a moment from the room to make the necessary entry in the book kept in his desk just outside the door. He was writing at the desk when he heard the crash of glass, and on running into the room he found a woman struggling with Miss Payne and Attendant Wilson. The picture of Carlyle was damaged and the weapon used, a butcher’s cleaver, was lying on the floor. Miss Payne was standing close to the Carlyle picture, preparing to copy the Tennyson portrait which hangs next to it, when she saw the woman make a jump from behind her with the cleaver raised. Thinking she herself was about to be attacked she drew back and the woman struck the Carlyle picture with very great force. Miss Payne seized her hand, but the woman who was very strong, threw her aside and struck the picture twice more before Attendant Wilson threw his arms over her head and held her tightly until the Sergeant of Police arrived. The cleaver fell to the ground in the struggle and the woman’s hand which was cut by the glass began to bleed. Miss Mimpriss, a student copying on the opposite side of the room witnessed the scene and gave similar evidence. The prisoner was taken to Vine Street Police Station by the Sergeant and Attendant Wilson, and I followed to make the formal charge, taking Miss Payne and MIss Mimpriss with me as witnesses. As the woman left the gallery she turned to me and said “A protest against the re-arrest of Mrs. Pankhurst”. I have no recollection of the word “vindictive” which the woman mentioned when charged at Bow Street. While waiting at Vine Street I had the opportunity of asking Attendant Wilson about the matter. He stated that he recognised the woman as a person he had noticed yesterday and whom, from the closeness from which she then examined the pictures, he had taken to be American. This view he altered when she appeared on Friday morning, as he thought no American would have paid the 6d. entrance fee twice over. He therefore followed her to the door of Room XXVI– where he was on duty–and by which he was standing when he heard the crash of glass round the corner. He ran up at once, threw his arms over the woman’s head and pressed her arms tightly by her side, holding her until help arrived. At two o’clock I went to Bow Street to attend the hearing before the magistrate. The only discrepancy in the evidence then given was whether the prisoner had used the cleaver with one or with both hands: Miss Payne was positive that she used two hands, prisoner stated that she used only one hand. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon I examined the damage done to the picture with Mr. F. Haines; his report on the whole was as favourable as could be expected, but he considered that it might be dangerous to leave the picture on exhibition through the next few days, since in its present condition one further blow might inflict quite irreparable damage. The portrait was therefore carefully removed from its frame and taken to the Board Room, the frame and broken glass being replaced on the wall.

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