The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari by Jerry Barrett, NPG 6202

In 1856, encouraged by the purchase by Thomas Agnew of NPG 6203, Jerry Barrett planned a second Crimean subject, to be painted in situ and centring on Florence Nightingale. He wanted to go to Turkey. His principal reason for travelling to Turkey was to paint Florence Nightingale, in an authentic Crimean war hospital setting.

Agnew offered to pay his travel expenses. So Barrett left his London studio and taking a friend, Henry Newman, went to Scutari.

Scutari is a municipality of Istanbul, Turkey on the Anatolian side of the city The barracks hospital was there.

They arrived in May 1856, and were provided with a room high up in the Barrack Hospital: No. 2 ward, Corridor 1. Nightingale had her own quarters in the same hospital.

The Treaty of Paris was signed on 30 March, ending the war. The patients were leaving the hospital day by day.

At the time, Florence had left Scutari to visit Crimea where the hospitals were not yet completely emptied.

Nightingale returned at the end of June.    

Newman's letters describe the  life in the nearly empty hospital. They also contain a brilliant accounts of Nightingale’s clashes with Barrett; the first took place on 7 July. He wrote:

You will be glad to know that the first interview with Miss Nightingale is over; it was a trying one, and left a painful impression. She received us just as a merchant would receive a visitor who came at business hours. She has a sensible, good face, and straightforward business manners. She stood all the time, and after having told her the object of our visit, namely, our interest in making a painting of her, and that Jerry had just finished a large painting in London, about which the Queen had interested herself, we proposed to call on her again in a day or two, when she might be a little less engaged; Jerry fearing that just at that juncture she would have said ‘No’.

Barrett’s hopes of sweetening Nightingale with references to Queen Victoria fell flat. A subsequent interview went better, but she still refused to sit; in Newman’s words:

On the 8th [July] she came to our studio, saw the picture, was pleased with it, took an interest in the sketch of the Queen’s visit to Chatham, and on Jerry’s saying ‘And now, Miss Nightingale, the success of my undertaking depends on you. Will you allow me to take your portrait?’ she smiled, and only said ‘Really, I fear I shall not be able to find time’.

On the third interview, on 13 July, Nightingale grew exasperated, declaring that sitting might interfere with her mission; that the people of England had never assisted her in her efforts, and that she must decline doing anything that would bring her more before the public; and that she had given the subject her serious consideration, and had no reason to think that any argument would induce her to change her determination.
At this point Barrett, the success of whose first Crimean painting had hinged on the ‘truthfulness’ of the portraits, was equally angry. ‘Jerry is to write her an appeal this evening, and then, if the reply is still unfavourable, he will carry on the attack in England through some influential quarters,’ wrote Newman.

Nightingale’s response to the appeal, sent from her quarters to his, a few hospital corridors away, was withering and final:

“Your statement of my having caused you serious inconvenience by declining to sit for your picture cannot but cause me distress. As, however, I declined from no want of willingness to forward your wishes, but from a principle which I had very fully considered & which indeed had been forced upon me by the experience of the whole time during which I have been engaged on this work, I think you will see that to give a different answer to your request than the one I have already given is impossible to me. I repeat that to hear that this answer causes inconvenience is painful to me – although I have had no share in causing any such disappointments, for my answer would have been the same before your coming out as now, had the request then been made. I must also repeat that publicity has been the cause of the greatest drawbacks I have experienced in the prosecution of the work committed to my charge – & that it is in consequence of this conviction that I have determined in no way to forward the making a show of myself or of any person, or thing connected with that work, though I cannot always prevent them or me being made a show of”.

Barrett and Newman remained at Scutari until 30 July 1856. The ‘interesting setting for Florence Nightingale’s figure’ – viz. the west gate to the hospital – had been found in May,  and for about six weeks they gathered material to recreate a scene of the reception of the Crimean wounded, as it would have looked at the height of the war.   Lord William Paulet sat to Barrett in Scutari,  and Colonel Charles Sillery and Sir William Linton probably did the same as well. Of the fourteen identified figures in NPG 6202, many had already left for England and sat to him later.

The following May Barrett wrote to invite Nightingale to see NPG 6202 in the London studio: "My large picture of the arrival of The Sick & Wounded at Scutari will I trust soon be finished and I venture to hope that you will do me the very great favour of calling me some time after the middle of next week in order that I may show it to you". Fanny Nightingale, Florence’s mother, also visited the studio. But there is no evidence that Nightingale, busy at the time with the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army, but always busy, and then busy and ill, ever sat to Barrett.

Her portrait in the painting is nevertheless instantly recognisable. In Scutari, Barrett snatched a few life sketches. In the months between painting the sketch and the final work, photographs of Nightingale began to circulate, and it is largely thanks to these fresh images that Barrett achieved his ‘truthful’ portrait. To emphasize the ‘truthfulness’ of his record, Barrett has inserted a self-portrait at a window in the hospital wall, poised above and looking down at the figure of Nightingale.

The painting was finished by the end of June 1857 and Barrett showed it to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in early July. In August the painting was bought by Agnew and Sons for £450 including the copyright.  He showed us a Joan of Arc with the sword put away, and doing a nobler work. … The composition is pergect and agreeable, an air of truthfulness pervades the whole scene. He represents the heroine in dull, sober colours. She wears a gray dress, symbol of Protestant rationality among scarlet uniforms and Ottoman silks. The soldiers, however, are manly and brave, well and honestly painted.

The paintings were eventually bought from Agnew and Sons by a Liverpool shipbuilder, Sir Edward Bates, in 1859.  They then dropped from public view  until put up for sale by the same family at Christie’s on 5 March 1993. The auction house had informed institutions which might be interested in the paintings. The Florence Nightingale Museum was keen to acquire The Mission of Mercy, and in February 1993 wrote to the Gallery: ‘At the end of the day, we remain competitors. The Museum Trustees are convinced that their Museum, although small, is the most relevant place for Gerry  Barrett’s painting of “Scutari”.’ But the estimate for The Mission of Mercy was £120,000–£180,000, and shortly before the sale the museum decided it could not and would not bid against the Gallery. In the end, the hammer price for The Mission of Mercy (alone) was £170,000 and, thanks to important grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and the National Art Collections Fund (NACF), the Gallery was able to acquire both Crimean paintings.

The paintings, which are approximately the same size and set in closely matching frames,  went on display in the Gallery on 23 March 1993. The press release noted the historical significance: “These pictures will occupy an especially important position in the collection, since it was immediately after the tragedies of the Crimean War that the Gallery was founded in 1856, to collect and display portraits of great British men and women such as Florence Nightingale, which would be an inspiration to future generations”.

Florence Nightingale, clearly highlighted in the centre of the group, is shown receiving casualties in the courtyard of the
Barrack Hospital at Scutari, a suburb of Constantinople. Through the gateway can be seen more sick and wounded
soldiers coming to the hospital. On the other side of the sea of Marmara there is the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia.
Oil on canvas, 1857
57 7/8 in. x 85 7/8 in. (1470 mm x 2182 mm)


Fourteen figures identified in this painting:

01: Alexis Benoît Soyer  Cook and writer of cookery books. (1810-1858)    
A French chef, in 1837 Soyer was appointed the first chef at the newly created Reform Club in Pall Mall. He helped design the kitchens, instituting many innovations; the kitchens were so famous that they were opened for conducted tours. In 1847 the government asked Soyer to install soup kitchens in Ireland to help alleviate the famine there. During the Crimean War, Soyer joined the troops in Constantinople at his own expense to arrange the kitchens of the Hospital and to advise the army on cooking. Soyer wrote a number of books about cooking. A Shilling Cookery for the People (1855) was a recipe book for ordinary people who could not afford elaborate kitchen utensils or large quantities of exotic ingredients.

02: Sir William Linton  Army physician (1801-1880)   
Linton entered the Army Medical Department in 1826 and, after serving in Canada, the Mediterranean and the West Indies, was appointed Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals of the Army in the Crimea. He was present at every action until the fall of Sevastopol and had care of the barrack hospital in Scutari until the British forces came home. In 1857 he was appointed Inspector-General of Hospitals, and shortly afterwards he proceeded to India to assume the post of Principal Medical Officer of the European army. He held these offices throughout the Indian mutiny. In 1859, as a reward for his services, Linton was appointed as honorary physician to Queen Victoria.

03: Sir Henry Knight Storks   Lieutenant-General (1811-1874)   
Commissioned into the army in 1832, Storks rose swiftly through the ranks and by 1854 had become a Colonel. During the Crimean War, he was in charge of the British establishments in Turkey, from the Bosphorus to Smyrna, and received the rank of Major-General. He superintended the final British withdrawal from Turkey at the end of the war. In 1859 Storks became the last High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands. The British protectorate was resigned by treaty in 1863, and the islands united with Greece. He later served as Governor, first of Malta and then of Jamaica.

04: Miss Tebbutt  (1810-1896)   
05: Robert Robinson   
06: Mary Clare (Georgina Moore)  Reverend mother  (1814-1874)   
07: Charles Sillery Colonel   
08: Jerry Barrett Painter (1824-1906)   

09: Florence Nightingale   Reformer of hospital nursing and of the Army Medical Services (1820-1910)   
Nightingale reformed hospital nursing during the 19th Century. She trained as a sick nurse and was invited to take nurses out to tend the wounded in the Crimean War (1854). She travelled to Scutari, a suburb of Constantinople, where she transformed the appalling conditions at the Barrack Hospital and laid the foundations for lasting reforms in nursing care. Her campaign on behalf of the sick and wounded British soldiers was one of the great achievements. Within months she was described in the British press as a 'ministering angel'. She was subsequently consulted by foreign governments at war as an authority on hospital administration and sanitation.

10: Selina Bracebridge  British artist, medical reformer, and travel writer.  (circa 1800-1874)   
Selina Bracebridge studied art under the celebrated artist Samuel Prout, and travelled widely as part of her art education. She married Charles Holte Bracebridge in 1824, and lived in Athens for much of the 1830s. She became close friends with Florence Nightingale in 1846, and the Bracebridges travelled with her to Rome from 1847 to 1848, and around Europe, Greece, and Egypt between 1849 and 1850.
The Bracebridges acted as administrative assistants to Nightingale for nine months at the Barrack Hospital during the Crimean War. When Nightingale fell dangerously ill at Balaclava in May 1855 they escorted her back to Scutari.
She and Nightingale remained close until her death in 1874, and Nightingale lamented her loss in a letter, saying ‘She was more than a mother to me’.
11: Charles Holte Bracebridge  Man of letters (1799-1872)   

12: Lord William Paulet  Field Marshal (1804-1893)   
He was a senior British Army officer. During the Crimean War he served as Assistant Adjutant-General of the Cavalry Division, under Lord Lucan, at the Battle of Alma in September 1854, at the Battle of Balaklava in October 1854 and at the Battle of Inkerman in November 1854 as well as at the Siege of Sevastopol. He was then given command of the rear area, including the Bosphorus, Gallipoli and the Dardanelles before returning to England. He later became Commander of the 1st Brigade at Aldershot in 1856, General Officer Commanding South-West District in 1860 and finally Adjutant-General to the Forces in 1865.
13: William Cruickshank  Army medical officer  (died 1858)   

14: Eliza Roberts Nurse   

15: A bashi-bazouk  
A bashi-bazouk was a voluntary soldier in the Ottoman army, recruited in time of war.The army chiefly recruited Albanians and Circassians as bashi-bazouks but recruits came from all ethnic groups of the Ottoman Empire. They had a reputation for bravery, but also as an undisciplined group.

16: Turkish ladies   

17:The wounded soldiers ascending from the landing place      


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