Monday, 13 July 2015

Keir Hardie by Sylvia Pankhurst

by Sir Leslie Ward for Vanity Fair, 1906
Another Socialist hero was the Labour leader Keir Hardie, the centenary of whose death this year might prompt reflection on the party’s fortunes.  It was Hardie who led the first substantial contingent of Labour MPs in the early 1900s and who helped change both the image - from top hat to cloth cap - and the content of British politics.

“From now until November the National Portrait Gallery presents a selection of portraits of the first leader of the Labour Party in Parliament, James Keir Hardie (1856-1915), to mark the centenary of his death on 26 September 2015. During his comparatively short fifty-nine years Hardie was a miner, a trade unionist, a journalist, an editor, a Member of Parliament and an anti-war campaigner. A key figure in the creation of the Labour Party as a political force, Hardie helped to radically alter the political landscape of Britain. Unique in his ability to speak directly to and for the industrial working-class in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, he was committed to ethical socialism, to the political independence of Labour and to women’s suffrage."

The NPG possesses two portraits of Hardie by Sylvia Pankhurst, Socialist, Suffragist and artist. Drawn in the final years of his life, they sadly record a prematurely aged figure, but  Pankhurst’s words testify to the significance of his life’s work.  On his death she described him as 'the greatest human being of our time' and in offering her larger image to the NPG she wrote that his place in history was important. 'I am conscious that this is only a sketch and was purely a preliminary study to assist me to do a painting.  I should not have ventured to offer it to the the National Portrait Gallery save for the fact that I believe you have no other portrait of Keir Hardie.  I think it does give an idea of the kind of man Keir Hardie was'.

On 3 September, Melissa Benn (whose late mother Caroline Benn wrote Hardie's biography) will be in conversation with Keir Starmer MP, in the NPG lecture theatre. 

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