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Rutherford Mythology

Rutherford Paintings
-1907 (Mathews)
-1916 (Janssens)
-1932 (Birley)
-1934 (Birley) Duplicate
-1932 (Gunn)
-1936 (Emanuel
-2013 (Frizell)

Rutherford Sketches
Rutherford Busts
Rutherford Photographs
Rutherford Quotations
Rutherford Artifacts
Rutherford Houses

Paintings of Rutherford

Rutherford 1907

Richard George Mathews (1870-1955).
Pastel on paper.
July 1907.
Copyright: Rutherford Museum, McGill University.

  The paper used is now yellowed with age.

  In autumn 1907 Rutherford left McGill University for Manchester to be closer to the centres of physics research. He had virtually completed the work for which he was awarded the 1908 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the first Nobel Prize awarded for research carried out in Canada.

  This pastel sketch is the best image of Ernest Rutherford, showing him as young, vigorous, confident, and already known worldwide for having explained radioactivity as the natural transmutation of atoms, discovered radon, and used radioactivity to date when the Earth's crust solidified. Too many portraits of Rutherford used as illustrations today show him in later life as an old man who wore a truss. No schoolchild can identify with those later images.

   In the first week of February 1907 John Cox nominated Rutherford for a Nobel Prize, hoping it would be awarded before Rutherford left Canada in the autumn. He missed the closing date.

About the Artist.
  Mathews was a reportage artist for The Montreal Star who moved to London in 1907. At the time of my book McGill had always misspelt his name as "P Matthews" or "R G Matthews", so did I.

Rutherford 1916

Jozef Janssens (1854-1930).
Rutherford Family.

  This is the only formal oil portrait of Rutherford whilst still a youngish man (c45) at the height of his powers of discovery. By then Rutherford had discovered the nuclear structure of atoms and was within a couple of years of becoming the world's first successfull alchemist, when he split the atom and turned nitrogen into hydrogen and oxygen.

  Janssens was a Belgium WW1 refugee in Manchester. To help him financially he was commissioned to paint Rutherford's portrait and also one of Rutherford's teenage daughter Eileen.

I haven't as yet (2016) located any formal correspondence concerning the commissioning of this portrait.

Rutherford 1932 (Birley)

Oswald Birley (1880-1952).
Oil on Canvas.
First Sitting 2nd March 1932.
Copyright: Royal Society of London

  Rutherford was President of the Royal Society of London from 1926-1931. The Royal Society commissioned the painting as was typical for past Presidents. It was presented to the Royal Society at its meeting of 9th June 1932 and hung in the Meeting Room, replacing Sir George Stokes' portrait.

  In February of 1932 Birley visited the Royal Society to see the style of painting required. He also stayed with the Rutherford's at Cambridge, dined at Trinity, and visited Rutherford's laboratory. He then attended Rutherford's talk to the Royal Institution on Saturday 27th Feb (but declined to attend the rest of Rutherford's weekly series, for which Rutherford had given him tickets.) When arranging the first sitting at his rooms (The Corner House, 62 Wellington Rd NW8) Birley asked Rutherford to bring both his red and his black academic robes. The less colourful one appears. Birley copied it two years later for sending to New Zealand.

About the Artist.
  Sir Oswald Birley was born in New Zealand while his parents were on a world tour. During WW1 he rose to be a Captain in Military Intelligence and was awarded the Military Cross in 1919. He was knighted in 1949.

Rutherford (Birley Duplicate 1934 and Later Copies)

Oswald Birley (1880-1952).
Oil on Canvas.
Copyright: National Library of New Zealand

  Charles Bathurst, First Viscount Bledisloe, (who gifted the Bledisloe Cup to Rugby's New Zealand-Australia annual contest) was Governor General of New Zealand from 1930-35. As is usual for the position, he was patron of many organisations, including Honorary Patron of the New Zealand Institute (NZI) from 1933-67. Being an agriculturalist, he gave the Cawthron Lecture in 1932.

  In 1932 the NZI adopted his project to obtain for New Zealand a copy of Lord Rutherford's portrait by Oswald Birley. Funds were lacking so Viscount Bledisloe personally paid for the duplicate. To mark his retirement in 1935, at the inaugral meeting of the RSNZ (which the NZI had become) he presented the portrait to the National Art Gallery of New Zealand. It is now in the National Library of New Zealand.

  Copies (artists unknown) of that portrait are held by the RSNZ and the University of Canterbury. Unfortunately these three paintings caused Rutherford to be portrayed in New Zealand as a portly old Lord, with whom no Kiwi schoolchild could identity. That changed around 1999, once I started pushing New Zealand to portray him as in his younger days of the early 1900s, when first coming to world attention for his researches.

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Rutherford 1932 (Gunn)

Sir James Gunn (1893-1964).
Oil on Canvas.
Dated 14th July 1932.
Copyright: UK National Portrait Gallery. (NPG 2935)

  The National Portrait Gallery use a professional gallery as their agent and reproductions fees are so high I could not afford to use it in my books or the Rutherford Documentary. Which is a pity as it is a nice painting. I appear to not be alone, as I haven't seen this painting of Rutherford being used anywhere.

About the Artist.
  From 1929 Gunn concentrated on portraiture and received commissions from many leading figures.

Rutherford 1936

Frank Lewis Emanuel (1866 - 1948).
Oil on Canvas.
Copyright: Nelson College

  The Nelson College Old Boys commissioned this portrait and it was presented to Nelson College in August 1936, a year before Rutherford died. The NCOB made over the legal ownership to the Council of Governors, in trust for the College. He was asked "to choose his position and instead of being painted in any of the gorgeous robes of the dozens of Universities which have honoured him, he characteristically chose to be shown with his work." "The apparatus depicted is the original used by me showing for the first time the transmutation of nitrogen by bombarding with swift Alpha particles." The artist's fee was NZŁ312. 50 signed etchings were supplied to help raise funds at a donation or NZŁ5 each.

  In 2008, incidentally the centennial of Rutherford's Nobel Prize, the college discovered a lot of old paintings in store and decided to sell them to raise money. The paintings went to Dunbar Sloan, art auctioneers, for auction on November 2008. The NCOB were incensced that Rutherford's portrait was amongst those for sale and hastily arranged to raise money to retain that and the portrait of SquadronLeader Leonard Trent VC. The paintings were in the hands of the auctioneers so the auction had to proceed. The Rutherford painting was expected to fetch $6000 to $10,000. The Old Boys Association, under Douglas McKee, were successful, paying $36,000 (plus buyers fees and auction costs). It cost Douglas another $5,000 to restore the painting.

   The painting now resides in the scriptorium at Nelson College, the Nelson College Old Boys having paid twice for it.

About the Artist.
   Frank Lewis Emanuel (British, 1866 - 1948) apparently did few portraits. Mostly he painted, in oil, sea and landscapes in the UK and on the continent including streetscapes in France and Italy.

Rutherford 2013

Dick Frizzell (1943 - ).
Gouache on paper.
Copyright: NZ National Portrait Gallery.

  As part of The New Zealand Herald's 150th birthday celebrations, Dick Frizzell, a New Zealand artist based in Hawke's Bay, created gouache paintings of five Kiwi icons; Sir Edmund Hillary, Dame Whina Cooper (a Maori leader), Ernest Rutherford, Kate Sheppard (the leader who obtained the vote for NZ Women in 1893) and Richie McCaw (the captain of the NZ national rugby team the All Blacks until 2015).

  A collage of the works appeared on the front page of the New Zealand Herald on its 150th birthday, Nov 13 2013. The artist sold 150 special edition signed prints.

  The original artworks were auctioned on Dec 10th 2013 to raise funds for the Starship Hospital National Air Ambulance.

  The Rutherford painting was gifted to the NZ National Portrait Gallery by John and Avenal McKinnon.

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