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Major-General Charles George Gordon of Khartoum, 1886
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Major-General Charles George Gordon of Khartoum, 1886

Measurements: 76cm (30in) x 66cm (26in)

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Oil on canvas. Quarter length portrait of Major-General Charles George Gordon, C.B., (1833-1885) Signed mid right ‘A. Baker’. Framed.

The present portrait is a period homage to a hero deserted by his Government. It is derived from a popular carte de visit produced by the London Stereoscopic Company (fl.1854-1908).

General Gordon's death at the hands of the Mahdi (1845-1885) caused a huge wave of national grief all over Britain with 13 March 1885 being set aside as a day of national mourning for the ‘fallen hero of Khartoum’.  The self-proclaimed Mahdi had declared holy war on the West and pledged to free the Muslim world from foreign dominance. He enjoyed astonishing success. After wiping out an Egyptian army of 10,000 men, the Mahdi's forces besieged Khartoum in 1884. On 26 January 1885 his followers destroyed Sudan’s capital, killing most of its 35,000 people. Among the dead was Britain's most famous general. The British Government under Gladstone had sent Gordon to Khartoum as a pointless gesture and refused to dispatch a relieving army until it was too late. Queen Victoria sent a telegram to her prime minister saying: ‘Mr Gladstone should remember what she suffers when the British name is humiliated. He can go away and resign, but she must remain.’  Thus the Mahdi seized Africa's largest country, humiliated the world's superpower and virtually destroyed its prime minister. Two months after his triumph, he died in his bed, robbing the British of vengeance.

For his part Charles Gordon achieved the martyrdom he had been seeking at Khartoum. The British press upheld him as a Christian hero and martyr who had died nobly resisting the Islamic onslaught of the Mahdi. The consul-general of Egypt, Evelyn Baring, who deeply disliked Gordon, wrote that because of the ‘national hysteria’ caused by Gordon's death, saying anything critical about him at present would be equal to questioning Christianity. Stones were hurled at the windows of 10 Downing Street and Gladstone was denounced as the ‘Murderer of Gordon’. His government fell shortly after.The wave of mourning for Gordon was not just confined to Britain. In New York, Paris and Berlin, prints of Gordon appeared in shop windows with black lining. All over the West the fallen general was seen as a Christ-like figure.
 

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