Portrait of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, John Adamson, Singapore and England, 1912, oil on canvas.
This portrait depicts Raffles in the style of a "scholar-gentleman" and administrator. He looks youthful, confident and knowledgeable, and is surrounded by symbols of his scholarly work: the manuscript paper in his hand, a writing desk with paper, ink and quill, and Buddhist sculptures from Java. There is also a romanticised landscape of Java in the background.
The original portrait by George Francis Joseph was made after Raffles returned to England from Java in 1816, where he had been Lieutenant-Governor. In England, Raffles worked on his monumental volume, The History of Java. Its publication in 1817 led to him being knighted and the book was a success in London. The original portrait, commissioned to commemorate his knighthood, hangs today in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
This well-executed copy by John Adamson was commissioned by the colonial government in Singapore and presented for display at the Victoria Memorial Hall in 1912. It hung beside other portraits of individuals important to colonial Singapore. This included a copy of a portrait of Rajah James Brooke - the "White Rajah" of Sarawak, with the original similarly hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
This is an extract from "The Singapore Story through 60 objects" written by Kennie Ting, Director, Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum & Group Director of Museums, National Heritage Board. This article was first published in Cultural Connections Volume IV 2019 by Culture Academy Singapore.
Learn more about Raffles in this video.