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Medal - David Roberts

David Roberts

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1875 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Morgan, George T., born 1845 - died 1925 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This medal belongs to the 'medallic series of the History of British Art', produced for the Art Union of London, a society aimed at promoting British artists and art manufacturers. Each medal bears an artist's portrait on the obverse, and a characteristic example of his achievements on the reverse. David Roberts specialised in Orientalist subjects and this genre scene is taken from his popular lithograph The Letter Writer, Cairo.

Physical description

Medal, bronze. Obverse, bust of the sitter facing to the left. Inscription: DAVID ROBERTS R:A: Signed: G MORGAN SC. Reverse, seated old moor writing a letter for a female person. Inscription: ART- UNION OF LONDON 1875.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1875 (made)


Morgan, George T., born 1845 - died 1925 (maker)

Materials and Techniques


Marks and inscriptions




Diameter: 56 mm

Object history note

Bought together with A.8 and A.9-1970 from R.G. Coats.

Historical significance: In 1865 the Art Union decided to commemorate David Roberts, and the medal was commissioned to George T. Morgan in 1873, around the time he worked for Pinches in London. The thirty silver medals were allotted in 1875. Beaulah notes: ‘It is a matter of interest that of the thirty winners eight were residents overseas – an indication of the Art Union’s wide field’ (Beaulah, 1967, 184). Morgan was to produce the Art Union medal to David Cox in 1879, and he would later pursue his career as assistant mint-engraver in the United States.
David Roberts RA (1796-1864) was a Scottish painter specialised in architectural subjects and genre scenes set in Egypt and the Near-East, where he travelled in 1838-1840. On his return Roberts worked with lithographer Louis Haghe from 1842 to 1849 to produce the plates of the Sketches in the Holy Land and Syria, 1842-1849 and Egypt & Nubia series, made from his drawing and watercolour travel sketches. The reverse of the present medal is taken from his Letter Writer, Cairo illustrated in the latter series. The subject matter, décor, figures (scribe in turban and veiled woman), oriental props (hookah) are typical of the Orientalist genre scenes that were fashionable at the time and granted Roberts a considerable success.

Historical context note

The Art Union of London (1837- 1912) sought to promote public interest in the arts and encourage British artists and manufacturers of decorative arts. For a subscription of one guinea per year, members of the society received an engraving and were entered into a yearly draw.
A 'medallic series of the History of British Art' was planned by the society in 1842, although the first medal was only produced four years later, by William Wyon, chief engraver at the Royal Mint (Beaulah, 1967,180). In addition to commemorating famous British artists, the series aimed at reviving interest in medal-making and encourage British die-engravers. Each year, thirty silver medals were given to subscribers that did not qualify for the highest prize in the draw. Bronze medals were given to subscribers who might prefer one to the annual engraving although relatively few decided to take the medal (Beaulah, 1967,179).
Thirty medals were issued between 1846 and 1887, of which twenty-nine commemorate British artists. The last medal was commissioned to Alfred Gilbert., to mark the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. Fifteen painters, seven sculptors, six architects and one die-engraver (Wyon) were commemorated. The medals' obverses show their portrait busts (generally in profile), while the subjects of the reverses are borrowed from the celebrated artists and significant examples of their work. Twelve of these medals were issued within a decade of subject's deaths 'the rest were in honour of figures such as Wren, Hogarth, etc., whose reputations had already stood the test of time' (Beaulah, 1967,181).
Thanks to ample funds, the society was able to commission from the best die engravers, as the aim of the series was to promote 'dignified simplicity of composition … clam expression… purity and correctness of drawing, and severe beauty of form' ((Beaulah, 1967, 180-181).

Other public collections in which this medal is held: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; British Museum, London; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, Edinburgh; Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

Descriptive line

Medal, David Roberts (obverse) and Moorish scribe and female figure (reverse), bronze, English, 19th century, G.T. Morgan, 1875, Art Union of London.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Brown, Laurence. British Historical Medals 1837- 1901. The Reign of Queen Victoria., London, 1986, no. 3016.
Beaulah, G.K, 'The Medals of the Art Union of London', British Numismatic Journal, vol. XXXVI, 1967, p. 184.
Forrer, Biographical Dictionary of Medallists…, London: Spink & Son, 1907, IV, p. 148.
Brown, L., British Historical Medals 1837-1901: The Reign of Queen Victoria, London, 1987, p. 307 cat. 3016.
Eimer, C., British Commemorative Medals and their Values, London, 1987, no. 1649.
Egypt & Nubia / from drawings made on the spot by David Roberts , lithographed by Louis Haghe. London : F.G. Moon, 1846-1849, v. 3, p. 31.



Subjects depicted

Hookahs; Scribe


Coins & Medals; Sculpture; Scotland


Sculpture Collection

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