The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

return to surnames beginning with 'W'

Ralph Nicholson Wornum, 1812-1877

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1812.12.29
Place of Birth: Thornton, Durham
Date of Death: 1877.12.15
Place of Death: 20 Belsize Square, London


Ralph Nicholson Wornum was a history painter, art historian and musueum official.


Abandoning his studies for the bar, Wornum studied art between 1834 and 1839 in Munich, Dresden, Rome and Paris. In 1840 he settled in London and established himself as a history and portrait painter with limited success. He began contributing to art journals and in 1847 published his Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of the Pictures in the National Gallery. A few years later in 1855, he became Keeper of the National Gallery under Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, a former Keeper who was appointed to the newly created position of Director.

His other art publications included a life of Holbein and Anecdotes of Painting in England: with some account of the principal artists (1876).

Amongst his circle were the art historian and dealer Otto Mundler and the critic and social reformer John Ruskin.

As Honorary Secretary of the Burlington Fine Arts Club Wornum was in correspondence with JW in 1867 concerning JW's quarrel with his brother-in-law Francis Seymour Haden. JW was eventually expelled from the Club.


Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Gravers, 8 vols, Paris, 1954-61; Obituary, The Times, London, 19 December 1877, p. 10.