Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait drawing of Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley KG (1867-1947) 1930s

Francis Dodd (1874-1949)

Portrait drawing of Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley KG (1867-1947), Francis Dodd
Zoom
Charcoal on paper
10 3/4 x 9 3/4 in., 27.5 x 25 cm
 
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Stanley Baldwin’s emergence from almost complete obscurity to become Prime Minister in 1923 was one of the most remarkable feats of ascension in modern politics. He bore none of the hallmarks of a ruling patrician; he was a middle-class, second-generation industrialist with a third-class degree from Cambridge, and only entered the House of Commons thanks to a seat ‘inherited’ from his father in 1908. It was not until eight years later that Baldwin made it to the Front Bench, as Private Secretary to the Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law. Even this feat was due to the fact that so many other Conservative MPs were away on active duty (Baldwin was too old to fight). By 1920, just three years before he became Prime Minister, Baldwin was considered a solid middle-ranker, and was thought of as a candidate for Speaker.

How, then, did he manage to become Premier by 1923? Quite simply, luck. The dramatic break up of Lloyd George’s wartime coalition Government in 1922 shattered the existing political system. It not only led to the collapse of the Liberal party, but also checked the careers of those senior Conservatives who still supported the coalition. Baldwin, thanks to his small part in Lloyd George’s collapse, was one of the few men of any ability left standing, and suddenly found himself as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Bonar Law’s government. When Bonar Law suddenly resigned as Prime Minister in 1923, Baldwin, through sheer good nature and, crucially, dependability, found himself trusted to do the top job.

Thereafter, Baldwin shrewdly cultivated his image as ‘Honest Stan’ – pipe in mouth, and friendly grin – and became the first Conservative leader able to operate successfully in the modern media. He was photogenic, thoughtful, and unthreatening. Despite losing the election of 1923, on the issue free trade, he was soon back in power at the head of a landslide majority in 1924. He led his governments (he was again Premier in 1935-7) in the spirit of national unity and stability, and with great skill. He dealt effectively with the huge social upheaval created by the war, and managed to weather the economic difficulties caused by Britain’s enormous war debts. He won praise for his handling of Edward VIII’s abdication.









On his retirement in 1937 Baldwin was hailed as one of the country’s leading statesmen. But within two years his reputation was in tatters. The publication of books such as “The Guilty Men” in 1940 laid the blame for the second world war squarely on Baldwin’s shoulders for not rearming during the 1930s. His phrase, “the bomber will always get through” has been seen as a resigned admission that, in the face of the modern military machine, defence was practically pointless. And it is true that as part of the coalition with Ramsay MacDonald from 1931-5, in which Baldwin was de facto Prime Minister, he had, with his Labour colleagues, resisted rearmament, and worked towards an international treaty of disarmament.

Baldwin, ignored by Churchill during the war, was greatly distressed by the public anger directed at him and his family. This portrait shows Baldwin in the 1930s, when he was at the height of his powers, but it contrasts with another sketch by Dodd, now in the National Portrait Gallery and dated 1942, in which Baldwin is a visibly older, melancholy man.

The attacks on Baldwin are now felt by the majority of historians to be unjustified. When we take into account the national mindset during Baldwin’s time in office, when people were still recovering from the horrors of the Great War, we see that there was a common agreement on the need for a new basis of peace and understanding – one based on diplomacy, and if necessary, concession (or appeasement). And in fact, in several key areas, especially the Air Force, Baldwin laid the foundations for Britain’s eventual strength during the war. The Spitfire first flew in 1936.

Although Baldwin’s reputation recovered somewhat after victory in 1945, he died in 1947 still feeling the brunt of national antipathy. During his final public appearance in London in October 1947, at the unveiling of the statue of George V outside Westminster Abbey, he was recognised by a supportive, cheering crowd. Baldwin, by now deaf, asked: "Are they booing me?”

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