Sir William Rothenstein

The Princess Badroulbadour


Not on display

Sir William Rothenstein 1872–1945
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1410 × 1194 mm
frame: 1640 × 1430 × 120 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1924


This is a portrait of the artist's three children in fancy dress. The subject is taken from the story 'The History of Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp' in The Arabian Nights. Aladdin, entranced by the beauty of the Princess Badroulbadour, wishes to ask the Sultan for his daughter's hand in marriage. Using magic provided by the genie in his magic lamp, Aladdin passes himself off as a wealthy man, and marries the princess. The Arabic phrase Badr al-budur means 'Moon of moons'. Precisely, the word badr means 'the full moon'. In Arabic literature 'the full moon' is the conventional image for the face of a beautiful girl. Princess Badroulbadour is described in the popular Dalziel edition as 'the most beautiful brunette ever seen. Her eyes were large, well shaped, and full of fire; yet the expression of her countenance was sweet and modest ... every feature of her face was perfectly lovely and regular' (H.W. Dulcken, ed., Dalziels' Illustrated Arabian Nights' Entertainments, London 1863-5, p.594).

The eldest of the children, John, later Sir John, was Director of the Tate Gallery 1938-64. The artist's daughters were Betty (later Mrs E.R. Holliday) and Rachel (later Mrs Alan Ward). The artist's family was a frequent subject since the birth of Rothenstein's first child in 1901; the children playing dressing-up seems to have been a favourite theme. Similar pictures include Rachel Queen and Princess Betty, both exhibited in 1911 (Rutherston Collection, Manchester City Art Gallery). In the Morning Room (exhibited 1909, Rutherston Collection, Manchester City Art Gallery) shows John in fancy dress as an American Indian chief, with his mother and sister Rachel. Although The Princess Badroulbadour was painted for sale (it was included in the 1910 Bradford exhibition and subsequent shows) the artist obviously valued it highly, as it was consistently and by a large margin the highest priced item in every exhibition (matched only by Carrying the Law, at 650 guineas, in Bradford). At the exhibition held in Rothenstein's Hampstead home in 1914, it was priced at 63500.

The Princess Badroulbadour was bought for the Tate Gallery as a Chantrey Bequest picture in 1924, for 63500. The artist's biographer, Robert Speaight, wrote: 'The Chantrey committee had visited William's studio in his absence and been bowled over by the picture's merits. The depth of personal feeling inspiring it had stood up to its richly decorative composition.' (Speaight, p.325.) It was painted at the artist's house at 26 Church Row, Hampstead. The picture on the wall, representing the birth of the Virgin, is an unidentified Renaissance style painting, or a copy of one, which belonged to the artist. The Tate owns two studies for the painting (Tate Gallery T01248, T03682), as well as a 1938 oil of John as an adult, Portrait of Sir John Rothenstein C.B.E. (Tate Gallery T01869).

Further reading:
Robert Speaight, William Rothenstein: The Portrait of an Artist in his Time, London 1962, pp.225, 325

Terry Riggs
January 1998

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Display caption

This portrait shows Rothenstein’s three children, John, Betty and Rachel, posed in fancy dress as characters from the Aladdin story in The Arabian Nights. They are enacting the scene where Aladdin, disguised as a wealthy man, marries the princess Badroulbadour. Badr, meaning ‘full moon’, was the standard image for a beautiful girl in Arabic literature. Interestingly, Rothenstein adapted a drawing of his son for the pose of the princess on the left.

On the wall is a Renaissance painting of the birth of the Virgin, belonging to the artist. He may have introduced it to suggest an earlier stage of child development.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Not inscribed.
Canvas, 55×47 (140×119·5).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1924.
Exh: Bradford, June 1910 (7); Art Institute of Chicago, January 1912 (19); N.E.A.C., Summer 1912 (147); Exposition Universelle et Internationale, Ghent, 1913 (Beaux Arts, Grande Bretagne, 45); the artist's house, Hampstead, 19 March 1914 (6); Spring Exhibition, Oldham, February–April 1915 (144); R.A., 1924 (252).
Repr: Royal Academy Illustrated, 1924, p.97; Tate Gallery Illustrations, 1928, pl.115; Picture Post 11 March 1939 (in colour).

The children playing at dressing up are the artist's eldest son John (now Sir John, Director of the Tate Gallery 1938–64) and his daughters Betty (Mrs E. R. Holliday) and Rachel (Mrs Alan Ward). The picture on the wall, representing the birth of the Virgin, is an unidentified sixteenth-century painting, possibly North Italian, Swiss or Austrian, which belonged to the artist.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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