Doctor George Claridge Druce 1931

Half-length to the right, looking full face to the viewer, wearing his red doctoral robes over a dark suit and holding a large book under his left arm with his right hand resting upon it, against a dark background

Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 91.5 cm (36 x 28 in.)

Inscribed lower left:  de László 1931 / Oxford   

Laib L17023 (151) / C7(10)  

NPG Album 1931, p. 8

Sitters Book II, f. 68: G. Claridge Druce May 12, 1931

The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

This portrait of Doctor George Claridge Druce, an eminent botanist, was painted in 1931, only a few months before he died. His friends and colleagues of the Botanical Exchange Club had organised a subscription to mark his eightieth birthday, with the intention of buying a portion of land on which he could grow rare plants. However this idea could not be implemented, so they opted instead for a portrait by de László. In the club report for 1930, Dr Druce explained that the portrait “should eventually be given to some public institution, probably the Bodleian Library, at Oxford, where [de László’s] picture of the Pope now hangs [6690]. Last November I went to see him in order to arrange for sittings at Hampstead. As the fates would have it, in coming back to Oxford in a dense cold fog, a severe chill was contracted which brought on a very dangerous illness, which it seemed might prove fatal. However, one was spared, although from that date till now (May 20) I have been confined to my room. Therefore the sittings had to be abandoned. With a great generosity, which one can never repay, Mr de Laszlo broke his rule and in the third week of May he came to Oxford, gave me the sittings in my own house, and completed a real work of art, which has greatly pleased those who have seen it.”[1]

In his diary for 1931, de László recorded his trip to Oxford, where he stayed at Magdalen College. On the morning of 11 May, at 10 o’clock, he went to Druce’s home for their first sitting: “it took a half hour to arrange The studio in his drawing room – lunchend with him – also Mrs & Miss Bearing [i.e. The Hon. Mrs Guy Baring] – who is the organiser of friends to present his portrait – […] By 5. ocl. I had well placed the portrait on the canvas in its frame. He wears the red gown holding a book – a fine head which reminds me of Prince Hohenlohe the German Chancellor: pic. face & figure – which I painted in 1899 [4485]. I am very happy with the portrait as it stands.”[2] Both sitters shared the frailty of old age, but rather than emphasising this, de László focused on their strong penetrating gaze, painting them full face. In both cases, the artist used the sitters’ garments – Hohenlohe’s cape, and Druce’s gown – to give them greater stature and physical presence, and represented them respectively slightly to the left or right, also to that effect.

On 12 May, the artist worked on the portrait during the whole day, and again on 13th, when he noted: “The portrait goes well – have only the hands to paint – tomorrow – I may do a sketch It was interesting to keep the Scarlet Robe – with the delicate – white […] Head in relationship – I feel to have well succeeded & got the 82-year man faiding [sic] expression in”[3] The artist left the following day, having finished Druce’s portrait “by 3.30”.[4]

To a letter that Druce sent to thank him for the portrait, de László replied: “I enjoyed my time with you – in your own milieu very much, and I feel myself I have succeeded in leaving a work behind in your portrait – the painting of which was greatly inspired by the interesting sitter!”[5]

Druce’s portrait was completed just before the opening of the largest exhibitions of de László’s. It took place in early June at Charpentier’s in Paris, where the present work was included, apparently at the last minute. As de László explained in his diary, “all Engl. pic has arrived – but wired for the sketch of the pope – Leo XIII & Dr Druce, which is so essentially English”.[6] The portrait was officially presented to the sitter on 17 June 1931 by Earl Buxton during a ceremony arranged at de László’s studio. A Photograph of Druce, de László, and Lord and Lady Buxton in front of the portrait at Fitzjohn’s Avenue remains in the collection of the Bodleian library. The picture was donated to the institution after the sitter’s death.

A copy of the portrait was made by Sydney Kendrick, de László’s most favoured official copyist; it remains in the collection of Oxford Town Hall.

George Claridge Druce was born in Pottersbury, south Northamptonshire, on 23 May 1855, the illegitimate son of Jane Druce, who came from a family of farmers of Buckinghamshire. He attended village school in the nearby village of Yardley Gobion, and two ministers of the Pottersbury independent chapel, Rev. J and T.B. Slye, who saw his potential, took his education into their hands. The boy developed a passion for plants and butterflies and thanks to his prodigious memory, he commanded considerable knowledge from an early age.

In 1866 Druce was apprenticed to P. Jeyes & Company, of Northampton, a firm of retail and manufacturing chemists. By the age of nineteen, he was promoted acting manager, and despite his heavy workload, he studied relentlessly in his spare time, and passed his pharmaceutical exams in 1873. With his increasing interest in field botany, he began to collect a herbarium, while also writing about the local flora and helping to found and then organise the activities of the Northamptonshire Natural History Society. In 1879 he moved to Oxford, investing all his savings in a chemist’s shop in the High Street. There he took part in the foundation of the Ashmolean Natural History Society. He also undertook careful examination of the flora of Oxfordshire, and published his findings in 1886, which gained him, three years later, an honorary M.A. from the university. In 1895, the university also conferred upon him the title of special curator to the Fielding Herbarium. Several scholarly publications ensued, including monographs on the herbaria left by Johann Jacob Dillenius’s 18th century herbarium, in collaboration with Professor S.H. Vines (1907), and in that of Robert Morison (1914). He took an active part in Oxford civic life, serving on the City Council and Public Health Committee as well as becoming involved with the city's botanic and natural history societies.  He was the Sheriff of Oxford in 1897 and the Mayor in 1900-01, during which time he was also President of the British Pharmaceutical Conference. In 1895 he was appointed local secretary of the British Association at Oxford of which he became the Vice President in 1926. He was also prominent in freemasonry. In 1919 Druce was granted an M.A. by decree; in 1922 he was awarded the degree of DSc by examination, and in 1927 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He also received the honorary degree of LLD from the University of St Andrews.  

He was best known as a field botanist and for his series of large floras of the four south Midlands counties. He tended to work with a sense of urgency, and as a result some of his publications have been deemed unreliable, especially as he did not necessarily question the work of other specialists. He took the honorary secretaryship of the Botanical Exchange Club in 1903, at a time when it was in danger of disappearing. He undertook to transform it into a major national society for field botany, often acting single-handedly, to the discontent of some members. The annual reports became akin to his own journal, expressing his unorthodox views on botany. He had nevertheless many loyal supporters, as evidenced by the enthusiasm surrounding the celebration of his eightieth birthday. He died unmarried on 29 February 1932 after a short illness, aged eighty-one. He is buried in the Holywell cemetery, Oxford.

SOURCE: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Presented to the sitter by the members of the Botanical Exchange Club in 1931;

Given to Bodleian Library in 1938


•Hôtel Charpentier, Paris, Exposition P.A. László, 1931, no. 41


Dr Druce’s Eightieth Birthday from the Botanical Exchange Club Report for 1930. Arbroath: T. Buncle & co., August 1931, pp. 494-96, ill. p. 478

•László, Philip de, 1931 diary, private collection

•Letter from Philip de László to Dr Druce, 16 May 1931, Bodleian Library, Oxford

CC 2011

[1] Botanical Exchange Club Report for 1930, op. cit., p. 496

[2] László, Philip de, 1931 diary, op. cit., 11 May entry, p. 135. Quoted as written.

[3] ibid., 13 May entry, p. 137

[4] ibid., 14 May entry, p. 138

[5] Letter from Philip de László to Dr Druce, 16 May 1931, Bodleian Library, Oxford

[6] László’s Philip de, 1931 diary, op. cit., 22 May entry, p. 146