Purdey Pieces: Portrait of James Purdey The Younger

Purdey Pieces: Portrait of James Purdey The Younger

Words by Simon de Burton – a journalist and author based in Dartmoor, South Devon, specialising in heritage and luxury living. He writes for the Financial Times, Country & Townhouse, Daily Telegraph, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among many others.

Perhaps the most famous ‘Long Room’ in the world is that to be found in the pavilion building at Lord’s cricket ground. But it was preempted by another important ‘Long Room’ – that which forms the centrepiece of Purdey HQ at Audley House in Mayfair.



The Purdey Long Room was part of the initial design for Purdey’s now-historic home, into which James Purdey the Younger moved the firm in 1883, seven years before the Lord’s version was up and running.

And as well as having a name in common, the two imposing interiors also serve as backdrops for magnificent paintings by the artist Archibald Stuart-Wortley.

An esteemed portraitist, Stuart-Wortley was also a respected gun, both as a rifle marksman and game shot. He created a well-known likeness of legendary cricketer WG Grace for Lord’s in 1890 and, the following year, set to work on the portrait of James Purdey the Younger that has dominated the Audley House Long Room for the best part of a century.  

The fact that Stuart-Wortley won the commission to paint Purdey was perhaps no coincidence: his father was the Honourable James Stuart-Wortley – a Conservative MP, keen shot and long-standing Purdey client. (The artist, too, was a friend of the sitter, receiving a gifted shotgun a few years after this event.)

Stuart-Wortley was 42 years of age when he set-to with brushes and oils to capture a likeness of Purdey, by then a characterful-looking 63-year-old who was among the most recognisable – and recognised – individuals in the world of shooting.

He is depicted in the three-quarter length painting dressed in a dandyish yet practical ensemble, comprising a three-piece suit of what appears to be a robust tweed over the top of a wing collar shirt and a black cravat held together with an ornate pin.

A gold watch-chain attached to the middle buttonhole of his waistcoat and a gold cufflink peeking from beneath the right sleeve of his jacket hint at affluence; while a silk handkerchief stuffed loosely into the jacket pocket speaks of a certain stylish flair.

It is the face of the man, however, that most successfully draws-in the eye. A magnificent handlebar moustache implies a no-nonsense personality, while a trademark monocle leaves no doubt as to just which Purdey is depicted. 

Unlike his descendants, he is shown holding an example of Purdey's self-opening hammerless shotgun. Designed by Frederick Beesley in 1879, Purdey had purchased the patent from the inventor the following year. It is an action that remains in production today, a fact that lends the imposing four-and-a-half foot by three-foot-and-four-inch portrait a certain timelessness.

Of unquestionable quality, the portrait’s colours remain as rich and fresh as the day Stuart-Wortley applied them, in part thanks to the fact that it has hung in the same auspicious spot in the Long Room for so many decades. Even without having known James the Younger, there is something of the work that indicates much about who he was and the type of leader he must have been.

More or less in his prime when painted, James the Younger was able to enjoy his portrait for 18 years before his death in 1909, just six days before his 81st birthday – having outlived his considerably younger portraitist by almost four years, Stuart-Wortley having passed away at the untimely age of 56.