NPG - Papers of Sir Lionel Cust

Scope and Content

The following materials can be found in Sir Lionel Cust's papers:

-records relating to his work for the National Portrait Gallery, including in particular correspondence files relating primarily to the general daily running of the Gallery;

-records relating to his work for external bodies, the majority of which concern his research for The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography;

-records relating to his independent portrait research, which include, in particular, correspondence and notes on JMW Turner, Marcus Gheeraerts, Van Dyck and Eton College

-ephemera concerning his personal life, specifically Cust's set of keys and a press cutting volume compiled by Cust's wife Sybil Lyttleton

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Lionel Henry Cust (1859-1929), was born at 13 Eccleston Square, London, on 25 Jan 1859, the only son of Sir Reginald John Cust (d. 1913), barrister, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Caroline (d. 1914), elder daughter of Edward Bligh, fifth earl of Darnley. He was educated at Eton College, and matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1877. He was elected a scholar of the college in 1880, and obtained a first class in the classical tripos of 1881.

In 1882 Cust entered the civil service, obtaining a post in the War Office, but he did not enjoy the work and was transferred in 1884 to the department of prints and drawings at the British Museum. Here Cust prepared indices to the Dutch, Flemish, German and French artists represented in the print room.

In 1895 Cust was appointed director of the National Portrait Gallery in succession to Sir George Scharf. His first task was the moving of the collection from its temhuporary home at Bethnal Green to the new gallery in St Martin's Place, followed by the compilation of catalogues of the holdings. The study of portraiture in Britain appealed to his love of history and genealogy. In 1901 Cust was offered the post of surveyor of the king's pictures, and with the consent of the trustees was allowed to combine this with his directorship of the National Portrait Gallery. He resigned the directorship in 1909, but continued to hold the office of surveyor until 1927.

Cust published many works on art history including biographies of artists contributed to the Dictionary of National Biography, a History of Eton College in 1899, and a large book on Van Dyck in 1900, with further studies on the artist in 1903, 1906 and 1911. He also published works on the Royal Collection of Paintings, and 'Notes on the Authentic Portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots' in 1903. Cust was also responsible for the rehabilitation of the sixteenth-century painter Hans Eworth, long erroneously identified with Lucas d'Heere. His study of Eworth, which contains a full catalogue of the painter's works, was published in the Walpole Society's Annual (vol. 2, 1913).

From 1909 to 1919 Cust was joint editor of the Burlington Magazine, with Roger Fry. Cust made regular contributions to the magazine, especially on paintings in the Royal Collection.

In 1895 Cust married Sybil, sixth daughter of George William Lyttelton. They had one son, Archer Cust. Cust was created KCVO in 1927. He died on 12 October 1929 at Datchet House, Datchet, Buckinghamshire.

Please note this description is based on Laurence Binyon, 'Cust, Sir Lionel Henry (1859-1929)', rev. Christopher Lloyd, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [, accessed 17 Feb 2009].

Access Information

Available to view by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room, to make an appointment contact Archive Reception . Although records are generally available for public consultation, some information in them, such as personal data or information supplied to the Gallery in confidence, may be restricted.

Other Finding Aids

The complete catalogue for this archive can be searched via the NPG Archive Catalogue .

Conditions Governing Use

Personal photography is permitted for research purposes only. Photocopying is not permitted.