Sir George Scharf (1820-1895) was born on 16 December 1820 at 3 St Martin's Lane, London. He was the elder son of the German born artist and illustrator George Johann Scharf (1788-1860) and Elizabeth Hicks (1785-1869) who married at St Martin in the Fields on 20 August 1820. He and his brother Henry Scharf were among the first to attend the newly opened University College School. George was a willing companion of his father drawing expeditions like the one to the ruins of the burnt out Palace of Westminster in 1834. He was awarded the silver palette (1835) and silver medal (1836) for his drawings by the Royal Society of Arts. In 1838 he entered the Royal Academy Schools. In 1839, after sponsorship and cooperation with William Macready (1793-1873) he published 'Recollections of Scenic Effects' - series of etchings illustrating Macready's theatrical productions.
In 1839/1840 and 1843/1844 Scharf accompanied Sir Charles Fellows on his second and third explorations of Asia Minor marking the beginning of his interest in ancient civilizations. The travels resulted in 1847 publication of selection of Scharf's sketches and series of his private sketch books. Also, he illustrated several publications by Austen Henry Laylard, Dr William Smith and 'Lays of Ancient Rome' by Lord Macaulay. In 1850 Scharf discovered and described fragment of the Parthenon frieze at Marbury Hall, which was subsequently sent to the British Museum. Scharf was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1852 and became a very active member producing a catalogue of the pictures in the society's possession and a number of publications in the Archaeologia magazine.
In 1854 he participated in the creation of Greek, Roman and Pompeian courts in the newly rebuilt Crystal Palace, also providing catalogue notes for the exhibitions. In the same year he applied for the post of Director of the National Gallery, however Charles Lock Eastlake was appointed. Another activity of his, at that time, was superintending art classes at Queen's College in London and providing lectures for various organisations and persons.
In 1857 he was appointed secretary to the Art Treasures Exhibition at Manchester and on 4 March 1857 he was also appointed Secretary of the newly established National Portrait Gallery. His responsibilities were to attend Trustees' meetings, safeguard the pictures, gather notes and information on portraits, inspect and sketch portraits for acquisition, and catalogue the Collection. Scharf was meticulous in this role. He worked tirelessly to build the Collection and also developed methods for authenticating portraits which are still used today.
In 1882 Scharf was created Director of the Gallery and in 1885 he received the companionship of the Bath. In 1895 he was made knight commander of the Bath and appointed a Trustee of the Gallery after his failing health forced him to resign from the post of Director. Scharf died on 19 April 1895 at his home, 8 Ashley Place, London and was buried in Brompton Cemetery.
Please note that this description is based on Peter Jackson, 'Scharf, Sir George (1820-1895)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24796, accessed 21 June 2010]