Frith, William Powell (1819-1909) by Scholes, Robert

William Powell Frith (1819-1909) He was born in Aldfield, and moved with his family to Harrogate in 1826. He studied at Sass’s Art School in London in 1835, and entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1837. His death in 1909 occasioned the following remarks in : The New Age The death of Frith–one of the foremost Victorian Story-teller painters–reminds me that I first entered seriously into the glorification of the Derby Stakes whilst sheep-farming in the Falklands. I remember that one day a half-breed drifted across my lonely station with a tattered copy of Frith’s picture in his pocket. He spat upon the apparent snobbery of the English crowd in it, just as later my fellow Meds at Cook’s charnel-house scorned the freshness and dissecting-out of the corpse by . But he was touched by its many human features, and profoundly pitied that hungry look cast by the poor little children at the rich food of the swells. He asked me the meaning of the whole thing. In those days–before I had tasted a stern round of studio life–I had the bad habit of reading ethics and all sorts of rubbish into pictures. So I was careful to pint out that “Derby Day” expresses not so much a classic race for three years’ old colts and fillies, with its wonderful accompaniment of local colour, as the fact that honesty is but a mask and we are all gamblers at heart. My sermon took a deep effect, for next day the half-breed suddenly disappeared, taking unasked my one remaining blanket. Thus Frith crossed my path, leaving me with cold comfort. Rembrandt November 11, 1909 Huntley Carter, NA 6.2:43 He was an illustrator, and, as Carter observes, a story-teller in his art, representing one of the things that modernists condemned in visual art but that people continue to enjoy. A friend of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, he illustrated their works and the works of Shakespeare as well. He was a phyloprogenititve Victorian, much married and ready to start a new family at the drop of a petticoat.

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