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Mr William Powell Frith, RA 'The Derby-Day'

Spy (Sir Leslie Ward) (1851-1922)



Watercolour with bodycolour on tinted paper

12 x 7 ¼ inches

The Forbes Collection

Vanity Fair, 10 May 1873, Men of the Day no 63,
'The Derby-Day'

Chris Beetles & Alexander Beetles (eds.) Portraits of Vanity Fair: The Charles Sigety Collection, London: Chris Beetles Ltd, 2023, page 17

'Portraits of Vanity Fair: The Charles Sigety Collection', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, October-November 2023, no 7

William Powell Frith (1819-1909) was a leading Victorian genre painter and Royal Academician, considered to be one of the greatest British painters of social scenes. Works such as The Railway Station (1862), Ramsgate Sands (1854) and what is considered his masterwork, The Derby Day (1856-58), were met with almost universal acclaim when they were presented at the Royal Academy.

“The glories of the English school of painting have faded sally since the days of Reynolds, and even since those of Turner; nor is there perhaps any save Millais to whom we can point as a contemporary national master. Mr. Frith nevertheless has won much popularity, for which indeed he has worked in a steady, sober, industrious manner, and with considerable intelligence. He was born in Yorkshire fifty-four years ago, and unlike so many great men who have been driven out of other into artistic pursuits by the sheer force of their love for them, was apprenticed to art at the early age of sixteen. He observed the taste of the day, and painted for it genre pictures from Shakespeare, Sterne, and Dickens, attempting occasionally the historical or the medieval variety of subject. His pictures have always met with the success that must attend the presentation, not perhaps of the highest, or best, or truest, but of the most popular view of a given thing or situation. His manipulation and colouring too are quite according to the current taste of the masses, so that when he tells a tale with his brush most of those who witness the result feel that he has told it precisely as they would have conceived and told it themselves. His most famous picture, ‘The Derby Day’, is an instance of this, and is in fact a reproduction of the articles that may be met any year in any of the daily newspapers. Mr. Frith does not take us far, but he takes us by the ways we understand, wherefore many of us think him a great painter. He does not enter deeply into life, but he can paint its incidents as they appear from the outside, and he has laboured consistently to show as much of the outside as is possible to a generation which often cannot perceive even that.

In himself Mr. Frith is an amiable pleasant man of the ordinary English type, and exceedingly like his pictures. It is no small thing to say of him that he is entirely free from artistic jealousy, and that he has more than once extended to young artists that helping hand which has enabled them to achieve a position and success.”

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