William Powell Frith England

1-19-1819 Aldfield, ENG –11- 9-1909 London, ENG

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Frith, William Powell

William Powell Frith was encouraged to take up art by his father, a hotelier in Harrogate. He moved to London in 1835 where he began his formal art studies at Sass’s Academy, before attending the Royal Academy Schools. Frith started his career as a portrait painter and first exhibited at the British Institution in 1838.
The principal influence on his work was the hugely popular domestic subjects painted by Sir David Wilkie. Wilkie's famous painting The Chelsea Pensioners was a spur to the creation of Frith's own most famous compositions.
Following the precedent of Wilkie, but also imitating the work of his friend Dickens, William Powell Frith created complex multi-figure compositions depicting the full range of the Victorian class system, meeting and interacting in public places. The Derby Day, depicting scenes among the crowd at the race at Epsom Downs, which was based on photographic studies by Robert Howlett. This 1858 composition was bought by Jacob Bell for £1,500. It was so popular that it had to be protected by a specially installed rail when shown at the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1865 he was chosen to paint the Marriage of the Prince of Wales. He retired from the Royal Academy in 1890 but continued to exhibit until 1902.
Frith was a traditionalist who made known his aversion to modern-art developments. He was also an inveterate enemy of the Pre-Raphaelites and of the Aesthetic Movement, which he satirized in his painting.
William Powell Frith lived a curious domestic life married to Isabelle with twelve children, whilst a mile down the road maintaining a mistress Mary Alford, formerly his ward and seven more children all a marked contrast to the upright family scenes depicted in paintings. Frith married Mary on the death of Isabelle in 1880. In his later years he painted many copies of his famous paintings, as well as more sexually uninhibited works, such as the nude After the Bath.
Art Movement: Victorian Classicism
Influences: David Wilkie
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