1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Frith, William Powell

FRITH, WILLIAM POWELL (1819–1909), English painter, was born at Aldfield, in Yorkshire, on the 9th of January 1819. His parents moved in 1826 to Harrogate, where his father became landlord of the Dragon Inn, and it was then that the boy began his general education at a school at Knaresborough. Later he went for about two years to a school at St Margaret’s, near Dover, where he was placed specially under the direction of the drawing-master, as a step towards his preparation for the profession which his father had decided on as the one that he wished him to adopt. In 1835 he was entered as a student in the well-known art school kept by Henry Sass in Bloomsbury, from which he passed after two years to the Royal Academy schools. His first independent experience was gained in 1839, when he went about for some months in Lincolnshire executing several commissions for portraits; but he soon began to attempt compositions, and in 1840 his first picture, “Malvolio, cross-gartered before the Countess Olivia,” appeared at the Royal Academy. During the next few years he produced several notable paintings, among them “Squire Thornhill relating his town adventures to the Vicar’s family,” and “The Village Pastor,” which established his reputation as one of the most promising of the younger men of that time. This last work was exhibited in 1845, and in the autumn of that year he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. His promotion to the rank of Academician followed in 1853, when he was chosen to fill the vacancy caused by Turner’s death. The chief pictures painted by him during his tenure of Associateship were: “An English Merry-making in the Olden Time,” “Old Woman accused of Witchcraft,” “The Coming of Age,” “Sancho and Don Quixote,” “Hogarth before the Governor of Calais,” and the “Scene from Goldsmith’s ’Good-natured Man,’” which was commissioned in 1850 by Mr Sheepshanks, and bequeathed by him to the South Kensington Museum. Then came a succession of large compositions which gained for the artist an extraordinary popularity. “Life at the Seaside,” better known as “Ramsgate Sands,” was exhibited in 1854, and was bought by Queen Victoria; “The Derby Day,” in 1858; “Claude Duval,” in 1860; “The Railway Station,” in 1862; “The Marriage of the Prince of Wales,” painted for Queen Victoria, in 1865; “The Last Sunday of Charles II.,” in 1867; “The Salon d’Or,” in 1871; “The Road to Ruin,” a series, in 1878; a similar series, “The Race for Wealth,” shown at a gallery in King Street, St James’s, in 1880; “The Private View,” in 1883; and “John Knox at Holyrood,” in 1886. Frith also painted a considerable number of portraits of well-known people. In 1889 he became an honorary retired academician. His “Derby Day” is in the National Gallery of British Art. In his youth, in common with the men by whom he was surrounded, he had leanings towards romance, and he scored many successes as a painter of imaginative subjects. In these he proved himself to be possessed of exceptional qualities as a colourist and manipulator, qualities that promised to earn for him a secure place among the best executants of the British School. But in his middle period he chose a fresh direction. Fascinated by the welcome which the public gave to his first attempts to illustrate the life of his own times, he undertook a considerable series of large canvases, in which he commented on the manners and morals of society as he found it. He became a pictorial preacher, a painter who moralized about the everyday incidents of modern existence; and he sacrificed some of his technical variety. There remained, however, a remarkable sense of characterization, and an acute appreciation of dramatic effect. Frith died on the 2nd of November 1909.

Frith published his Autobiography and Reminiscences in 1887, and Further Reminiscences in 1889.