Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Shields, Frederic James
SHIELDS, FREDERIC JAMES (1833–1911), painter and decorative artist, born at Hartlepool on 14 March 1833, was the third of the six children of John Shields, a bookbinder and printer, by his wife Georgiana Storey, daughter of an Alnwick farmer. His brothers and sisters all died in infancy. His father, after fighting as a volunteer in Spain for Queen Isabella (1835–6), removed to Clare Market in London, where the boy's mother opened a dressmaker's shop.
Frederic attended the charity school of the parish of St. Clement Danes until the age of fourteen. Having shown an early talent for drawing, he worked from the antique at the British Museum for a few months after leaving school, and on 4 Oct. 1847 was apprenticed to Maclure, Macdonald & Macgregor, a firm of lithographers. His indenture was for a term of three years, but after about a year he was sent for by his father, who had obtained work at Newton-le-Willows, although he was unable to provide for his family. He helped Frederic to find employment at 5s. a week with a firm of mercantile lithographers in Manchester.
An ingrained piety, a love of literature, and a passion for sketching enabled Shields to face stoically nine years of grinding poverty and of uncongenial drudgery at commercial lithography. In 1856 he obtained a better engagement in the like trade at Halifax at 50s. a week. There the first opportunity of book illustration was offered him, and he prepared fourteen illustrations for a comic volume called 'A Rachde Felley's Visit to the Grayt Eggshibishun.' The proceeds of this work enabled him to give up lithography, and he accepted the offer of C. H. Mitchell, a landscape painter at Manchester, to put figures and animals into his pictures. He was much influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite works which he saw at the great Manchester Exhibition of 1857. On a sketching tour in Devonshire with Mitchell he executed many successful water-colour drawings, for which he found purchasers, while his commissions for drawings on wood grew. In 1860 he received an important though badly paid commission for a series of drawings illustrating the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' some plates for which he sent to Ruskin in 1861, and they evoked the art critic's enthusiastic praise. To Ruskin' s teaching, he wrote later, he owed 'a debt of inexpressible and reverential gratitude' (Bookman, Oct. 1908, p. 30). He also corresponded with Charles Kingsley, who encouraged him. After spending some time on water-colour work at Porlock and occasionally engraving for 'Once a Week,' Shields established his fame as an illustrator by his designs for Defoe's 'Journal of the Plague Year,' which were engraved in 1863. A water-colour version of his illustration of Solomon Eagle for this work is in the Manchester Art Gallery. In 1865 he was elected associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours. From 1864 onwards he spent some time each year in London, and there met Dante Rossetti and Madox Brown, as well as Ruskin, Holman Hunt, and Burne-Jones. With Rossetti and Brown his relations grew very close. He was with Rossetti through has fatal illness at Birchington in 1882, and designed the memorial window in the church there. But from 1867 to 1875 Shields's headquarters were lonely houses at Manchester, until 1871 at Cornbrook Park, and then at Ordsall Hall. After some time at Blackpool, he made a tour in Italy early in 1876, and on his return settled in London. For the next twenty years he resided at Lodge Place, St. John's Wood, whence he moved in 1896 to Wimbledon.
In later life Shields neglected that illustrative work for which his gifts eminently fitted him, and devoted himself to more ambitious decorative designs and oil-painting, in which he followed the lead of the Pre-Raphaelites without showing a trace of their romanticism. He was not a great colourist but a sound draughtsman. His later work is cold, formal, didactic and out of touch with actual life, though it is not lacking in loftiness of aim and nobility of design. Between 1875 and 1880 he designed the stained-glass windows for Sir William Houldsworth's private chapel at Coodham, Kilmarnock a work which was followed by the stained-glass and mosaic decoration for the duke of Westminster's chapel at Eaton. Shields also executed in 1887 the symbolic decoration for St. Luke's church, Camberwell (cf. Hugh Chapman's Sermons in Symbols, 1888). His most important work, which kept him busy for about twenty years from 1889, and was finished only a few months before his death, was the pictorial decoration of the walls in the Chapel of the Ascension, Bayswater Road, which was designed by Mr. Herbert P. Horne. The commission came from Mrs. Russell Gurney, to whom Lady Mount Temple had introduced Shields in 1889, and the work was executed in 'spirit-fresco.' Before beginning the work. Shields visited Italy for suggestions.
Shields, whose piety was a constant feature of his life, died at Morayfield, Wimbledon, on 26 Feb. 1911, and was buried at Merton churchyard. He was married at Manchester on 15 Aug. 1874 to Matilda Booth, a girl of sixteen, who was frequently his model; but they had no children, and husband and wife lived much apart. His features are recorded in the head of ’WicklyfFe' in Ford Madox Brown's fresco at Manchester town hall. An exhibition of his works was held at the Brazenose Club, Manchester, in May 1889, and there was a memorial exhibition at the Alpine Club Gallery in October 1911.
Nearly the whole of his substantial fortune was bequeathed to foreign missionary societies. The cartoons for the windows at Eaton were presented by his executors to the Young Men's Christian Association for their new London headquarters in Tottenham Court Road. A portfolio of Shields's studies for his 'Pilgrim's Progress' designs was purchased for the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1912.
[Mrs. Ernestine Mills's Life and Letters of Frederic Shields, 1912; Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition of the works of Frederic J. Shields, 1911; The Times, 29 Sept. 1911; The Observer, 1 Oct. 1911; Ruskin's Works, ed. Cook and Wedderburn, vols. xiv. xvii. xviii. xxxvii.-viii.; M. H. Spielmann's History of Punch, 527-30; Charles Howley, Fifty Years of Work without Wages, 1911, pp. 81-91; Ford M. Hueffer, Ford Madox Brown, 1896; Gleeson White, English Illustration: The Sixties, 1906; W. M. Rossetti, D. G. Rossetti's Letters and Memoirs, passim; private information.]