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Pickersgill, Frederick Richard (DNB01)

PICKERSGILL, FREDERICK RICHARD (1820–1900), historical painter, son of Richard Pickersgill, a naval officer, and Anne Witherington, and nephew of Henry William Pickersgill (1782–1875) [q. v.], was born in London on 25 Sept. 1820. He received his first instruction in drawing from his maternal uncle, William Frederick Witherington (1785–1865) [q. v.], and entered the Royal Academy schools at an early age. In 1839 he exhibited his first picture, ‘The Brazen Age,’ a subject from Hesiod, at the Royal Academy. This was followed by ‘The Combat between Hercules and Achelous’ (1840), ‘Amoret's Deliverance from the Enchanter’ (1841), ‘Œdipus cursing his son Polynices’ (1842), and ‘Dante's Dream,’ a subject from the ‘Purgatorio,’ canto 27 (1843). In 1843 his cartoon ‘The Death of King Lear’ gained one of the additional prizes of 100l. at the Westminster Hall competition for the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament; a lithograph of this composition, by Frank Howard, appeared in the same year. In 1844 he exhibited at Westminster Hall a fresco, ‘Sir Calepine rescuing Serena,’ which did not obtain a prize. A series of academy pictures, illustrating Spenser's ‘Faerie Queene,’ of which the first had appeared in 1841, was continued by ‘Florimel in the Cottage of the Witch,’ 1843 (engraved by Periam for the ‘Art Journal’), ‘Amoret, Æmylia, and Prince Arthur in the Cottage of Sclaunder,’ 1845, ‘Idleness’ and ‘The Contest of Beauty for the Girdle of Florimel,’ 1848. Later pictures of this series were a second ‘Idleness,’ 1852, and ‘Britomart Unarming,’ 1855. A spirited scene from ‘Comus’ was exhibited in 1844, and a subject from the history of Venice in 1846.

These early works had given evidence of considerable power, and their colour showed the influence of William Etty [q. v.], without suffering from the same faults of drawing; but it was in 1847 that Pickersgill first became prominent as a rising artist. His academy picture of that year represented early Christians in a chapel in the catacombs, but a much more important work was ‘The Burial of Harold at Waltham Abbey,’ exhibited at Westminster Hall. A first-class prize of 500l. was awarded to this picture, and it was at once purchased for an equal sum for the Houses of Parliament. An engraving of it by F. Bacon was published in 1851 for the Art Union of London. As the result of his achievements of 1847 Pickersgill was elected, on 1 Nov. in that year, an associate of the Royal Academy at the unusually early age of twenty-seven. He then removed from 8 Leigh Street, Burton Crescent, his residence since 1839, to 36 Mornington Crescent, Hampstead Road. This was his home till 1865; he then lived at East Moulsey, Surrey, till 1873, when his appointment as keeper of the Royal Academy gave him an official residence at Burlington House.

In 1849 he exhibited ‘Circe with the Syrens Three,’ from ‘Orlando Furioso;’ in 1850, his most productive year, ‘Samson Betrayed,’ ‘The Rape of Proserpine,’ ‘A Scene during the Invasion of Italy by Charles VIII,’ and three sketches from the story of ‘Imalda;’ in 1851, a subject from Tasso; in 1852, ‘Pan and Syrinx’ and ‘The Adoration of the Magi;’ in 1853 and 1854, scenes from Venetian history, one of which, ‘The Death of Francesco Foscari’ (1854), was bought by the prince consort. ‘Christian being conducted into the Valley of Humiliation’ (engraved by Greatbach for the ‘Art Journal’) appeared, with ‘John sending his Disciples to Christ,’ in 1855; ‘Christ blessing little Children’ and a scene from ‘Love's Labour's Lost’ in 1856; ‘The Duke Orsino and Viola’ in 1857. In June of that year Pickersgill was elected to full membership of the Royal Academy. His diploma picture, a Spanish subject entitled ‘The Bribe,’ was his sole contribution to the exhibition of 1858. ‘Warrior Poets of the South of Europe contending in Song’ and ‘Dalila asking Forgiveness of Samson’ were the pictures of 1859; in 1860 he was absent, but in the following year he exhibited subjects from ‘As you like it’ and ‘The Tempest,’ and ‘Pirates of the Mediterranean playing Dice for Prisoners,’ which was engraved by Ridgway for the ‘Art Journal.’ ‘The Return of a Crusader’ appeared in 1862, ‘Isabella, Duchess of Clarence,’ in 1863, a subject from Shakespeare in 1864, ‘A Royalist Family, 1651,’ in 1865, ‘Lovers’ in 1866, ‘Columbus at Lisbon’ in 1868, ‘A Honiton Lace Manufactory’ in 1869, and ‘Mary Stuart accused of Participation in her Husband's Murder’ in 1871. Pickersgill did not exhibit in 1867 or 1870, and the picture of 1871 was his last, with the exception of a pathetic subject with a quotation from Tennyson's ‘Mariana in the South,’ ending with the words ‘To live forgotten and die forlorn,’ which was exhibited in 1875. He still, however, took an active interest in the Royal Academy, and held the offices of keeper and trustee from 1873 to 1887. In 1888 he retired finally from the academy, and spent the remainder of his life at the Towers, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, where he died on 20 Dec. 1900.

Pickersgill had one son, who predeceased him, by his marriage, on 5 Aug. 1847, with Mary Noorouz Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James Hook, judge in the mixed commission courts of Sierra Leone, Africa, and sister of Mr. J. C. Hook, R.A. Mrs. Pickersgill died on 21 June 1886.

A portrait of Pickersgill, painted by Henry Gibbs, is in the possession of his son's widow, and a plaster bust made by H. Montford in 1887, an excellent likeness of the painter, belongs to Miss C. J. Hook of Bognor.

Pickersgill was not a prolific painter, for he exhibited only fifty pictures at the academy, and six at the British Institution (1841-7), during the thirty-seven years of his active career. His British Institution pictures included a subject from Spenser, scenes from 'The Taming of the Shrew' and 'King Henry IV, Pt. I,' actiii. sc. 1, 'Huon and Amanda' from Wieland's 'Oberon,' and 'Gaston de Foix before the Battle of Ravenna.' Among other works may be mentioned 'The Fairy Yacht,' an engraving of which, by F. Bacon, was published in 1856, and 'The Birth of Christianity,' which formed part of the Jones bequest (1882) to the South Kensington Museum. His design for a lunette in fresco in the large hall of the same museum, 'The Industrial Arts in Time of Peace,' was not carried out ; a sketch and a finished design for this subject are the property of the museum. His work was of a kind now out of fashion ; but it had solid technical merits, while few artists of his period had so much genuine imagination or were so happily inspired by the masterpieces of English poetry. In addition to his oil-paintings Pickersgill designed illustrations to Massinger's 'Virgin Martyr' (1844), Milton's ' Comus ' (1858), and Poe's 'Poetical Works' (1858). He issued six 'Compositions from the Life of Christ,' engraved on wood by Dalziel, in 1850, and illustrated the 'Lord's Prayer,' jointly with H. Alford, in 1870. He was also a contributor to Dalziel's Bible Gallery (1881).

[Morning Post, 22 Dec. 1900; Athenæum, 29 Dec. 1900: Royal Academy and British Institution Catalogues ; private information.]

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