William Powell Frith (1819-1909)
William Powell Frith was a painter specialising in portraits, literary and historical genre and narrative paintings.
He was born on 9 January 1819 in Aldfield, near Ripon. His parents, Thomas and Jane, née Powell, were employed as house steward and cook at Studley Royal.
In 1826, when Frith was seven, his father became the landlord of the Dragon Hotel in Harrogate. Frith attended first a school at Knaresborough and then transferred to St Margaret's near Dover where, with the encouragement of his parents, he was given free rein to indulge his taste for drawing.
He moved to London in 1835 where he began his formal art studies at Sassís Academy in Charlotte Street, before attending the Royal Academy Schools. Frith started his career as a portrait painter and first exhibited at the British Institution in 1838. In the 1840s he often based works on the literary output of writers such as Charles Dickens, whose portrait he painted.
Frith is best known for his panoramic compositions of contemporary scenes featuring a dramatic grouping of large numbers of figures. In Life at the Seaside (Ramsgate Sands) (1854) he depicted visitors and entertainers at the seaside resort. He followed this with Derby Day (1858), depicting scenes among the crowd at the race at Epsom Downs. Another well-known painting was The Railway Station (1862), a scene of Paddington station.
Frith's first marriage to Isabella Jane, daughter of George Baker, a stockbroker, of York, had taken place on 26 June 1845, and they had twelve children: seven sons and five daughters. But during much of their marriage Frith led a double life, maintaining a mistress, Mary Alford, with whom he had seven childrenand whom he married in 1881 after Isabella's death.
In the 1880s Frith also took up writing, and in 1887 at the age of 68 he produced his two-volume Autobiography and Reminiscences. In 1890 he retired from the academy, but he continued to exhibit until 1902 and continued painted until the end of his life.
A major retrospective of Frith's work was staged at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London in November 2006. It transferred to Harrogate Art Gallery in March 2007.