Artist biography

English painter and illustrator. In 1863 he won a scholarship that enabled him to study at the South Kensington Art School in London and subsequently at the Royal Academy Schools. By the late 1860s he was earning money as an illustrator for popular periodicals.

Fildes's illustration Houseless and Hungry, which appeared as a wood-engraving in the first issue of the Graphic (4 Dec 1869), a socially conscious weekly, was the turning-point of his career. The engraving depicts homeless paupers queuing outside the casual ward of a workhouse. When it was shown to Charles Dickens by John Everett Millais, the author commissioned Fildes to illustrate his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

In 1874 at the Royal Academy, Fildes exhibited a painting based on the Houseless and Hungry illustration. The success of this work, with its forceful social message and dark-toned realism, established Fildesr, as a leader of the social realist school in England that flourished during the 1870s.

By 1890 the bulk of Fildes's work was almost exclusively portraiture, and his large and fashionable clientele included royalty. The financial rewards of portrait painting enabled the artist to commission a Queen Anne style house (1875–7) from Richard Norman Shaw, which was built at 11 Melbury Road, Kensington, London. Elected ARA in 1879, Fildes gained full membership in 1887 and was active in Academy affairs. He was knighted in 1906 and made KCVO in 1918.

Bibliography
W. W. Fenn: ‘Our Living Artists: Luke Fildes, A.R.A.', Mag. A., iii (1880), pp. 49–52
D. C. Thomson: ‘The Life and Work of Luke Fildes, R.A.', A. Annu. (1895), pp. 1–3
L. V. Fildes: Luke Fildes, R.A.: A Victorian Painter (London, 1968)
B. Myers: ‘Studies for Houseless and Hungry and the Casual Ward by Luke Fildes, R.A.', Apollo, cxxiv/952 (1982), pp. 36–43
Hard Times (exh. cat. by J. Treuherz, Manchester, C.A.G., 1987–8)

LEE M. EDWARDS

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