Artist biography

English painter. The few pictures that made Frith's reputation are of contemporary subjects. These started, tentatively, with a picture of a servant girl (c. 1853), which was engraved with the saleable title of Sherry Sir? Frith produced his first ambitious modern-life subject: Life at the Seaside (or Ramsgate Sands, exh. RA 1854; London, Buckingham Pal., Royal Col.).. Its purchase by Queen Victoria encouraged Frith to produce the equally popular Derby Day (exh. RA 1858; London, Tate) and the Railway Station (1862; Egham, U. London, Royal Holloway & Bedford New Coll.). Frith's self-confessed interest in the city crowd, its physiognomy and expression inspired both subjects. His aptitude for the dramatic grouping of large numbers of people into coherent units, his eye for the anecdotal and his unabashed inclination to appeal to sentiment are all fully exploited and enhanced by his precise technique.

Although Frith's Salon d'Or, Homburg (Providence, RI Sch. Des., Mus. A.), a sensation-seeking view of the notorious gambling hall at Homburg, proved a success at the Royal Academy of 1871, the composition is comparatively stiff, and his touch and characterisation less precise. These faults are increasingly evident in later works.

Frith retired as an RA in 1890 but continued to exhibit until 1902. His greatest success in later life came from his books, Autobiography and Reminiscences (1887) and Further Reminiscences (1888), in which he showed himself as much a literary as an artistic raconteur, and in which he assessed his career with winning modesty and irony.

Bibliography
London, V&A [corr.]

MARY COWLING

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