Sir Frank Dicksee

The Two Crowns

1900

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2311 x 1823 mm
frame: 2860 x 2355 x 240 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1900
Reference
N01839

Summary

In The Two Crowns Dicksee portrays an English medieval prince returning home in triumph on a white horse decorated with three feathers. Wearing a golden crown, he gazes up at a crucifix, Christ's crown of thorns contrasting starkly with the jewelled headpiece and opulent armour of the prince. Although surrounded by admiring onlookers, the prince is transfixed by the sight of this representation of Christ, a vivid reminder of the lack of importance of temporal power and riches.

The Two Crowns is one of a number of paintings by Dicksee with a medieval theme, including The Redemption of Tannhäuser (1890) and The Passing of Arthur (1899). But in contrast to both these works The Two Crowns does not represent any particular historical event. Dicksee seizes the opportunity to create a scene brimming with pomp and ceremony. The jubilation of the crowds at the Prince's homecoming is represented with flying banners and coloured confetti thrown by the youthful maidens in the foreground and from the balcony above. Kestner has argued, however, that the image of the chivalrous prince confirms Dicksee's belief in 'Aryan empowerment, heroic conquest, and male dominance' (Kestner, p.192). Previously regarded as merely escapist Kestner highlights the subservient women gazing into the prince's blue eyes and the banner on the left which reads VS VINCI legible 'conquer -'; factors which, he believes, confirms the artist's later allegiance to Fascism.

Although the subject of The Two Crowns was not clear, Dicksee's painting of a chivalrous prince on horseback was well received at the 1900 Royal Academy exhibition. The Times critic commented 'among the good judges, all those who have not gone over with bag and baggage to the camp of the moderns will justly admire its many formal perfections … It is certainly a leading example of an art founded upon an English tradition, with many most admirable qualities' (quoted in Dibdin, p.18). The Daily News was equally enthusiastic remarking, 'Of a composition so full of detail, and with the detail so masterly rendered, perhaps the highest praise is that as a whole it impresses you' (quoted in Dibdin, p.18). The painting was acclaimed 'best picture of all' by a Daily News plebiscite (quoted in Dibdin, pp.16-18). In the same year The Two Crowns was purchased for the nation, under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest, for the enormous sum of £2,000.

Further reading:
Rimbault Dibdin, Frank Dicksee His Life and Work, London 1905, pp.16-18, reproduced p.11
Joseph A Kestner, 'The Male Gaze in the Art of Frank Dicksee', Annals of Scholarship, vol.7, no.2, 1990, pp.191, reproduced Plate 4

Heather Birchall
May 2002

Display caption

The Two Crowns of the title are the golden crown of a king and the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross. Dicksee invented this highly moral scene in which a medieval king, riding in a triumphal procession, is startled by the sight of a crucifix (or perhaps sees a vision of Christ) and is reminded of the transience of earthly power and success. In fact the chivalric, Christian knight had been a role model for the modern gentleman for most of the nineteenth century. This painting was bought for the nation from the Royal Academy in 1900 for £2,000.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

N01839 THE TWO CROWNS 1900
 
Inscr. ‘Frank Dicksee 1900’ b.r.
Canvas, 91×72 1/2 (231×184).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1900.
Exh: R.A., 1900 (167).
Lit: E. Rimbault Dibdin, ‘Frank Dicksee’ in The Art Annual, 1905, pp.16–18, repr. p.11.

The subject, a medieval king riding home in triumph from victory past a crucifix, does not appear to represent any particular historical event. The moral purpose of this picture contrasts with the pure romance of his earlier ‘Harmony’. It was acclaimed as the best picture of the year by a Daily News plebiscite.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I