Illustrated companion

'The Doctor' was the result of a commission from Henry Tate at the time when he was planning to present his collection to the nation, a gesture which led to the foundation of the Tate Gallery. Tate left the precise choice of subject to Fildes, who responded by painting an idea which had been in his mind since 1877, when on Christmas morning his eldest son Paul had died. Fildes had been deeply impressed by the way in which the family doctor had cared for the boy.

To paint it Fildes constructed in his studio a full-scale mock-up of the cottage interior, the window of the cottage corresponding to the window of the studio. The cottage was based on ones he had made studies of in Scotland and Devon the year before the picture was painted.

The image of the quiet heroism of the ordinary doctor was a huge success, not least with the medical profession. When shown at the Royal Academy in 1891 it drew crowds, the print of it issued by Agnews was their most popular ever and it later appeared on two postage stamps.

Fildes himself said that he wanted 'to put on record the status of the doctor in our own time'. In his description of the picture he indicates that unlike the case of his own son, this one has a happy ending: 'At the cottage window the dawn begins to steal in - the dawn that is the critical time of all deadly illnesses - and with it the parents again take hope into their hearts, the mother hiding her face to escape giving vent to her emotion, the father laying his hand on the shoulder of his wife in encouragement of the first glimmerings of the joy which is to follow.'

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.90