William Powell Frith, R.A.
A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881
Oil on Canvas
40 ½ x 77 in.
(102.9 x 195.6 cm.)
Engraved, 1883 (all copies and copper plate remained with the Pope Family).
Photogravure, Henry Graves, 1885.
Purchased from the artist by Alfred Pope at the 1883 exhibition and by descent in the Pope Family to the present owner.
London, Royal Academy, 1883, no.163.
Harrogate, Messre A. and J. Polak’s Vine Villa, presented by Dickinson’s of London, September 1883.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1951, no. 44, lent by Major A. Rolph Pope.
London, Royal Academy Exhibition, Winter 1956-7, no. 447, lent by A.C.R. Pope.
London, Royal Academy Bicentenary 1968-9, not 449, lent by A.C.R. Pope.
London, Leighton House, on Loan 2002-2008.
London, Guildhall Art Gallery and Harrogate, Mercer Art Gallery, William Powell Frith: Painting the Victorian Age, 2006, unnumbered.
Compton, Surrey, The Watts Gallery, Liberating Fashion: Aesthetic Dress in Victorian Portraits, February-June 2015
London, Royal Academy, on loan 2015-2018.
London, Royal Academy, The Great Spectacle, 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition, June-August 2018, no. 3.
Requested for Harrogate, Mercer Art Gallery, William Powell Frith: The People’s Painter, June-September 2019.
Frith’s extraordinary painting depicts many of the most influential figures of the day including Prime Minister William Gladstone, artists Lord Leighton and Millais, writer Oscar Wilde and actors Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Lily Langtry.
This historically important record and a celebrated satire is the artist’s response to the Aesthetic Movement which challenged the artistic tradition that Frith and his circle held dear. William Powell Frith was a stalwart of the Victorian art scene, his ambitious scenes of modern life attracting huge public interest and achieving the highest figures ever paid at that time to a living artist.
The Private View is considered to be Frith’s last great panorama. When it was shown at the Royal Academy, it was the artist’s sixth painting to require a guard and a rail to protect it from the crowds who flocked to see it.
There is a full catalogue available for download here written by Mark Bills and Rosie Jarvie. For the first time, it tells the story of the painting’s evolution, including details of sittings with the influential figures selected by Frith for the painting and their careful placement, along with media coverage generated in anticipation of the picture’s unveiling. Their research also uncovered subsequent correspondence between Alfred Pope and the artist in 1895, in which the painting’s owner suggested that, in light of the scandal around Wilde’s high profile trial, Frith might paint out Oscar Wilde. Clearly, Wilde’s likeness was nonetheless retained and the painting became an important image in the iconography of Oscar Wilde.
The Private View in the Press: