Description: signed and dated l.r.: FRANK DICKSEE/ -1917-
oil on canvas
Dimensions: 145 by 107 cm. ; 57 by 42 in.
Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1917, no 185;
London, Colnaghi and the Clarendon Gallery, Society Portraits 1850-1929, 30 October - 14 December 1985, no 33
Provenance: Given by the artist to his cousin, Herbert Dicksee the father of the sitter and thence by descent to the sitter and her husband Ian Service;
London, Roy Miles Fine Paintings
Notes: In the twentieth century Dicksee was known less as a painter of classical and medieval romance, which was rapidly going out of fashion, and more as a sophisticated painter of female portraits. His flattering likenesses of Lady Inverclyde, the daughters of William Agnew, Lady Hillingdon, Mrs Frank Pershouse and Miss Elsa Hall, are resplendent images of Edwardian glamour in which silk shimmers, roses blossom and diamonds glitter. These were the stylish years of cocktail parties and ballroom dances, tennis and flirtation on the lawn and of over-spending, motorcars and aeroplanes, before the Great War brought the hedonistic party to a close. In these happy years of plenty, Dicksee was inundated with requests from wealthy industrialists, politicians, physicians, lawyers and noble-men to paint their debutante daughters and trophy wives and the results of Dicksee's interpretation of their physical merits was rarely disappointing for the sitter or the man paying for the likeness. It was Dicksee's success as a painter of portraits, combined with his reputation for paintings such as Harmony, The Two Crowns, and The Funeral of a Viking, which had been the sensations of the Royal Academy shows in the previous century, that led to Dicksee's election as President of the Royal Academy in 1924. Dicksee had a particular rapport with women and had a reputation as a gentleman and gallant. He had been surrounded by women for much of his life, with at least two of his mother's sisters living with him throughout his childhood and with his sister Margaret Isabel as a constant companion in his youth; she became a successful artist herself. When he set up a studio of his own in St John's Wood in 1900, he was accompanied by an aged aunt and his two sisters, one of whom lived with him until his death almost three decades later. It appears that Dicksee's close relationships with female members of his family and with the models and women that he painted, gave him a deep understanding of women, which is conveyed in his perceptive portrayal of femininity.
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Few portraits of friends and family members by Dicksee are known, the only two other known family portraits being a child likeness of Ethel, the artist's niece and a later portrait of the same girl painted in her early teens. The portrait of Dorothy is by far Dicksee's most accomplished family portrait and charming for the less overtly ostentatious and more relaxed attitude of the girl and her alert little companion, which is in contrast to the portraits of Duchesses and society belles which Dicksee usually exhibited. The influences upon the portrait are loosely eighteenth century and recall the elegance of Reynolds and Romney, whom Dicksee admired greatly.
In the background of this portrait, is the Chinese painted lacquer screen which appears in other portraits by Dicksee whilst the heavy brocade drape also appears in other works. The inclusion of these elements was to serve as further sumptuous foils to the textures of white and violet silk, soft female flesh and glossy pedigree fur.
Dorothy Sylvia Dicksee was born in 1901, the only daughter of Ella Maria (neé Crump) and Herbert Thomas Dicksee, the son of John Robert Dicksee, Frank's uncle. Herbert and Frank were cousins and fellow artists and often saw one another at their homes in Hampstead and St. John's Wood. Herbert was a highly successful painter and etcher of animal subjects, particularly dogs and wild cats, in the same vein as Briton Riviere. He also engraved several of Frank's paintings, including Memories of 1893. The inclusion of Dorothy's pet bulldog in this portrait is a highly unusual element in a portrait by Dicksee and no doubt relates to Herbert's success as a painter of animals. Dorothy married Ian Service in 1926 and was the mother of two children.