Lot 127: William Powell Frith, R.A. , 1819-1909 the proposal oil on panel
A GREAT BRITISH COLLECTION: The pictures collected by Sir David and Lady Scott, sold to benefit the Finnis Scott Foundation
November 19, 2008
London, United Kingdom
Description: signed and dated l.l.: W. P. Frith 1859 oil on panel
'I think she is going to say "yes". I suspect that he is a great catch and that Mamma has manoeuvred them into this sitting-out place. I like the composition of this picture and the colour, especially the red curtain, very much.' Sir David Scott William Powell Frith was one of the pioneers of modern-life subjects, not only in his famous trio of subjects Ramsgate Sands (Royal Collection), Derby Day (Tate), and The Railway Station (Royal Holloway Collection, University of London) of 1854, 1858, and 1862, respectively, but in a succession of small and less elaborate paintings of the period. Works of this type were found both exciting and disconcerting by a contemporary audience, because they allowed people to contemplate the physical appearance of their own age, which in itself was changing rapidly, and also to be reminded of the moral flaws of a civilization which attached such importance to rectitude of behaviour and respectability. The present painting shows a young man, who lounges on an upholstered sofa resting his head on a white-gloved hand and looking hopefully at a young woman. She sits beside him, and seems to make no immediate response to his blandishments. An inner anxiety is however expressed by her gaze into an unidentified space, and Frith may have intended a symbolical reading to be made of the posy of red and white flowers that she holds in her lap and distractedly plays with. Frith wrote of his adoption of such subjects: 'Weary of costume-painting, I had determined to try my hand at modern life, with all the drawbacks of unpicturesque dress' (W. P. Frith, My Autobiography and Reminiscences, two volumes, 1888, vol. I, p. 243). The painting was in the collection of Alfred Brooks. On the occasion of his sale in 1879, the 160 works that he had assembled were described as 'of unusually high average excellence and exceedingly well selected, as showing the varied merits of the English School in subject pictures, landscapes, domestic genre, interiors with figures, animal paintings and flowers'. It was further commented that, 'as Mr Brooks had bought for himself and given many commissions the pictures were very little known'. (The Times, 10 May 1879).
Alfred Brooks, Finchley Road, London;
His sale, Christie's, London, 17 May 1879, lot 77 (bought Vokins for 75 guineas);
Robinson, Fisher & Harding, London, 1928, where bought by Sir David Scott for 16 guineas
Dimensions: measurements note 40.5 by 33 cm.; 16 by 13 in.
Graham Reynolds, Painters of the Victorian Scene, London, 1953, p. 59, illustrated as pl. 21;
Jeremy Maas, Victorian Painters, London, 1969, illustrated p. 114;
Sotheby's, Pictures from the Collection of Sir David and Lady Scott, 2008, pp. 164-165.