The works of William Powell Frith depict crowded scenes from Victorian life. He was a traditionalist who spoke out against developments in contemporary society and openly satirised the likes of Oscar Wilde and the Pre-Raphaelites in his work.
Frith began as a portraitist, painting members of his family, before branching out to paint historical and literary subjects.
Frith’s reputation rests on the success of his panoramas of Victorian life like Derby Day. This was so popular that police protection was required to deal with the huge crowds that came to see it at the Royal Academy. These large group studies were based on photographs taken by Robert Howlett.
Frith captured a range of people from different classes in his works, inspired perhaps by his friend Charles Dickens, whose portrait he also painted. Although successful, Frith was never particularly rich during his lifetime; a result of maintaining not only a wife with 12 children, but also a mistress with whom he had seven more.
Frith’s most notable works are Derby Day and The Railway Station.
Thumbnail credit: William Powell Frith, Self Portrait (detail), 1883, oil on canvas, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums