Sunday, January 6, 2013

Painting of the Day: A Portrait of Charles Dickens, 1859

Portrait of Charles Dickens
William Powell Frith, 1859
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Long before you could search for images within seconds and save them to your hard drive, long before everyone had a camera in their pockets, the only way to display an image of yourself, a member of your family or even a favorite celebrity was to purchase or commission a portrait of said person.

Wealthy people frequently purchased paintings of other wealthy and famous people. One of the most popular celebrities of his time, Charles Dickens, was the frequent subject of portraits which found their way into the homes of his well-heeled friends.

This handsome (and much idealized) portrait of Dickens in the work of William Powell Frith and was painted at the apex of Dickens’ fame during his lifetime. John Forster, Dickens’ longtime friend and biographer, commissioned Frith to create the portrait. Forster was thrilled with the work depicting Dickens in his study with the manuscript for A Tale of Two Cities arranged on the desk. Dickens, however, hated the painting and complained bitterly about the way Frith had rendered his expression. Dickens had a history of disliking images of himself, even photographs. Truly, he should have been pleased with the finished painting since it is, most definitely, a flattering depiction of the author.

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