Sandys was born in Norwich. His surname was Sands. He added the ’y’ later. He trained at the Norwich Art Union, and in the early 1850s moved to London. It would appear that he left his wife in Norwich, and did not return to her. He famously parodied Millais'
[1829-1896] controversial painting Sir Isumbras at the Ford
, with his drawing The Nightmare
. This brought him to the attention of the Pre-Raphaelites
, who, surprisingly, were not offended. In the 1860s he lived with Rossetti
[1828-1882], at his house in Cheyne Walk. Sandys had an affair with a gypsy girl called Keomi, whose portrait he painted. For many years he lived with a well-known actress called Mary Jones, stage name Miss Clive, and she was the model for a number of his pictures. Sandys & Mary Jones had nine children who survived infancy. In truth he seems to have been a real old rascal! Sandys' carefree mode of life, his liking for women and drink caused him considerable long term financial problems. He seems to have used his wits, & ability to entertain people on convivial evenings to help him through his problems.
Frederick Sandys was one of the most able, consistent, & significant of the Pre-Raphaelites. He had a penchant for painting half-length figures of malicious sexually predatory women. In real life, as will be seen above, he did not seem to be in any awe of women! Sandys was probably the best draughtsman amongst the Pre-Raphaelites, and he was a supremely naturally talented artist, in the same league as Millais. The rejection of Medea
by the Royal Academy
in 1868 seems to have had, not surprisingly, a profound effect on Sandys. This rejection by the Hanging Committee was quite obviously politically based. Sandys was a painstaking perfectionist in the execution of his oil paintings, & he must have asked himself if all the hard work was worthwhile. Following this he painted much less in oils, and tended to produce portraits in coloured chalks. This move was less of a loss than it seems, as many of the coloured chalk portraits are beautifully done. Whatever Sandys did, artistically he did well.
Frederick Sandys died in London on 25th June 1904. OBITUARY - The Times June 27th 1904.
We regret to learn that Mr Frederick Sandys the eminent painter died on Saturday in Kensington aged 72. Except for a small exhibition of his works held recently at the Leicester Galleries, Mr Sandys had almost disappeared from view for many years past; but those who are familiar with the black and white work of the sixties and seventies, and those who can carry their memories back to the year Medea
, was exhibited, will always regard him as a man who might, if he had so chosen, have been among the foremost artists of his time. A few years younger than John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Holman Hunt
[1827-1910], he was never a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but to a great extent he adopted their methods, and followed the same ideals. Like Edward Burne-Jones
[1833-1898] and Dante Gabriel Rossetti with both of whom at one time he was on terms of intimacy-he was a devotee of Celtic romance, and of those classical stories which had a romantic element.; hence Morgan la Fay, the Sangraal Cycle
, and the Tales of of Medea and Cassandra
, formed the subjects of some of his early pictures. At his best as in Medea
, and Portrait of an Elderly Lady
, (seen in the recent exhibition), his work was the result not only of a genuine artistic conception, but of prodigious labour; which is perhaps why so few fine pictures by him are in existence. Another cause, we fear, is in a certain irresolution of character, which hindered his productiveness and prevented many very willing patrons from giving him commissions. Some twenty-five years ago, the late Alexander MacMillan engaged Sandys to make a number of drawings, in slightly coloured chalks, of the principal authors whose books were published by the firm. He made likenesses of Matthew Arnold
[1822-1888], J. R. Green, Mr Morley, Mr Goldwin Smith, and Lord Wolseley. The head of J R Green was a masterly production; the others were of varying degrees of success, that of Arnold (like every other portrait of him), being a total failure.
Of late Frederick Sandys seems to have confined his work to a few fancy heads in chalk, representing a very few types in somewhat monotonous fashion. None the less he was at one time a great artist. The Medea
, and the portrait we have named ought to be in a public gallery. We might suggest to the President and Council of the Royal Academy that it would be a graceful concession to their critics if they were to set enquiries on foot, and if possible purchase one or both of these pictures out of the next instalment of the Chantry Bequest.
Source: Victorian Art in Britain