The Obituary of Frank Dicksee by Paul Ripley

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The Obituary of Frank Dicksee

by Paul Ripley

The Times, Friday October 19, 1928

With the consent of the Dean of Westminster, the Council of the Royal Academy have arranged for the first part of the funeral of the late President, Sir Frank Dicksee , to be held in Westminster Abbey, on Tuesday October 23rd at 2:00 p m. Those wishing to attend will be admitted without ticket by the North Door, or the Poets Corner Door in the south Transept. The burial will take place afterwards at the Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune-green, NW.

The Times, Wednesday October 24th

The King was represented by Sir Harry Verney, and the Prince of Wales by the Hon Bruce Ogilvy, and Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll by Col B. W. L. MacMahon at the service for Sir Frank Dicksee which took place yesterday in Westminster Abbey. The Dean of Westminster officiated, assisted by Canon Storr, and the Reverend H. L. Nixon. A procession was formed at the West Door, and proceeded through the nave headed by the full choir and clergy.

Author Comment

The Pall Bearers were all titled with the exception of J. W. MacKail the distinguished academic (and son-in-law of Sir Edward Burne-Jones . Amongst the mourners were many members of the Dicksee family, including Miss Mary Dicksee (sister), and Mr Herbert Thomas Dicksee. Official representatives included The French Ambassador, the Belgian Ambassador. The Brazilian Ambassador, the Swedish Minister, the High Commissioners for Australia and New Zealand, and (the 2nd) Lord Leverhume. Also present were many Academicians including W. Ouless , Sir John Lavery , W. Goscombe-John. Mrs Blair Leighton, widow of Edmund , and Lady East, widow of Sir Alfred were also among the mourners. The list of mourners in The Times includes many of the most distinguished people of the day.

Contemporary Comments, Royal Academy Pictures, 1892

Frank Dicksee (English, 1853-1928)
Oil on canvas

Mr Frank Dicksee only exhibits two pictures this year. One is his Diploma picture — a comparatively small but most carefully painted work, to which he has given the title Startled. It represents two girls by the bank of a river surprised by a boat which turns the corner of a distant bend just as they are about to bathe. They turn hastily away, the younger a very pretty child, hand in hand with her elder sister. Above them a Spanish chestnut-tree, and the deep red hair of the elder girl seen against its leaves and caught by the half sunlight which illumines the river and plays beneath the branches makes a charming contrast of light and colour. There is a foreground of grass and flowers and on the right a blossoming rose most elaborately painted. In giving this to the Academy, Mr Dicksee has given of his best, which is not always the rule with the painters of Diploma pictures. His second picture is much larger, and of a rather new type for Mr Dicksee. It represents an Eastern beauty half recumbent on a couch, and dressed in a gorgeous robe of rose-coloured silk and gold embroidery. Around and about her is a profusion of Oriental draperies of richest colour, and a tall tiger lily stands on the floor beside the couch. All this gives the artist a fine opportunity of colour composition, which he has used to the full. Mr Dicksee is also starting another large subject-picture for next year, and has already completed a water-colour sketch for it. But that is another story, of which the plot must not be revealed yet.

The Death of Sir Frank Dicksee, The Times Saturday, October 20, 1928

Curiously enough this short piece was titled "Obituary" when the official obituary had already appeared in the paper on October 18th.

Miss Winifred Holliday writes:

It must be rare for a man whose career is described as "a run of unbroken success" to remain to the end so beautifully unspoiled as was the late Sir Frank Dicksee, but in the memory of his friends his unaffected simplicity and unvarying kindliness were the finest part of that success. Perhaps, as there have been some allusions to his early work with my father, whose junior he was by some 15 years, I may be allowed to mention a recent and touching expression of his goodness. On my father's death last year, I had the difficult task of dealing with the immense variety of objects that an artist accumulates in the course of a long career, and amongst these was his life-size statue Sleep. Though not professionally a sculptor, my father considered her one of his best pieces of work of any kind whatsoever, yet when the house and studio were empty of all else Sleep still remained. What was I to do with her? In my difficulty I sought Sir Frank, and the difficulty vanished; in a few days she was transferred to one of his own studios. Nor was this all. My father, following what he considered to be the example of the great Greeks, had tinted the statue. This tinting, purely conventional in character, Sir Frank greatly admired; but the statue was in need of a thorough cleaning, which was done under his directions. The sequel is best given in his own words. Writing to me early this year he said:

"When you last saw Sleep you must have been disappointed; she was not looking her best. The man who cleaned her did his work well, but in the doing removed the colour from some parts of her figure, which troubled him, but I told him I would restore it. Two days ago I was able to go all over it, and she looks really beautiful. I should like you to see her now."

I went, and I shall never forget his smiling expression of pride and delight as he removed her coverings and turned to look at me. In the midst of all his incessant work, artistic and official, he had indeed found time to restore her from head to foot, and as I looked at her I felt that faithful though the colouring was to the original, he had in some charming way added a living and loving touch to the work of his old friend.

From Painting In The Queens Reign, by A. G. Temple, 1897

1877 was the year in which Frank Dicksee's work first made a distinct impression on the public mind. Harmony was a very appropriate title which this medieval organ, its fair player, and its handsome ardent listener bore. Through a high narrow-stained glass window the evening light poured its rich effect, but there was nothing meretricious about the work. The painter was scarcely twenty-four, but the result of sound training was perceived; good drawing and skillful arrangement, and a becoming modesty of theme, set in early Florentine times, entitled it to conspicuous notice, and it was promptly purchased by the Chantrey Bequest Trustees; a replica being painted afterwards, I believe, for the Duke of Connaught, who had desired to purchase the original. His scholarly drawing and sound management of colour, united to a marked instinct for grace of composition and completeness of design, have fitted the painter for the achievement of work of a high order; and one of the elements of beauty in his pictures, to the artistic sense at least, is the evidence of the unhesitating hand, and of the self-reliance which only thoroughly good training, and experience can give.

Frank Dicksee (English, 1853-1928)
Oil on canvas , 1877
117 x 69.2 cms | 46 x 27 ins
Frank Dicksee (English, 1853-1928)
Oil on canvas

1884 saw one of the loveliest of his works, Romeo and Juliet belonging now to Mr Charles Churchill. I believe the first thought of this design was a black and white drawing for Cassells. Its development afterwards in colour, with considerable variations, resulted in one of the most attractive renderings, and certainly one of the most skilled designs, of this oft-painted subject. Far behind it came Gabriel Max's , Ford Madox Brown's , and, one might safely say any other, in the pure and refined beauty of the slender Juliet's form, and the absence in the work of exaggeration in any particular. The position is a perfectly feasible one: no perilous rope-ladder sways from a dizzy height, no arm is stretched meaninglessly out into the air; the depiction of passion is undisturbed by any of these things, and the beauteous embracing figures, conscious as the painter has made us also, of the growing light, the awakening morn upon the distant hills, are as naturally placed as can be.

Author Comment

Once again VAB is indebted to the wise, and learned Sir Alfred Temple (1848-1928), for this article. I very much hope that in some small way it serves as a memorial to him, and perpetuates his memory.

Firstly I have not used the whole piece, but edited it to include the content most relevant to this article. Not for the first time I have found art criticism by Sir Alfred which I have found to be perceptive and of the highest quality. The first paragraph sums up the high artistic quality of Dicksee's work, in its description of Harmony which has been the subject of much foolish and shallow comment over the years. Sir Alfred's comments regarding "the rich effect of evening light" "sound training" "good drawing and skillful arrangement" are totally apposite. His further comment regarding "scholarly drawing and sound management of colour", united to a marked "instinct for grace of composition and completeness of design" also go right to the core of Dicksee's genius as a painter, and the enduring appeal of his work. The second paragraph makes mention of the artist's restraint, skill in the painting of a woman's slender elegant figure, and his wonderful technique in the transient effects of light.

I feel that further comment from me is not really necessary.


Our thanks go to Paul Ripley for kindly allowing us to quote these articles from his website, Victorian Art in Britain