William Powell FrithThe Derby Day 1856-8

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Artwork details

Artist
William Powell Frith (1819‑1909)
Title
The Derby Day
Date 1856-8
MediumOil paint on canvas
Dimensionssupport: 1016 x 2235 mm frame: 1405 x 2640 x 140 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Bequeathed by Jacob Bell 1859
Reference
N00615
On display at Tate Britain
Room: 1840

Summary

When The Derby Day was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858, it proved so popular that a rail had to be put up to keep back the crowds. It presents a panorama of modern Victorian life, a previously unknown genre which Frith largely created in his earlier work, Life at the Seaside, Ramsgate Sands of 1854 (Royal Collection). Frith was a firm believer in the spurious sciences of phrenology and social type, which considered people's characters and social origins were visible in their physical features. Each character in Frith's picture is depicted to conform to these stereotypes, notably in the range of criminal and low-life types present (see Cowling 1989, Ch.2).

On the basis of an initial sketch, which he made after a visit to Epsom in 1856, Frith was commissioned by Jacob Bell, a chemist and amateur artist, to paint a large 5-6 foot canvas for £1,500. He worked on the project for fifteen months, producing two large sketches in addition to the finished work. He brought the composition together with the aid of drawings and sketches, hiring models to pose for all the main figures… (read more)

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