The Art Fund helps Harrogate acquire Frith sketch of Victorian celebrities

  • 24 February 2009

The Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate, home to the town's fine art collection, has acquired a large-scale oil sketch for one of the most famous works by the great Victorian painter of modern life, William Powell Frith. Frith's study for his last major work, The Private View, 1881, depicts celebrities from all walks of Victorian life - including Oscar Wilde, Frederick Lord Leighton, Robert Browning and Lily Langtry - as they crowd around the paintings at the Royal Academy exhibition opening in 1881.

The Private View, 1881, was acquired at auction for £115,000 plus commission at Christie’s, London, through Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox. The Art Fund, the UK’s leading independent art charity, supported the acquisition with a grant of £73,923. The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund gave £46,737 and the Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery £10,663, with further donations from Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, the Mercer Art Gallery and Harrogate Borough Council.

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, said, "This sketch not only offers a rare insight into the artist’s working methods, it also provides a wonderful snapshot of the buzz and excitement of the flourishing Victorian art world. Since Frith was Harrogate’s most famous local artist, The Art Fund is delighted that this important work is now on display at the Mercer for everyone to enjoy."

William Powell Frith (1819-1909), one of the greatest British painters of the Victorian age, was born in Aldfield near Ripon. He spent his early years in Harrogate, where his father ran the Dragon Inn. In the 1850s, Frith began to paint the pictures of modern life that were to make his fortune. In 1858 his oil painting Derby Day was such a success at the Royal Academy of Arts that it had to be roped off from the public and a policeman put on guard to protect it. The same applied to his other great masterpieces, The Railway Station, Ramsgate Sands and The Private View, 1881.

The Private View was the only one of Frith’s famous pictures to go on tour to Harrogate, where it went on show at Messrs A & J Polak’s, with visitors paying one shilling to see ‘W P Frith’s Last Great Picture’. Both Oscar Wilde and the actress Lily Langtry, who appear in The Private View, performed onstage in the Harrogate Town Hall Theatre, the very same building that is today the Mercer Art Gallery.

The Mercer Art Gallery possesses an important Frith collection, including the well- known Many Happy Returns of the Day and the Portrait of Annie Gambart. In 2007 the Mercer Art Gallery staged the first major show of Frith’s work to be seen for over 50 years. This new acquisition will go on public display for the first time as part of Harrogate Borough Council’s public art collection at the Mercer Art Gallery from Friday 27 February until Sunday 29 March 2009.

Notes for editors:

The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections; campaigns on behalf of museums and their visitors; and promotes the enjoyment of art. It is entirely funded from public donations and has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections. Recent achievements include: helping secure Titian’s Diana and Actaeon for the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery, London in February 2009 with a grant of £1 million; helping secure Anthony d’Offay’s collection, ARTIST ROOMS, for Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in February 2008 with a grant of £1million; and running the ‘Buy a Brushstroke’ public appeal which raised over £550,000 to keep Turner’s Blue Rigi watercolour in the UK. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit . The Art Fund is a Registered Charity No. 209174

The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund is a government fund, established at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in 1881as part of its nationwide work. The annual grants budget, currently £1,000,000, is provided by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Fund supports the acquisition of objects relating to the arts, literature and history by regional museums, record offices and specialist libraries in England and Wales. Visit the website at FMACROBUTTON HtmlResAnchor

The Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery was established in 1991 when the Mercer Art Gallery first opened in the splendid Harrogate Promenade Rooms. The Friends exist to raise funds to support the development of the Mercer Art Gallery in all its activities, most importantly in acquisitions for the Harrogate Borough Council Fine Art Collection, which is housed at the Mercer Art Gallery.

Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox are leading dealers in Old Master paintings and drawings, French 19th Century paintings and drawings and English paintings and drawings. Originally founded in 1752, they act as agents for major institutions in Britain, Europe and the United States as well as private clients. Regular exhibitions are held at their London premises.

For further information, images and photo opportunities,

contact Jane Sellars on 01423 556188.

The Mercer Art Gallery is open Tues to Sat 10 to 5, Sundays 2 to 5, closed Mondays except Bank Holidays. Admission free.

Harrogate Museums and Arts is part of the Department of Community Services