1824 - 1914
At the Opera

Oil on panel
Image size: 10 x 7 3/4 inches (25 x 19.5 cm)
Gilt frame

Doyle, New York, 9 November 1994, Lot 41

The Artist

George Elgar Hicks was one of England’s best known painters of genre pictures, portraits and scenes of contemporary life in the Victorian period. He was initially destined for a career in medicine, but showing considerable ability in drawing and sketching from quite a young age he persuaded his family to let him study to be a painter. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1844 and by 1848 he began a long and illustrious career exhibiting at the Academy but also at the British Institution and at the Society (later Royal Society) of British Artists in Suffolk Street. He was elected member of the latter society in 1889.

In some ways he was a typical Victorian artist, showing competently composed, if slightly sentimentalized figures going about their business with a hint of a moral message in the picture. Similarly, especially latterly, he showed a good number of highly professional portraits, which formed the backbone of his livelihood. However, in the late 1850s and through the 1860s he became considerably more ambitious in his reach and produced a series of very remarkable multi-figured scenes of contemporary life of the day, on which his reputation will surely always rest.

The Post Office (1860), Billingsgate (1862) and Changing Homes (1862) are among the best known examples of these panoramas. And with these he can well stand comparison with that accepted master-painter of the Victorian Scene, William Powell Frith.