This delightful scene features a rosy-cheeked young victorian girl brushing her hair. The girl gazes at her own reflection as her hat and coat, perhaps only just taken off, hang by her side and a dozing tabby cat lies at her feet. Undeniably, the work has a whimsical mood as one automatically draws comparison between with the young girl featured here and Lewis Carroll’s curious heroine Alice. While both Frith’s life and his art held strong affinities with the literature of the day, it is important to note that the novel ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ was in fact not published until 1865, almost fifteen years after this painting was dated.
It is probable that this girl is Frith’s youngest daughter, Fanny. Indeed, Fanny, along with two of his other daughters, Louisa and Alice, were often the subjects of Frith’s work and portraits of the girls were exhibited in 1870 and 1873. Frith also often employed the children of his friends and fellow artists as models for the children in his paintings.
William Powell Frith, born in 1819, was an English painter whom specialised in genre subjects and panoramic narrative works of life in the Victorian era. He was one of the greatest painters of nineteenth-century life and has been described as the ‘greatest British painter of the social scene since Hogarth’. His teeming panoramic views, including Ramsgate Sands and Derby Day broke new ground with their depiction of a diverse contemporary crowd.
Although he originally intended to be an auctioneer, Frith was encouraged to take up art by his father. He then moved to London in 1835 where he began his formal art education at Sass’s Academy, before attending the Royal Academy Schools. Frith started his career as a portrait painter and first exhibited as the British Institution in 1838. In the 840s his art was often based on the literary output of writers such as Charles Dickens, whose portrait he painted in 1859, and Laurence Sterne.
Frith was married twice – having had twelve children with his first wife and seven with a separate mistress whom lived a mile down the road. This woman, Mary Alford, then became Frith’s second wife a year following his first wife’s death.