Sunday, August 29, 2010

Frederick Walker - At the Sick Man's Door; an illustration to Thackeray's 'Adventures of Philip'



signed with initials 'F.W.' (lower right)
pencil, watercolour and bodycolour, with gum arabic
7½ x 5¼ in. (9.1 x 13.3 cm.)

This watercolour was worked up from an illustration that appeared in The Cornhill Magazine, vol. 5, p. 129, February 1862. William Makepeace Thackeray, the editor of The Cornhill, serialised his novel Philip on his Way Through the World over a period of two years from 1861-2. Thackeray himself illustrated the first few installments, but having been introduced to Walker early in 1861 he made the young artist his protegé, commissioning him to take over the illustrations from May 1861. Walker produced a long series of woodcuts, ranging from illuminated capitals to full page compositions several of which, including Philip in Church and At the Sick Man's Door provided the designs for finished watercolours.

Philip was Thackeray's last completed novel, and its characters are largely those who populated his earlier novels. Pendennis, Thackeray's hero of ten years before, is the narrator. His young friend Philip is a struggling journalist whose fortunes are overshadowed by his father's secret past. Philip falls in love with Charlotte, daughter of General Baynes, a trustee of Philip's rightful inheritance, but the match is fiercely opposed by Charlotte's parents.

In Walker's illustration, Philip and Charlotte are about to enter the bedroom where General Baynes lies ill. Mrs Baynes waits 'with hot tearless eyes and livid face, a wretched sentinel outside the sick chamber'. The anxiety of the moment can be read in Philip's pensive face as he waits while 'little Char' gently turns the door handle. Both avert their eyes from the questioning gaze of Mrs Baynes.

In the next moment there will be blessings and happiness, for once beyond that door which seems such an ominous barrier in Walker's illustration, the couple are welcomed by the General: 'the poor man laid the hands of the young people together, and his own upon them. The suffering to which he had put his daughter seemed to be the crime which specially affected him. He thanked Heaven to be able to see that he was wrong.' These paternal blessings are conferred in timely fashion as General Baynes dies soon after.

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