Thursday, March 20, 2008

William Powell Frith - The Railway Station

Several versions of what is considered perhas his mater work were painted. It was originally painted for Louis Victor Flatow (shown in conversation with the engine driver in the painting) who paid him £4,500 in 1860. It was exhibited many times, even travelling around the country in 1862. The setting is the Great Western Railway terminus at Paddington, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel with Matthew Digby Wyatt between 1850 and 1852.

Tradition gives the name of the train as the 'Great Britain', but Frith painted it from a photograph of the 'Sultan' Engine, though both were of the 'Iron Duke' class. There are over 60 people in the painting.

One of the most interesting scenes is the arrest of a criminal by Detective-Sergeant Michael Haydon (left with hand-cuffs in hand) and Detective-Sergeant James Brett (with his hand on the criminals shoulder), both well known in their day and worked in the City of London Police force. Both actually sat for Frith.

Frith himself seems to have liked paintings with lots of people in them. Personally he had 12 children by his wife Isabelle and 7 by his Mistress, Mary Alford! It took two years to paint (1860 - 2) and the Press of the time took a lively interest in both its progress and the price being paid for it. Apart from Holman Hunts The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple it was the largest price paid for a contemporary painting at the time.


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