This engraving shows the popular Victorian painting ‘Life at the Sea-Side’, more commonly known as ‘Ramsgate Sands’, which was painted between 1852 and 1854 by William Powell Frith. The original is the smallest of Frith’s complex panoramas showing contemporary Victorian life. Frith used a novel viewpoint for this scene, which is painted as though the artist is in a boat at sea, looking towards the shore.
When the painting was first exhibited in 1854, at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Queen Victoria expressed her desire to purchase it. However, Frith had already sold the work to the art dealers Messrs Lloyd for 1000 guineas. On hearing of the Queen’s interest in the painting, the dealers offered it to her for the same price they had paid. The one condition was that they borrow the picture for three years in order to make an engraving - a lengthy process for a painting of this complexity.
The plate was made by engraver Charles William Sharpe and sold to the Art Union of London, who published this engraving in 1859. During the Victorian period paintings and their engraving rights were frequently sold separately by the artist and Frith was one of the first artists to enjoy the financial benefits of this practice.
William Powell Frith was born near Ripon in Yorkshire. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools and was elected an Academician in 1852. During the 1840s he was a member of the artists' group 'The Clique'. Although his early subjects were historical or literary, Frith claimed to have been ‘strongly drawn’ to contemporary genre. He first painted the subject following a visit to Ramsgate of 1851, which resulted in ‘Ramsgate Sands’ (exhibited 1854). He went on to paint ‘Derby Day’ (1858), ‘The Railway Station’ (1862) and ‘Private View Day at the Royal Academy’ (1883). His 19 children - twelve with his wife and seven with his mistress - caused considerable financial difficulties. Frith died of pneumonia aged 90, at his home in St John's Wood.
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