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For research notes into Joseph Austin Benwell's art, please refer to the website pages Orientalist PaintingsVictorian Religious Publications, Scenes from India and Miscellaneous and travel artwork.

George Cumberland (1754-1848)
Whilst researching my ancestor Joseph Austin Benwell, I acquired at auction a collection of  small watercolours and drawings, including  one purportedly by Benwell, Many of the other artworks depict scenes in the Bristol area, and most appear to be by George Cumberland. Some are shown below.

Lifelong friend of William Blake, George Cumberland (1754-1848) was a man of artistic, antiquarian and literary tastes. Between 1793 and 1798, while living at Bishopsgate, Egham, Cumberland published seven works, including earlier works of poetry, A Plan for the Improvement of the Arts in England (1793), which included proposals for a national gallery of sculpture in Green Park; and other works illustrated by William Blake. Cumberland bought many of Blake's publications, pressed booksellers to take them, and found work for the artist. In 1803 Cumberland moved to Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, before settling at 1 Culver Street, Bristol, in 1807, where he lived until his death there on 8 August 1848. He was buried at St-Augustine-the-Less on 14 August 1848.

He became one of the earliest members of the informal group of artists which has become known as the Bristol School, and one of the first to take part in the group's excursions to sketch the scenery around Bristol. Cumberland helped many of the Bristol artists through recommendations and introductions to his influential friends. His landscape sketches and watercolours produced at this time have a simple directness of vision, reminiscent of those of his friend John Linnell. 

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery has a collection of George Cumberland's works.

Twelve of these George Cumberland watercolours were up for auction sale on 7th March 2019 (Lot 62), also the signed letter (see below) from Lord Frederic Leighton to Miss Frith (William Powell Frith's spinster daughter) regarding the famous painting 'A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881', featuring Leighton, as President of the Royal Academy, in the centre of the painting.

10 (Mount Pleasant) Culver Street, Bristol. Home of George Cumberland (1754-1848). He moved to Bristol in 1807. Cumberland lived here with his daughter Eliza, possibly one of the two female figures in the distance. 
Culver Street, Bristol. Home of George Cumberland (1754-1848). Pen and inkwash drawing of the same scene for comparison purposes (not in the collection). 

George Cumberland, Flower Garden, Autumn afternoon at Lawrence Weston near Bristol
Inscribed on the reverse "Flower Garden, Autumn afternoon at Lawrence Weston near Bristol __ little garden of old Jenkins' Cottage, GC."
(see below for image of inscription on reverse- described by the Wellcome Collection as "a case of spontaneous amputation above the ankle, circa 1820.")

"He & his wife Sarah married young, and together built the cottage and enclosed the Garden with their own hands, at 70 they were both alive and cultivating the flowers together - He was a quarrier and from a wound on his leg had a gathering, which induced the Surgeon to advise him to go to the Hospital & be amputated at 65 -- but his wife assisted/opposed? the operation and dressed it __ __ when one morning? it suddenly separated above the ankle, and he got quite well. 14 Gui(neas) were given him for the limb by the faculty. He walked? afterwards on a wooden leg. Tenants in common of De Clifford."

'Kings Arbour, Lawrence Weston, near Henbury, Bristol'  A similar scene, not in the collection.  Auctioned by Christie's on 11 July 1989 'Fine Bristish Drawings and Watercolours', London. Extract scanned from my copy of the catalogue. (please see below for Christie's biographical notes on George Cumberland).

Could the man with the top hat and walking stick sitting in the arbour be ‘old Jenkins’, the same person depicted in the Lawrence Weston Flower Garden picture above? or a neighbour?

George Cumberland (1754-1848)
Inscription on reverse of 'Flower Garden, Lawrence Weston.'

It is interesting that a copy of this image is held in The Wellcome Collection, part of the Wellcome Trust (global charitable foundation) based in London. The description states: "Inscription on the back of a painting by George Cumberland. Describing a case of spontaneous amputation above the ankle, circa 1820." Note that in the 18th and 19th Centuries a 'gathering' was a medical term used to describe an accumulation (or collection) of pus, or a suppurating swelling or abscess. 

George Cumberland (1754-1848) Copy from Mr Townley's Possession
George Cumberland. Written on reverse: "Copy from Mr Townley's Possession? G Cumberland". This could be a scene from Italy: the buildings look to be Italian in style. Cumberland was in Italy between 1785-1790, but it is not thought that he painted this in this style or type of scene while there. The style of this small watercolour is similar to that of artist John Warwick Smith (1749-1831), one of Cumberland's associates, but could be of an earlier scene. The inscription on the reverse suggests that Cumberland may have 'copied' a larger painting that was in the collection of his friend Mr Townley. A group of artistic-minded friends would get together socially and practice their artistic skills by 'copying' a known painting.

George Cumberland (1754-1848)
George Cumberland (1754-1848), Cottage Tea house. - Mrs Hall, Leigh Wood gate
Inscribed on the reverse: "Cottage Tea house. - Mrs Hall, Leigh Wood gate"    (near Bristol)
Leigh Woods is near the Clifton suspension bridge, across the Avon from Bristol. Leigh Woods is in the parish of Abbots Leigh and/or Long Ashton, Somerset. The 1851 and 1861 census reveals a Miss Sarah Hall, proprietor at 'Tea and Coffee House', Abbots Leigh parish (occupation "Tea Garden Keeper). She is likely to be the daughter of "Mrs Hall", who would have lived at the property in earlier years. The adjacent census record is for 'Chapel Pill Farm', so the Tea House may not be very far from there.
Does anyone know the exact location of this scene?

George Cumberland, Bristol, Tea House, Leigh Wood Gate
Tea House, Leigh Wood Gate, inscribed verso. Unsigned, another of George Cumberland;s small watercolours showing the same scene as above, but from a little further away.

Similar scenes set in the Leigh Woods area, not in the collection.  Auctioned by Christie's on 11 July 1989 'Fine British Drawings and Watercolours', London. Extract scanned from my copy of the catalogue. (please see below for Christie's biographical notes on George Cumberland)

George Cumberland (1754-1848), Garden Entrance to a Tunnel Walk Bristol
Untitled, likely by George Cumberland (same collection). Shows a garden scene with tunnel.
Does anyone know where this is? A quick search revealed that there is a tunnel in Goldney gardens at Clifton, Bristol, which could be a possibility, or .....
George Cumberland (1754-1848), 'Old Piggots way from the barn at Weston with the old fashioned garden which you will remember'.
Inscribed on the reverse "Old Piggots Way from the barn at Weston, with the old fashioned?? fox hound? garden, which you will remember."

It is possible that the scene could be in the area of 'The Grove' or 'Grove House', home of the Piggott family at Weston (now Grove Park, Weston-super-Mare). George Cumberland stayed at Weston before moving to Bristol in 1807, and he was friends with the Rev Wadham Piggott, exchanging correspondence. (the Cumberland Papers). This was before Weston-super-Mare became the large town we know today.
Does anyone know the exact location of this scene?
George Cumberland (1754-1848),'Windmill Hill and Princes Buildings from the Avon bank Ashton side, afternoon', Bristol
Inscribed on the reverse: "Windmill Hill and Princes buildings -from the Avon bank, Ashton side, afternoon". (In pencil: "Windmill Hill, Long Ashton side of river toward evening"). A 'blind stamp' (similar to a watermark) is seen on the reverse, and likely dates the painting to before 1824 (see below). 

Reverse, including blind stamp (part). 'Warner & Co, Draw Paper' (or 'DRAW G PAPER'?). Smith, Warner & Co of 211 Piccadilly (1800-1820), and 208 Piccadilly (1821-1825).

The company was established by 1800 and was a leading supplier in the early 19th century, to artists such as JMW Turner, Eugene Delacroix, Samuel Palmer and John Linnell. Ref the National Portrait Gallery, 'British Artists' Suppliers 1650-1950'. From 1816 to 1822 the business operated its own paper mill at Iping in Sussex, which could give an indication of the date of the painting. Warner died in 1824, and the business relocated to Marylebone and was carried on by partner Charles Smith after that date. Although in some instances Smith continued to use the Warner name for business purposes, it seems unlikely that he would continue to manufacture paper with Warner's name on. The paper may have been manufactured at the Smith, Warner & Co paper mill, which operated in Sussex 1816-1822.

George Cumberland (1754-1848), View from Mr Gutch's villa, view of St Georges Church Bristol
Inscribed on the reverse: 'Near Mr Gutch's Villa, with a view of St George's Church near Bristol'.

I would imagine this idyllic pastoral rural scene no longer exists, as the area will  now be built up. From the shape of the church in the distance, it is likely to be St George the Martyr church (St Philip & St Jacob), which I understand was demolished in about 1976. Note the tiny figure in the field with plough and horses.

Mr Gutch is likely to be John Mathew Gutch (1776-1861), friend of Samuel T Coleridge and Charles Lamb and a Bristol newspaper editor and publisher. Gutch knew Cumberland (ref. Metropolis and Province: Science in British Culture, 1780 - 1850), published at least one of Cumberland's books, and both were involved in the Bristol Institution and in civic and intellectual pursuits in the city at around the same time.  Gutch is an unusual name, and there do not appear to be any other suitable candidates. Gutch moved to Bristol in 1803, then to Worcester after his second marriage in 1823.  This small watercolour may therefore have been painted between those two dates. He may not have moved to Worcester finally until 1827, as indicated by a newspaper entry in the Bristol Mirror 16 June 1827- auction sale of "valuable effects of J M Gutch Esq, quitting his residence Beaufort Villa, Redland..,.."

Mr Gutch lived at Beaufort Villa, about a mile north of central Bristol, from a listing in 'Mogg's Pocket Itinerary of the direct and cross roads of England and Wales' 1826. The neighbouring properties were Redland Court (Sir Richard Vaughan) and Redland House, in the Redland area of Bristol, and it looks as if Beaufort Villa was very close by. The view towards the church is likely therefore to be over Bristol in an east-south-east direction.

George Cumberland (1754-1848) Boat builders sheds, Bristol
Inscribed on the reverse: 'Boat builders sheds, Bristol'
George Cumberland (1754-1848) Boat builders sheds, Bristol from the Quay
Inscribed on the reverse: 'Boat Builders Sheds from Quay'

This rather strange little watercolour on card is of a seascape and stormy skies and appears to be unsigned, it came with the Cumberland collection. It is possible that there could be writing on the reverse but it was stuck in an album so it is difficult to tell. There could be some faint lettering lower right. It measures 7,2 x 5.3 ins (18.3 x 13.5 cm). 

I wondered if it could possibly be an early work by Samuel Palmer RWS (1805-1881)? Samuel Palmer was a landscape painter, etcher and printmaker, and a key figure in Romanticism in Britain . Like George Cumberland, he knew William Blake and John Linnell. It is known that he produced some tiny landscape paintings and drawings early in his career, whilst living in Shoreham, Kent, in the mid-1820s. The George Cumberland paintings in the collection I acquired also date to around the 1820s. Palmer seemed to like the use of dark shades of orange and grey/black in many of his paintings, and several depict stormy seas and skies, as illustrated below. He also used the technique of 'scratching out', which can be seen in the image above, and was also used in other works, including the sailing vessel picture lower left. The distant leaning sailing vessel on the horizon of both pictures shows some similarities. Anyway, this is just a thought! - if anyone has any comments please let me know via the contact page. 

Samuel Palmer A sailing vessel in a squall
'A sailing vessel in a squall off a headland' Samuel Palmer (1805-1881). The provenance details of this small painting (only 9 x 9.8cm) and sold by Christie's in 2006 for £7,800, included George Cumberland.
Samuel Palmer At Hailsham, Sussex, storm approaching
'At Hailsham, Sussex, storm approaching' 1821 Samuel Palmer (1805-1881)
Samuel Palmer, Snowdon
'Snowdon from the summit of Mount Siabod' c1835 Samuel Palmer (1805-1881)
Samuel Palmer, A Hilly Scene
'A Hilly Scene' c1825 Samuel Palmer (1805-1881)
Another possibility of course is that the watercolour could be by George Cumberland himself- after all I found it in a folio with over a dozen or so other George Cumberland watercolours. The watercolour of a harbour scene at sunset shown below right is by Cumberland, and is in the British Museum. It is shown below side-by-side with my little seascape for comparison. Similarity in the colours used is quite striking, in particular the dark greys and oranges. It is a painting of the sea, rather than of Cumberland's more usual detailed scenes, so a slight variation in style could be expected. 
Stormy seascape possibly by George Cumberland or Samuel Palmer
George Cumberland sunset harbour scene with boat
Pair of dogs
Pair of dogs, unsigned. It is known that George Cumberland also painted animals, birds, insects and plants. The collection at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery has a number of such watercolours by Cumberland. This rather exquisite little painting was in the same collection, and could well be by George Cumberland.
Bird of Prey
Bird of Prey, unsigned, See above.

This miniature (4 x 2.7 ins, 102 x 68mm) is one of a set of five similar. Artist unknown, although in the same collection as George Cumberland's other pieces. 
This appears to be a view of Tintern Abbey on the River Wye, around 20 miles north of Bristol. The ruins and the situation on the curve of a river (or other body of water) bear a resemblance to Tintern Abbey as depicted in the 1804 painting by William Havell 'Tintern Abbey in a bend of the Wye'.

This set may possibly be tinted prints, rather than original watercolours, although it is difficult to tell. However, I have not found any similar on the internet. If anyone recognises the images or a possible source, please do let me know via the contact page.

Another miniature in the set. Does anyone know where this is?
Another miniature in the set, figures in front of a ruined building, with arch to the left. 
Another miniature in the set, a church scene with figures under a tree. 
Another miniature in the set, a river bridge
A miniature watercolour, ships on the sea
Leslie Forte George Cumberland Bristol
Inscribed on the reverse: 'Leslie Forte'. Same hand as other George Cumberland pieces. 
This lady could be one of the Forte family of Clifton, Bristol and Barbados. There is a Caroline Leslie Forte born 16 Dec 1805, daughter of Nathaniel Weekes Forte recorded on Ancestry.co.uk. Leslie appears to be a family name. Spinster, died 1889 Bristol. Or she could have married into the Forte family.

 Extract scanned from my copy of Christie's catalogue (page 18, biographical notes)  11 July 1989 'Fine British Drawings and Watercolours', London, 
Lots 22 to 48 in the auction were small watercolours by George Cumberland.

Pencil sketches of a soldier, and scene of boats.
In the same collection as the Cumberland paintings, but artist unknown.

Other artists
Coquette and Isabella of Cossipore, Calcutta, East India Company
Inscribed along the base 'Coquette and Isabella of Cofsipore' {Cossipore}
Although nowhere near Bristol (Cossipore is a northern area of Calcutta, where the East India Company set up its gun foundry in 1801) I have included this  little watercolour from the collection as it may be of relevance to Benwell. He worked for the East India Company in Calcutta in the 1840s. 

The 'Coquette' is flying a White Ensign so is likely to be a Royal Navy vessel- a single-masted cutter. Two of the seated figures on the left are wearing navy blue jackets and white trousers or breeches and navy headwear (possibly bicorn) and look as if they could be early nineteenth century. The Isabella, in the background, is two-masted and flies a Red Ensign, it could be a merchant or passenger schooner. The Calcutta Monthly Journal and Register for 1836 shipping records arrivals and departures for a schooner Isabella in Calcutta and other parts of India and the East. A list of shipwrecks for 1816 (on Wikipedia) includes: “Isabella - The ship ran aground and was damaged near Calcutta, India. She was on a voyage from Calcutta to Penang. Isabella was later refloated." This may (or may not) be the same vessel.

JAB  A Revolution from a potatoe field
Small watercolour initialled on the left JAB, and written on the reverse in another hand is 'Joseph Austin Benwell'. However, this does not seem to be his style or usual subject matter, unless it is an early watercolour when he was learning how to paint. So it could be by him, or it could be by another 'JAB'. The Bristol link is there though. Inscribed on the right hand side is 'A Revolution from a potatoe field'. What this means or signifies, I have no idea!

Also in the collection is a set of five pencil drawings, some highlighted in watercolour, from a sketch book. They show scenes from Italy and are initialled and dated various days in 1869. The artist may have been on a 'Grand tour' of sites in Italy. If anyone recognises or can decipher the initials (JHW, THW or HW or similar?), please do let me know via the contact page. 

'Tombs on the Via Latina' (near Rome, Italy). Unknown artist. Initials JHW, THW or HW? Dated lower right- March 25 .69.

This would have been drawn not long after the tombs were discovered in 1857/58, but before they were expropriated by the Italian State in 1879. 

Inscription enlargement for 'Tombs on the Via Latina'
'Papigno near Termi' (Italy). Unknown artist. Initials JHW, THW or HW?  Dated lower right- April 6 .69. Pencil drawing, highlighted in white watercolour on distant mountains.

'From Monte Mario'  (Rome, Italy). Unknown artist. Initials JHW, THW or HW?  Dated lower right- April 2 .69. 
 'Perugia from the Citadel' (Italy). Unknown artist. Initials JHW, THW or HW?  Left hand side of panorama on two sheets of paper. Pencil drawing, highlighted in white watercolour on distant mountains.

'Perugia from the Citadel' (Italy). Unknown artist. Initials JHW, THW or HW? Right hand side of panorama on two sheets of paper Dated lower right- April 8 .69. Also is written lower left 'S Pietro' (to name the tall church building) and centre 'S Domenico' to name the basilica church. Pencil drawing, highlighted in white watercolour on distant mountains.

A Private View at the Royal Academy William Powell Frith
'A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881', by William Powell Frith (1883).
I found a letter in the collection from Frederic Leighton (at the time the President of the Royal Academy) to the daughter of artist William Powell Frith (Miss Frith), which refers to this painting. Frederic Leighton is the man in brown in the centre. 
Letter from Frederic Leighton to Miss Frith, Spring 1882, referring to 'A Private View at the Royal Academy'

Also in the collection was a signed letter (with embossed griffin) from Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896), President of the Royal Academy 1878-1896, to Miss Frith (one of artist William Powell Frith's spinster daughters, probably Mary Louisa or Mary Fanny) referring to the famous painting by William Powell Frith RA (1819-1909) 'A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881' (exh. RA 1883). Lord Leighton, in his role as President of the Royal Academy, is featured in the centre of the painting. The painting was recently (February 2019) put up for sale by its owners for the past 136 years, the Pope family, at Martin Beisly Fine Art, London. 

In the 1881 census, W P Frith was living at 7 Pembridge Villas, Kensington, status widower, the two senior females in the household being his adult spinster daughters Mary Louisa Frith (age 30) and her sister Mary Fanny Frith (age 26). His first wife Isabella had recently died in 1880. As was the custom in those days, it is likely the unmarried daughters in the household supported their father in social and other ways, acting as hostesses to visitors. Frith's house in Pembridge Villas was also his studio. Leighton may have engaged in conversation with one of Frith's daughters, the Miss Frith in the letter. It is possible that she was a collector, this being a favourite hobby of many Victorians. He may have agreed to search something out  for her, particularly with his known connections to the Near/Middle East.

 Leighton’s congratulations on Miss Frith’s ‘auntdom’ (page 3) implies a fairly recent event.  Alice Frith (b. 1853) was the middle sister between the two unmarried sisters May/Mary Louisa Frith (b. 1850) and Mary Fanny Frith (b. 1855). It stands to reason that these three sisters (Louisa, Alice, Fanny) were close. The middle sister Alice was the only one to marry, in 1878, and Isabelle was her first child, born Q1 1882 in Kensington. Following the sisters’ niece Isabelle Hastings through the census records (m. Edgar Sheppard 1907) to the 1939 England and Wales Register she can be found as divorced and living in Westminster, date of birth 15 March 1882. Also, the British Newspaper Archives shows a snippet “-On the 15th last,(inst?) at 47, Kensington Park-Garden, Mrs George Hastings..” on Friday 17thMarch 1882 (The Globe). This appears to be a birth announcement.
 This would date the letter to after 15 March 1882, possibly the second half of March into April 1882.

Alice and husband George were living a couple of streets away from the Frith residence and studio at Pembridge Villas, at 47 Kensington Park Gardens in the 1881 census.  It is not unreasonable to think that maybe on the day of Leighton’s visit to Pembridge Villas, he offers kind remembrances to Miss Frith’s absent sister who may have been visiting Alice to see or help with Alice’s new baby. Frith’s painting ‘The Fair Toxophilites’ (English Archers) 1872 is a representation of the artist’s three daughters, Alice, Fanny and Louisa (l to r). So the letter to 'Miss Frith' was to either Fanny or Louisa, to the right of W P Frith's painting shown below.

A couple of publications on Archive.org provide additional useful background  information which supports the likely date of the letter: WP Frith ‘My Autobiography and Reminiscences’ (1887, vol 1-3), and a book by his daughter Jane Ellen Panton (1847-1923) ‘Leaves from a Life’ (1908) .  Another book, part of which is available online at Google Books is ‘William Powell Frith -Painting the Victorian Age’ by Mark Bills & Vivien Knight.  

Frith’s Autobiography  has a chapter on ‘The Private View’ (p441). He states on page 445 “… a great part of the year 1881, and nearly the whole of 1882 was spent on the picture “The Private View”.,,,”. We know from the letter that Leighton visited Frith at his home and studio in early/Spring 1882, maybe for a discussion, viewing or possibly for a sitting. On page 442 Frith states “ Sir F Leighton is in earnest conversation with Lady Lansdale, who sits on one of the ottomans in the gallery not far from Lady Diana Huddlestone, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, and others. …….(list of people). I received the kindest assistance from all these eminent persons, many of whom came to me at great sacrifice of time and engagements. Mr Gladstone was one of the first to come, but his first sitting was cruelly cut short, as he was obliged to attend another appointment.”

An item in the London Daily News Sat 29 April 1882 (BNA) “The Royal Academy- Mr Frith’s big picture of a private view, crowded with all the notable people of the day, is not yet finished…”   Page 259 of vol 3 of Frith’s Autobiography also refers to sittings  “The two following notes were in reply to requests made for sittings etc., connected with my picture of “The Private View”. One dated December 8th 1881 from G A Sala …”I shall be delighted. My only leisure day is Saturday, any time before one a.m.; or any Saturday you like to give me notice of….”  Followed up by a letter dated Monday March 6th 1882,  after the sitting..”You sent for my ‘Private View’ coats etc,,, Sincerely, the object of this billet is to ask you if the Baroness Burdett-Coutts did come to see the picture, and if she consented to sit,"

On page 409 “When I undertook my picture of the “Private View,” I was anxious to make it representative of some of the eminent men and women of the time, who might have been present. In that spirit I wrote to du Maurier (George du Maurier, Punch), and I append his reply.” Several short letters follow, including one on Valentine’s Day 1882, and 11 April 1882 trying to arrange a suitable date for sitting. ”My dear Frith, I cannot as yet give an answer about sitting next week, not knowing when I can spare the time, as the Water Colour Gallery will have its touching-up days…….”


Another example (page 412) is a letter from John Tenniel (political cartoonist for Punch and illustrator, including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), dated February 19th 1882  “My Dear Frith, “Awfully proud, to be one of the crowd” in your picture, I will sit to you with very great pleasure any Wednesday afternoon you will kindly appoint. Next Wednesday, if you like, at, say, about three o’clock”….

Therefore we know that Frith organised sittings for the main characters in the painting, probably including Frederic Leighton. The early part of 1882 appears to have been a busy period for ‘sittings’ for the painting.

The book ‘William Powell Frith: Painting the Victorian Age’ (Mark Bills, Vivien Knight, 2007)  (part available online) gives more useful information to help establish the date of the letter. Page 23- “But eventually she (Mary Alford) and the children did move into Pembridge Villas, and Frith’s unmarried daughters moved out. Agnes Alford was married from Pembridge Villas in 1882.” This took place in Q3 1882 (Jul/Aug/Sep), according to BMD records.  It is likely that the unmarried Frith sisters (‘Misses Frith’)  Louisa and Fanny moved out of Pembridge Villas and their father’s household before then, Again, more evidence that the letter to Miss Frith regarding Leighton’s visit and “The Private View”, hosted by Miss Frith, was likely written  in the first half/second quarter of 1882 (but after 15 March 1882).

Page 1 of Letter from Lord Frederic Leighton to Miss Frith, Spring 1882, referring to 'A Private View at the Royal Academy'
Pages 2 and 3 of Letter from Lord Frederic Leighton to Miss Frith, Spring 1882, referring to 'A Private View at the Royal Academy'

This letter referring to the painting 'A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881' from Frederic Lord Leighton to Miss Frith (the artist's daughter) was up for sale by auction on 7th March 2019  (Lot 41). 

'Dear Miss Frith
Pray excuse me if in the throes of "Private View" etc. I have not found time till now to answer your note - even now I find on ransacking my drawers only a few faded effigies of your humble servant. I will however as soon as I return from the country (I am off tomorrow) get a good one I know of & send it to you. I will also hunt up my autographs and I daresay I may find one for your collection. Meanwhile believe me with kindest remembrances to your sister and congratulations on your "auntdom" Yours very truly Fredk Leighton'.

Another of Frith’s daughters, Jane Ellen, gives background and insight into the Frith siblings’ family life, particularly at Pembridge Villas, in her book ‘Leaves from a Life’  where they lived from 1852/53 to the 1880s. Regarding the period of interest (later years), she writes (page 127) “…and the next few years saw first the death of  my brother (William Powell Frith 1847-1875); a marriage in the family none of us could bear; the death of my mother (1880); and the final crumble and fall of our once happy and distinguished household. The house itself did not pass from my father’s possession for some few years afterwards, but all the home atmosphere was gone, another evil influence came into force; my unmarried sisters started in a home of their own; and bit by bit the old life faded….” This would have been a reference to her father marrying his long-term mistress Mary Alford on 30 January 1881, about a year after the death of his first wife Isabelle, the Frith siblings’ mother, in January 1880. 

This concurs with the census records researched, with the April 1881 census showing the two unmarried Frith sisters Louisa and Fanny as the senior female members of the household and still in Pembridge Villas (Mary Alford, although recently married to Frith kept her own establishment for a while), and the sisters had their own household by the 1891 census. W P Frith gave up Pembridge Villas in 1888, and in 1891 was living elsewhere in Dulwich/Camberwell with his second wife Mary and several of their children, who were all born from 1856 onwards while he was still married to Isabelle; his ‘second family’.  On a happier note, she records (page 124) that “Sir Frederic Leighton used to come to Pembridge Villas in quite early days, and we girls one and all respectfully worshipped him, and to us, at any rate, he was known as “Cupid.”!

The two Frith sisters Louisa and Fanny remained spinsters all their lives and lived together until their deaths in 1931 and 1932; they were often referred to as the 'Misses Frith'. In the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census' they have their own household at 10 Pelham Crescent, Chelsea/Kensington and their occupations were listed as 'Decorators', also furnishers. London Street directories up to 1930 list their business premises as 18 Fulham Road, Kensington 'Mary Louise & Fanny Mary ('Misses Frith'). 'Decorators' sounds rather prosaic these days, I would think they were upmarket interior designers. They had several servants in their household, and the probate of Mary Louisa went to Sir Godfrey John Vignoles, baronet, and referred to both addresses/properties, so it is unlikely they were actually painting and decorating as we know it today. 

Material researched and written by Dee Murray. Website compiled by Dee Murray. All rights reserved.

All images on this website are either scanned or photographed from the author’s own resources, appear with permission of owners/copyright holders, or are in the public domain in digital format via websites such as HathiTrust, Openlibrary.org, the Internet Archive (archive.org) or Google Books.

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