Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, KCVO, RA

(October 3, 1843 - February 28, 1927)

Luke Fildes is best known as a painter of the suffering of the poor, most notably with "Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward". However, such pictures formed only a part of his output, his most prolific works being portraits and pictures of Venetian life. He was also a notable black and white illustrator.

Fildes was born to a nonartistic family in Liverpool, and started modestly with evening classes in art and design in Chester, where he spent his youth. He then studied design at Warrington, and then turned completely to fine art, moving to London and enrolling at the South Kensington Schools in 1863. In 1866 he gained admission to the Academy Schools, and from 1867, while still a student, he earned his living by drawing on wood. When The Graphic started in 1869, he was invited along with others who became the important painters of the plight of the poor - Herkomer, Holl, Walker and also Pinwell - to contribute. In this magazine appeared his "The Casuals", which later became the famous oil painting.

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Queen Alexandra,
when Princess of Wales (1893)
Edward VII.

Fildes' first picture at the Royal Academy was in fact a Marcus Stone-like picture of lovers on a boat with accompanying swans called "Fair, Quiet and Sweet Rest". In 1873 he exhibited "Simpletons", and in 1874 "Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward", which was the picture of the year, and required a rail and policeman to keep back the crowds of onlookers. In 1875 his Academy picture was "Betty", 'a buxom milkmaid', but in 1876 came another important social picture, "The Widower".

In 1877 Fildes moved into the artist's district centered around Leighton's house in Holland Park, with a house in Melbury Road designed by Richard Norman Shaw (who built a house for Marcus Stone in the same road). In 1879 Fildes was elected A.R.A., one year after Frank Holl and a year before Herkomer, and in 1887 he became R.A. (his diploma picture was The Schoolgirl).

Fildes took great pains to make sure that his pictures were authentic and of genuine people from the streets, and for example for the painting "The Doctor" (1891), recreated a whole poor bedroom in his studio. He was much praised for the 'Dickensian study of character' of his work.

Among various good things for the magazines and books, he illustrated Dickens's last work, Edwin Drood.

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Fildes, S. Luke. (Brit.) Contemporary English artist residing in London. He began his studies in the schools of South Kensington; later, entered the Royal Academy Schools. He furnished drawings for the London Graphic, Cornhill Magazine, Once a Week, and other periodicals, and was selected to illustrate the last books of Dickens and Lever. His name appears for the first time in the catalogues of the Royal Academy in 1868, when he sent "Nightfall." In 1869 he exhibited "The Loosened Team"; in 1871, "The Empty Chair"' (Dickens' study); in 1872, "Fair, Quiet, and Sweet Rest"; in 1873, "Simpletons'' ; in 1874, "Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward"; in 1875, "Betty"; in 1876, "The Widower"; in 1877, "Playmates.'' His "Casual Ward," was at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876, and at the Paris Exposition of 1878.

" 'The Casual Ward,' by S. Luke Fildes [R. A. , 1874], is the most notable piece of realism we have met with for a long time. The painter has shirked nothing; he has set down the facts as he found them. We think Mr. Fildes has taken the only sincere course possible with a subject of this kind. He has made no attempt to make his picture pretty, he has, in truth, deliberately made it horrible and weird, but so much of artistic taste as there was room for he has bestowed upon his work." -- Art Journal, August, 1874.

" 'Betty,' by Fildes is fresh and animated, well drawn, full of spirit and hearty grace. It appeared one of the most attractive pictures of the Exhibition. His 'Applicants to a Casual Ward' is a work of great power, and abounds in admirable individualization." -- Prof. Weir's Official Report of the American Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

" 'The Widower' [R. A., 1876] is certainly one of the finest works of art ever received by the Academy Committee of Selection; full of tender pathos and sentiment, robust in execution, and vigorous in outline." -- Art Journal, August, 1876.

"But the gem of the Exhibition [Dudley Gallery, winter of 1877] is 'Marianina,' by Luke Fildes, which for pose, drawing, and color is perhaps the best bit of work he has done. Mr. Fildes has used the very roughest kind of canvas, he has laid on his paint here and there with a palette knife, as if he were handicapping himself to obtain softness of tone and texture in spite of conditions that would at first blush appear to tell against both. There is no picture in the gallery more tender, soft, and delicate in its effect than this vigorous study." -- London Letter to New York Times, December 9, 1877.

"This work ['Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward'] attracted universal attention, both from the singularity of the subject and the power with which it was treated. In the astonishing reality and individuality of the figures it represented one of those haunting scenes of miserable life which Dickens knew how to produce, and it proved with what discrimination the painter had been chosen to illustrate the famous novelist's last work." -- Portfolio, May, 1878.

Mrs. Luke Fildes resides in London, painting in the studio of her husband. To the Winter Exhibition at the Dudley in 1877. she contributed "The Cottage Door"; to the Royal Academy in 1878, she contributed "Peeling Potatoes" and "A Berkshire Cottage."

Artists of the Nineteenth Century; Biographical Sketches. By Clara Erskine Clement & Laurence Hutton, 1879.

Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward

Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward is in the collection of the Royal Holloway College, London. The Doctor is at the Tate Gallery, and one of his Italian ideal portraits, A Venetian Girl may be seen at the Russell Cotes Museum in Bournemouth. Two more Italian paintings are Venetian Girl with Flask and Venetian Market Girl in Brighton. Daughter of the Lagoons is in Warrington and a similar model features in Al Fresco Toilet is in the Lady Lever Gallery, Port Sunlight, where Fildes also has portraits of Lady and Lord Lever.

View painter's art: Sir Samuel Luke Fildes (1843-1927) [new window view]