The Family Dicksee

JOHN ROBERT DICKSEE, (1817- 20 September 1905)

John Robert Dicksee was the first in a family of artists, of which his nephew, Sir Frank Dicksee, has become the best known. Despite being encouraged into a business career, he gradually established himself, first as a lithographer, then as a portrait and figurative artist. His only art training was six months spent studying under H. P. Briggs, RA. From 1852 to 1897 he was head drawing master at the City of London School and he was also the first curator of the works of art belonging to the Corporation of the City of London. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and other British art societies. His Times obituary recorded that 'he retained the use of his faculties practically to the end and, indeed, his last picture was in this year's exhibition of The Royal Academy (1905)'. The Willing Captive was first exhibited in The Royal Academy Exhibition in 1876.

A portrait and painter of genre subjects, he produced various harem scenes, as well as historical domestic situations. He was the elder brother of the artist Thomas Francis Dicksee, and father of Herbert Dicksee. J. R. Dicksee lived in London, and taught at the City of London School. Among his pupils were Linley Sambourne, the well-known Punch cartoonist, and much later, Arthur Rackham. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1850 through nearly to the end of this long life.



THE ART OF MR. FRANK DICKSEE, R.A., (27 November 1853 - October 17, 1928)
is one of a family of which many of the members have, of late years, developed great artistic power. His father, Thomas Francis Dicksee, earned for himself a considerable reputation as a painter of portraits and figure subjects. His father's elder brother, John Robert Dicksee, was also well-known as a clever painter of subjects of historical romance. The two brothers, close and intimate friends during long lives, married sisters, the daughters of Mr. John Bernard.

The children of John Robert Dicksee include Mr. Herbert Dicksee, R.E., to the illustrations of whose able work we, in the March number of this magazine, 1906, devoted many of our pages; and those of Thomas Francis Dicksee include Miss Margaret Dicksee -- a sympathetic genre painter of much individuality, who died in 1903, many of whose works we reproduced in our September number of this year -- and Mr. Francis Bernard Dicksee, R.A., the subject of our present article, born November 27, 1853.

The first instruction in art was given to Frank Dicksee in his father's studio, and this so early that he has no memory of having been taught to draw. Later, when he was of an age to absorb the necessary groundwork of general knowledge, he was sent as a day-boy to the Rev. George Henslow's school in Bloomsbury, but, even at this period, he spent his spare hours and weeks of holiday engrossed in the study of the rudiments of that art in which he was early to distinguish himself.

At sixteen, tuition under Mr. Henslow came to an end, and his actual intellectual training may be said to have begun, for artists and philosophers are, as Walter Pater truly says, amongst those "whom the action of the world has elevated and made keen."

Artists are certainly not of those who "aprés l'invention du blé, ils vouIaient encore vivre du gland," but must be men who have a culture and understanding richer and more ample than is given in the schools. Not only must their eyes, hands, and brains co-operate for the mysterious elaborations of impasto, colour, and chiaroscuro, but all such as take up art as their profession must have a mystical sense of lives apart from their own, and some strange virtue, a very white heat of imagination, by aid of which to fuse their own feelings and talents with those other emotions and events experienced by other men in ages other than their own. They must have, in addition, no mean knowledge of the classics; they must be conversant with the history of their own and kindred arts; and they must know, intimately, the creations of other men; especially must they be informed of the work done in that solemn fifteenth-century period, which weighs heavily upon the taste of the present; for each painter -- unconsciously, perhaps -- seeks, more or less, in this twentieth century, to adhere to the traditions which belonged, in that other, to his special ancestor in paint. They must know both the story and the man they seek to represent, from other than the pictorial point of view; they must know the history of both modern and mediaeval times, even should they be led to study of this last period, perhaps, by a no more important thing than necessity for accuracy in costume; but, above all, must the romantic painter, such as is Mr. Frank Dicksee, possess, within himself, those yet higher qualities of drama, poetry, and emotional fancy. It is by the aid of these qualities alone that it is possible to achieve the satisfactory spinning of that web of imagery to which, in such pictures as "The Ideal," ''The Two Crowns," and "The Mountain of the Winds," Mr. Dicksee has shown himself to have aspired.

The entire merit of a picture can never be expressed in words, for often we are sensible in it of foreign forces influencing us beyond those which we can enumerate. We get this same feeling sometimes in looking at a familiar scene under the glamour of a sunset glow or clothed in the mists of morning, or we are made conscious of it in a homely face when seeing it under the influence of some strong emotion. For atmosphere, facial expression, and the painters' art have this power in common -- each can convert the ordinary, obvious, and intimate into the rare, mystic, and strange. In the work of Mr. Dicksee is there specially this untranslatable quality. To him, as is natural to so imaginative a mind, a scene is the colour of the scene; for it is presentation of light and differentiation of tone that he chiefly aims at producing.

"Of all God's gifts to the sight of man, colour is the holiest, the most divine, the most solemn. We speak rashly of gay colour and sad colour, for colour cannot at once be good and gay. All good colour is in some degree pensive; the loveliest is melancholy, and the purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most." It is this pensive colour, of which Ruskin speaks, that we find in many of Mr. Dicksee's pictures.

His sympathies are, moreover, curiously remote from the prosaic aspect of a work-a-day world, his views of life, as shown in his canvas, being utterly unpractical; and so strongly does he insist upon romance as almost to make us believe in its reality. This pleases us, for we are a highly optimistic and romantic people at heart -- although to walk through our cities at midday is to make one doubt this fact -- and we like especially to have it brought to our attention that we care little or nothing for such mundane things as wealth and success, but prefer, in reality, to lead the simple life, and find in maidens our saints and in men their worshippers.

The best thing, probably, that we get from pictures is this enthusiasm which they arouse.

After leaving Mr. Henslow's school, Mr. Dicksee worked hard in his father's studio, and with such good result that at the end of a year he was admitted, on his first application, a probationer at the Royal Academy Schools. In the following year, 1871, he was given a studentship, and, in 1872, he won a silver medal for a drawing from the antique. In 1875 he carried off 'the gold medal by his ambitious picture of "Elijah Confronting Ahab and Jezebel in Naboth's Vineyard," which was well hung in the following year in the Lecture Room at Burlington House.

The causes of his rapid progress, Mr. Dicksee, in looking back, feels to have been attributable, in the first place, to thc admirable training he received from his father, and, in the second, to the real interest taken in the students by Leigton and Millais, who were -- dissimilar as was the work of the one from that od the other -- from the strain of relation his own work had with that of both, of all the then teachers at the Royal Academy Schools the most likely to influence him. To these causes which Mr. Dicksee advances, we ourselves add three others -- extraordinary sensibility, imagination, and industry. Ruskin, in lecturing on Art, once said: "If we were asked abruptly and required to answer briefly what qualities chiefly distinguished great artists from feeble, "We should answer: I suppose -- first, their sensibility; secondly, their imagination; and thirdly, their industry." Some of us might, perhaps, doubt the justice of attaching so much importance to this last characteristic, because we have all known clever men who were indolent, and dull men who were industrious. But though you may have known clever men who were indolent, you never knew a great man who was so; and during such investigation as I have been able to give to the lives of the artists whose works are in all points noble, no fact ever looms so large upon me -- no law remains so steadfast in the universality of its application, as the fact and law that they are all great workers. Nothing concerning them is matter of more astonishment than the quantity they have accomplished in the given lengths of their lives; and when I hear a young man spoken of as giving promise of genius, the first question I ask about him is always: "Does he work ?" Undoubtedly Ruskin's question would, in Mr. Dicksee's case, have been answered emphatically in the afiirmative. Even whilst he was attending the Academy Schools he spent many of his evenings in illustrating stories for the magazines, and in 1872 his first published illustrations appeared in the then current London Society and were followed soon after by others in the Graphic and the Cornhill, for which last periodical he ultimately supplied the whole of the illustrations for Blackmore's serial story of "Erema." So admirable was his black-and-white that. on Cassells' issuing a special edition of Shakespeare, they commissioned Mr. Dicksee to illustrate for them both "Othello" and "Romeo and Juliet," and it was of this last issue that W. E. Henley wrote: "Mr. Dicksee is represented by a dozen designs which take rank with his highest work, and form a pictorial commentary on the greatest of all love poems of much freshness and charm. It is not to be expected of an artist that, vigorous his imagination and however complete his capacity, to leave his own epoch behind him, and project himself absolutely into that of the poet whose commentator and elucidator he is. If it were possible that he should do so -- which it is not -- it would, we take it, be altogether undesirable, inasmuch as he would himself be of that past, and even, as his author, stand in need of commentary and elucidation. What we ask of him is that he should give us a personal and contemporaneous interpretation of whatever in the author's theme has touched his (the artist's) imagination and seemed to him apt for illustration and remark. This is what Mr. Dicksee has done, and his achievement, quick with invention and sincerity, and touched with genuine passion, is good and complete enough to be presently remarkable and have real permanent value . . . the presentment of the farewell on Juliet's balcony, in which, as it seems to us, he has attained, in the single figure of Juliet -- so full of grace and tenderness and pure abandonment -- his high-water mark as the exponent of emotion."

Not only have some of these original drawings been shown at Burlington House, but an exhibition of them, in 1891, was held at the Mendoza Gallery.

Employing some of his evenings in illustration work, as we have already shown, Mr. Dicksee was, during others, working under Mr. Henry Holiday, who was then engaged in designing that series of historical figures for the windows of the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, which has made his name well-known, and he was sparing one evening of the week for the Langham Sketching Club, which he had joined at the age of seventeen. It was here, indeed, that, the set subject one night being "Music," Mr. Dicksee illustrated it by means of a sketch of a girl in mediaeval costume seated before the keyboard of an organ. The background of the whole he filled in with a stained-glass window, the reason for so doing being not difficult to trace to the labour upon which he was, under Mr. Holiday's guidance, at that very time employed. This design, under its new title, "Harmony," it was, that was sent to the Academy of 1877, and, by its excellence, gained a centre place on the line in the first room.

"Harmony" is a picture which, by its poetic feeling, charms the critical faculty. It is essentially a beatific vision, of which the chief characteristics are luminosity and idealism. It is an apotheosis of earthly passion. It was its imaginative quality, joined to general soundness of execution, which made its great and tangible success and enabled it to hold its own in exhibition against the good work of far more experienced men. It is doubtless the picture with which, owing to its irresistible appeal to both eye and sentiment, Mr. Dicksee's name will always, in the mind of the public, be most familiarly connected, and it was bought by the trustees of the Chantry Bequest, and now hangs in the Tate Gallery. Compared with "The Two Crowns," a purchase for the same Gallery made in 1900, it shows something of the intemperance, if not inexperience, of youth; for "The Two Crowns," in its emotion, drama, treatment, and colour, reveals, as is natural, a more considered, juster, quality and the advance made by the artist in his work as enormous.

"Harmony," being the work of so young a man, took even the critics by storm. It was the picture of the year, and, when Agnew and Sons' subsequent publication of an etching by Waltner had a triumphant success, it placed Mr. Dicksee in the forefront of popularity as a painter. The following year, 1878, he was so fully employed in illustrating an edition of "Evangeline" for Messrs. Cassell as to have no time to paint for exhibition, and his 1879 contribution to the Academy was a subject taken from that poem --

Half the task was not done when the sun went

down, and the twilight

Deepened and darkened around.

Vainly Evangeline strove with words and caresses to cheer him.

This picture was bought by the Fine Arts Society, which in the following year bought also "Benedicta," afterwards engraved by Samuel Cousins, R.A.

Eighteen hundred and eighty saw Mr. Dicksee branch into another form of art in "The House-builders," which was an admirably treated portrait-picture of Sir W. E. and the Hon. Lady Welby-Gregory. In January of the following year, he, although only twenty-seven years of age, was made an Associate of the Royal Academy, where, in that same spring's exhibition, he showed a yet greater variant in style in a small landscape entitled "The Monk's Walk." "The Symbol" was also of this same year, a picture which sprang into immediate popularity. Like "Harmony," it owed its origin to the weekly subject set at the Langham Sketching Club, and the thoughtful idea that it develops is the same that prompted his later work "The Two Crowns." Well reproduced by photogravure, this subject, as a study of the printshop windows tells us, does not, even after twenty five years, show any sign of relinquishing its hold on the popular taste.

In 1882 came " A Love Story," an almost equal printshop favourite, etched by A. Lalanze; but "Too Late," which fol lowed in 1883, showed a return to the Biblical subjects of his student days. In the "Romeo and Juliet" (1884) we trace the earnestness of labour that marked his black-and-white work, for this picture is a colour transcription from the Cassell's "Shakespeare," work upon which so lately Mr. Dicksee had been engaged. "Hesperia," 1887, is notable not only for its decorative qualities, but it has an added interest in being the first important work which Mr. Herbert Dicksee undertook to etch. In 1888, Mr. Frank Dicksee exhibited "Within the Shadow of the Church," a picture which waned in importance when compared with those of the two following years, "The Passing of Arthur" and "The Redemption of Tannhauser."

History and romance are almost equally entangled in these two pictures, for, although we are apt to look upon this erring hero as the subject of an old German legend, there actually lived in the thirteenth century a knight of that name who was a Minnesinger at the Court of Frederick the Second, Duke of Austria. Having wasted his fortune and laundered, as did his prototype, "over the crooked hills of delicious pleasure," he too went as a Crusader to the Holy Land. But the Tannhauser of Mr. Dicksee's picture is the legendary one -- the erring knight who, after many wanderings, went to the place where Venus held her court, and, by and by, overcome by remorse and memory of Elizabeth, obtained permission to return for a while to the outer world, make his pilgrimage to Rome, and entreat Pope Urban to secure for him forgiveness of his sins. So soon, said the Pope, as the staff, which he happened to have in his hand, should bud and blossom, so soon might the soul of Tannhauser be saved, and no sooner. "And it came to pass, not long after, that the dry wood of the staff was covered with leaves and flowers," and a messenger hurried after Tannhauser with the miraculous token of his pardon. The exact incident Mr. Dicksee paints is that of the sinning hero's encounter with the funeral procession of Elizabeth -- dead through love of him. The charm of the picture is not only in its sentiment and in its peculiar grace, but equally in the mastery of the technical diificulties Mr. Dicksec has surmounted in the contending lights of candles and sunset.

"The Crisis," 1891, bought by the Melbourne Art Gallery, reveals quite other and realistic qualities, which would, had they been permitted to take root, have flourished as luxuriantly as have done, in this versatile artist, those of the idyllic, romantic, and decorative; for in "The Crisis," in his many admirable portraits, in "The Confession," 1896, and in "A Reverie," 1895, bought by the Walker Art Gallery, the artist's work is touched with so serious a spirit of observation and inquiry as to approach within measurable distance of that of the Naturalistic school. In 1891 Mr. Dicksee was made a full Member of the Royal Academy, and his decorative and imaginative "The Mountain of the Winds " belongs to this year, and his diploma picture, "Startled," was in the Exhibition of 1892. "The Funeral of a Viking" was given the place of honour in Burlington House in 1893.

This picture belongs to the romantic class, which include "The Passing of Arthur" and "The Redemption of Tannhauser." Upon the deck of the ship, which is the central feature of the canvas, lies the hero, amidst curling flames, about to be launched on his last voyage to take his place in that great regal court, Valhalla, where Odin has his throne.

The end of the 'nineties saw yet another departure on the part of Mr. Dicksee into a fresh branch of art -- that of landscape; and in this, as in the subject picture and the portrait, he not only handles his material with that technical dexterity which is a symbol of his talent, but in it he worthily upholds the claims of idealism.

At a time when many of his contemporaries were intent upon realising a conception of art adapted from and entirely inspired by Bastien Lepage and men of that ilk, and were importing French methods in the same profuse way that they were importing Edouard's colours, Frank Dicksee was pursuing industriously his own way, for he holds the theory that a man need not go beyond his own country for tuition in his art.

Convention in art there must be, and this must be learnt; but whether it is learnt in the vernacular or in translation, does not much matter, the great thing, after all, being that the artist should have acquired it. To object to such conventionalism is to believe in absolute realism, " which, if possible, would be a science, and not an art," and it is in the difference of convention to which each man aspires that gives rise, as R. A. M. Stevenson wrote, to various styles of painting, and successively attaches a varying importance to the elements of technique as he deals with ideal form or real form, local colour or atmospheric, detail or general aspect. Yet painters, like poets, are born and not made; they must be personal in their art, or their public can feel no manner of interest in them. They must have learnt to see for themselves and to consider their subjects with an observant and personal eye, or they get no vitality into their work. In the case of Mr. Dicksee, England has proved a good enough school for one who from the first showed peculiar sensitiveness to both form and colour, who early learnt to paint with a surprising justness, and to see even in apparently commonplace subjects not only something to idealise, but that "opportunity for improvement that makes for perfection."

His sincerity has been such, and such his talent and accomplishment, that he has succeeded in making for himself a prominent position in his profession. The reason for this seems to be that the work which he does is done both conscientiously and undeniably well -- classic, mediaeval, modern subjects, he has produced each with the same extraordinary facility; for his hand is no less ready and accomplished than is his brain, fastidious always to obtain the highest, prodigal of pictorial invention.

For permission to reproduce the many pictures by Mr. Dicksee which appear in this number we are greatly indebted to the courtesy of the various owners of the originals in private collections or public galleries, and to the several publishers whose consent was also necessary to our scheme. Particularly are we indebted to those publishers who have allowed us to reproduce certain pictures in the original colours, Messrs. Cassell and Co., The Berlin Photographic Company, and Messrs. Frost and Reed, of Bristol. To the last-named firm special acknowledgment is made for their courtesy in allowing us to give as our frontispiece one of the artist's most impressive pictures, "The Two Crowns," the large plate of which is published by them in their admirable series of reproductions of modern masterpieces.


MARGARET ISABEL DICKSEE ( 22 January 1858 - 6 June 1903 )

Frank Dicksee's sister
Daughter of Thomas Francis Dicksee and brother of Sir Frank Dicksee PRA. She attended the RA Schools where she won a £40 award for her painting 'Deepening Shadows', a subject from The Old Curiosity Shop, and also achieved a silver medal. She painted dramatic historical scenes and more domestic interior scenes. An example with a good late Pre-Raphaelite theme is 'In Memoriam' (1890), where a mother shows her baby the portrait of the deceased father - the baby is excited, the mother wistful. The picture has something of the mood of Byam Shaw's Boer War 1900.

In 1895 her Royal Academy picture 'The Children of King Charles I' was singled out for special mention in the Royal Academy Illustrated supplement to the Magazine of Art. Another well-received picture was 'Oliver Goldsmith Reading She Stoops to Conquer' (The First Audience) (1895).

In general, Dicksee's oil paintings are rather illustrative - they were sometimes reproduced as illustrations - and tend somewhat to the sentimental. An example of an overly-sweet painting is 'Handel Discovered Playing in the Garret' (1893). She drew ink illustrations for various magazines, including the Quiver, and decorations for poems by Woolner.


(14 June 1862 - 20 February 1942)

Born in London, into an intensely artistic family. His grandfather had two sons, John Robert Dicksee, Herbert's father, and Thomas Francis Dicksee. The two bothers married two sisters, and both couples had two children in turn who were to become known as painters. One of his cousins was the noted Victorian painter Sir Frank Dicksee, whose success was so great that he was eventually elected President of the Royal Academy in 1924. Frank Dicksee's sister, Margaret, and Herbert's sister, Amy, were both also successful painters. Herbert Dicksee himself was a painter of animals and historical genre scenes, but he was also an etcher and mezzotint engraver. He studied at the Slade School, later taught drawing at the City of London School and he exhibited his work at the Royal Academy from 1885-1904. His best-known work depicted lions and other wildlife, but he also produced work copied after other great contemporary artists, including his cousin and Sir John Millais. Dicksee is also well known today for his depictions of dogs, all painted from life. Many of the dogs were owned by members of his family and Dicksee himself owned breeds including the deerhound, bloodhound, Dandie Dinmont, pug, bull terrier and French bulldog. Perhaps Dicksee's best known dog picture was entitled 'Where's Master?,' which was produced following a commission from King Edward VII. to paint his favourite dog, a terrier. The painting is also known as Caesar.


Herbert Dicksee belonged to an illustrious artistic family. His father was the artist John Dicksee (1817-1905). John's brother Thomas (1819-1895), also a painter, was the father of Sir Frank Dicksee (1853-1928), president of the Royal Academy from 1924 until his death. (Herbert, meanwhile, had one sister, whose name was Amy.) Dicksee studied art at the Slade School, London, on a scholarship. His first painting was exhibited in 1881.

The artist married Ella Crump in 1896, and they had two children, Maurice (who was killed in World War I) and Dorothy (who also studied art). Herbert Dicksee died in 1942 in Hampstead. His daughter Dorothy was the executor of his will, which directed her to destroy most of the plates for Dicksee's etchings.



One would hardly suspect that a particularly picturesque and innocent-looking house on the borders of Hampstead Heath to be the birthplace of lions and tigers. Even did the authorities of the local borough permit the breeding of wild beasts in the vicinity of the great pleasure ground, we doubt if the neighbours would consent. But is not in the living and powerful flesh that "the king of the forest" is here created. It is in the less harmful and more acceptable form of pictures that lions and tigers are here produced, but in so realistic and awe-inspiring a style that one would naturally conclude the artist had living models in his studio. The medium adopted by Mr Herbert Dicksee -- for it is he who brings these beasts into existence and makes them good company -- is the etcher's needle, though the artist is also a capable wielder of the brush. His strikingly life-like presentment of rampant lions and snarling tigers has of late years become very familiar to the general public, and curiosity to ascertain the genesis of these productions attracted me to the artist's studio.

Mr. Herbert Dicksee studies his subjects from living models at the Zoological Gardens. A friend once brought a lion cub home from Africa and offered it to him as a present. The temptation to accept was only momentary, for a little reflection told the artist that the majestic beast would soon become troublesome. So the cub was declined with thanks, and Mr. Dicksee still etches the lineaments of his tribe.

Born of an artistic family, Mr. Dicksee had his path marked out by nature, and his progress assisted by kindly circumstance. His father was a painter who devoted himself chiefly to portraits, and his uncle was also a painter. The latter was the father of well-known artist, Mr. Frank Dicksee, R.A., and of the late Margaret Dicksee, who was a charming painter of old-world subjects. Herbert Dicksee himself began to draw as soon as his fingers could move a pen, his first productions being copies of any book illustration that took his fancy. His love for animals, which is not limited to the wild species, but also includes the domestic, was due to the influence of John Charlton, who always lent him his sketch-books and encouraged his work. It is as a painter of dogs that he shows particular skill, and this skill is the offspring of a knowledge and sympathy that began when he was a child, and remains even stronger at the present day.

At the age of sixteen he entered the Slade School, where he studied under Alphonse Legros, the distinguished etcher. Whilst following a strict course in the life class and drawing from the antique, he devoted much time also to etching, which was zealously fostered there. It is from the Slade School that a great number of members of the Royal Society of Painters-Etchers (to which Mr. Dicksee belongs) have come, the initial impetus that revived etching in this country having been started by Whistler and Seymour Haden about twenty-five years ago. During his five years' course at the school, the young Dicksee was successful in obtaining the Slade scholarship, in addition to several medals. His love for animals developed during this formative period of his art, and he used to rise at six o'clock in the morning to visit the Zoological Gardens before visitors would arrive and obstruct his view. There, he was to be seen morning after morning, making studies of the lions and tigers in the reposeful intervals of their restless movements.

On leaving the school, Mr. Dicksee took a voyage to New Zealand. This excursion to the Antipodes, slow and protracted as it must have been twenty years ago, did not yield much opportunity for the study of animal nature. Nevertheless, it enabled him to become acquainted with a variety of atmospheric effects and wild background; and the knowledge thus gained is skilfully displayed in many of his pictures. On his return to England he began to devote himself seriously to the pursuit of art, for on its attainment depended his living. In the first instance he turned his hand to black-and-white illustrations for books and magazines, and also designed Christmas cards and other humble productions. As a boy he received his first commission from Sadler, who regularly undertook work from Tom Landseer at a time when etching had not reached the importance it now possesses. A number of small plates that he etched at this period, already giving indication of his later power, are to be found in back numbers of the Art Journal and the Portfolio. In his leisure he also painted pictures, and many of the subjects that are now familiar as etchings were first presented as oil paintings.

One of the first important etchings that he undertook was the reproduction of "Hesperia," the picture of his cousin, Mr. Frank Dicksee. The subject was by no means easy to handle, but he devoted to it several months of assiduous work and produced an excellent plate. The success thus achieved encouraged him to proceed to more ambitious and original productions. As a result he gave forth "Beauty and the Beast," which was disposed of with little difficulty and published in 1887, in the same year with "All His Troubles Before Him." After this he betook himself to his first lion plate, "His Majesty." He made his preliminary studies for this subject at the Zoological Gardens, and found that his model was by no means of an amiable disposition. The artist would no sooner begin his work than the lion would turn his back and go to sleep in sheer boredom. All attempts to rouse him and make him assume the desired pose were fruitless. But a way out of the difficulty was discovered by accident. One day the artist dropped his brush and stooped to pick it up. No sooner did the animal see this movement, which it suspected to be an attack, than it at once bristled up and remained alert. Henceforth the artist only had to pretend that he was picking up a missile, and his model stood to attention. The memory of the lion must have been long-lived, for on paying it a visit a year afterwards the artist met with a rather hostile welcome.

His next animal plate was "A Wanderer," which literally became a wanderer among the publishers. They all looked askance at it, declaring that the public would not buy "lions." Ultimately, however, it was issued on a royalty agreement, though even then the print-sellers required persuasion to exhibit it. But the apprehension thus shown was completely dispelled when once the plate came before the public, for every proof was sold. After this came "A Tigress." With the aid of a certain keeper who had earned the enmity of the beast, the tigress was roused to the necessary snarl. The man had only to walk past the cage, and the beast assumed the snarling pose desired by the artist.

Mr. Dicksee understands that an element in the art of success (and perhaps also in the success of art) is variety, and this principle has guided him in his work. Though publishers were at first reluctant to take up his etchings of wild animals, and then became eager about them as a result of the public's favourable response, the artist perceived that the tide might begin to ebb. Hence he turned to more homely themes, to figure subjects, in which he deftly portrayed the sympathy of mankind. There could be no greater contrast than that between the felicity of these domestic scenes and the ferocity of the forest beasts, but the artist showed his mastery in both. To this homely category belongs his next plate, "Memories," which is a reproduction of another picture by Mr. Frank Dicksee. This was followed by an etching of his own Academy picture, "Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand!". Proofs of this plate are now very rare, and the lapse of time has enhanced their price to about ten times the amount at which they were originally sold, thus proving that time means money in a way not always understood.

The artist's first great popular success was attained by his plate, "Silent Sympathy." This production occupied him many months, as he had to try several models before he felt satisfied. The labour he spent on it, however, received its due reward in the immediate favour shown by the public when he issued it in 1894. The plate depicts a young and handsome girl seated in a wicker armchair, with her hand supporting her head of flowing tresses, gazing at the fire with an air of sad anxiety. At her side, his graceful forelegs stretched across the rug, lies a stately deerhound, resting his chin on the knees of his mistress and looking up to her in "silent sympathy." The sweet communion thus touchingly expressed at once secured the interest of an appreciative public. In response to a demand for a companion picture, Mr. Dicksee produced "Her First Love," but between the two he executed "The Monarch of the Desert" and "Solitude," the latter being a subject that he had previously treated in water colour. In chronological order we next come to "A Happy Mother" for the models of which, a little family of bloodhound puppies, the artist had to travel to the New Forest. In striking contrast to this, both in theme and presentation, is his etching after Joy's picture of "The death of Gordon." This was followed by an original subject, "A Fellow Feeling," in which a flower-girl, seated on a doorstep, is handing a crust to a dog that looks all forlorn.

As is frequently the case, a mere accident suggested to the artist the theme of another of his most popular plates. This is "The Last Furrow," which was based on a glimpse seen from the window of a railway-carriage while passing near Harrow. The picture has a striking distinctiveness, and vividly realises the fatigued and struggling horses and the plodding ploughman as they cut up the last stretch of soil. The publishers looked on it doubtfully, owing to the change of subject but the plate has been sold out, and is now at a high premium. It has a companion in "Against the Wind and Open Sky." In 1898 appeared another notable etching, representing a reversion to the "wild beast period." This was "The Raiders." After the artist's picture which was exhibited in the Royal Academy. The keen yet cautious gaze of the two animals at once arrests attention, and the rugged formation of the uprising rock and the remote expanse of light, with the desert atmosphere pervading all, give a graphic and convincing presentment of a scene in the wilds of Africa. Its companion plate, "Maternal Care," also from a picture by the etcher, shows a lioness proudly stationed beside the brink of a river, while her little cub nestles closely to her side.

Again, the artist left his friends of the forest, this time for his own dogs. As they lay before the hearth, fascinated by the fire, they suggested to him his etching of "Fire Worshippers." But he soon returned to the wilds, and in "The Watcher on the Hill" (1900) he presented a tiger, throbbing with vice and violence, squatting on a head of lofty rock and gazing down with an eye of insatiable greed. This was followed by several other plates belonging to the same category of subject. "In the Enemy's Country" shows a lion and his mate looking down from an elevated boulder upon the country below, the distance illuminated by the powerful rays of a tropical moon. "The King" represents the stately and solitary figure of a lion with majestic mane, proudly rearing his body against the heavens. In "The Destroyers" we see two prowling tigers advancing into the open country to slake their thirst in a running stream.

With all Mr. Dicksee's faithful delineation of these savage beasts, and his realistic representation of their wild haunts -- even to the very heat of the atmosphere and the solitude of the landscape -- it is a most remarkable fact that he has never seen a beast of prey in its native home. Almost all his studies are made at the Zoological Gardens, whilst for his backgrounds he confesses that he makes use of photographs, and justifies his methods by the results. The Boer War produced one good effect, so far as he was concerned, inasmuch as it resulted in many photographs of African scenery being published. He uses these photographs, however, merely as suggestions, discovering some scenery of approximate resemblance in the British Isles, and then making a direct study from nature. Once, indeed, he was invited to join a party of three friends who proposed penetrating the wilds of Algeria. One was going to shoot, another to explore and the third to sketch. Mr. Dicksee, however, was not attracted by the prospect, for he had no guarantee that a lion would emerge from its lair except at night, and the glimpse he might then get could easily be realised by his own imagination. He made studies also at the menagerie attached to the Hall-by-the-Sea, a popular Margate music-hall, where great success has been attained in breeding cubs. Though tame when young and bred in captivity, these cubs usually become dangerous by their fifth year, and, for the purpose of the artist, display the same characteristics as if they had been born free. Mr. Dicksee, who is very scrupulous about the anatomy of his models, obtains casts of legs and limbs from dead beasts. In his portrayal of domestic animals, however, he is able to be at close quarters with his models. Once he kept as many as six dogs, but he found they involved too much attention and distracted him from his work, so that now he has only a toy spaniel actually in his home. Whenever he wants a dog now as a model, his friends are always eager to oblige him.

We have still to mention several other etchings that Mr. Dicksee has produced. One of them is after "The Boyhood of Raleigh," painted by Millais nearly thirty years ago, which was purchased by Lady Tate for over £5,000., and presented to the Tate Gallery in memory of her husband. Among original subjects is "The Wishing Pool," which is a radical departure from his usual style of theme. A girl in old-world dress is gazing into a circling pool and trying to divine her destiny. In the background is a panorama of the countryside, beautifully distinct, showing turret and ancient steeple rising above the thick foliage. "On the Threshold" depicts a village doorway, the young mistress of the home standing with an air of weariness on the upper step, and a little dog lying drowsy on the ground. "Nearing Home" is another plate in a minor key, representing a shepherd taking his flock back to their pen. The light effects obtained in this plate are a triumph for the etcher's needle, which has also, with singular skill and care, delineated each member of the returning flock. One of Mr. Dicksee's latest productions is a plate entitled "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot." An old collie is looking up pathetically at its mistress, who is playing with a little pup, while seated near a window.

Mr. Dicksee is a very painstaking artist, and spends at least three or four months over each plate. In the winter he generally continues working after sunset, and arranges an electric lamp to shed its light through a screen of tissue-paper. To tone down the glare resulting from constantly having his eyes on the burnished sheet of copper, he sometimes wears blue glasses. His etchings are now in such popular and frequent demand that he cannot find any time for painting, and he has even ceased to accept any commissions for his usual work, so that he may enjoy a feeling of freedom. As evidence of his versatility, it may be mentioned that he has also worked in pastel, and modelled a bronze of a tiger in conjunction with a young sculptor, Mr. F. Blundstone. (Frank Victor Blundstone (1882-1951) was a Swiss-born sculptor.)

It may be questioned whether the general public, as a whole, shows as much appreciation of etchings as of paintings. The unsophisticated mind loves colour and all the clear contrasts that the wielder of the brush can produce. Attractiveness in a picture for this section of the people-- and here, perhaps, one nation differs little from another -- consists not so much in the subject that is shown, as in the medium in which the subject is presented: not so much in the what as in the how, as an ancient Greek philosopher might have put it. It would, therefore, be thought that the art of Mr. Dicksee is being exercised merely for the aesthetic gratification of an eclectic circle, for those who have received an artistic education and are inspired with a love for the best and truest in the artist's craft. This reflection, however, is only partly true, for extended observation has shown that the poor -- whose minds are only too often impoverished equally with their bodies -- are quite often as keen admirers of Mr. Dicksee's work as those whom fortune or circumstance has favoured in greater measure. It is commonly supposed that the public art gallery is the poor man's gallery, but this is a supposition of only partial truth. An exhibition such as that periodically held at Whitechapel Art Gallery is undoubtedly for the poor man, but in this case as in most others the bulk of the visitors belong to the middle classes, and even to those fairly well-to-do who overcome their dislike to making an excursion into an insalubrious district because of the temporary things bright and beautiful that they will see there. The real poor man's gallery is the window of the art-dealer's shop, and if the frequency with which the needy dwellers in the "mean streets" gaze with unspoken appreciation at Mr. Dicksee's etching there exhibited is any criterion, then the wide appeal made by his delicate art is free from all manner of doubt.

The conservatism of the Royal Academy in the method in which it selects its members has been a frequent theme of comment and criticism. It may be explained as the inveterate aversion from any change which is characteristic of most old-established British institutions. But whatever the real cause, and whatever palliation may have been necessary to justify the attitude, it is satisfactory to observe a welcome advance upon a long-continued policy. By this we allude, of course, to the recent election of Mr. Frank Short and Mr. William Strang as members of the Academy, on their merits as etchers and engravers. This event is interesting for its significance of a wider outlook and truer appreciation than once-upon-a-time were characteristic of the national custodians of artistic taste.

Artists are generally regarded as very irritable folk, whom to ask for the slightest favour would be provoking a refusal. We believe that this is one of those many popular delusions which the unknowing public love to cherish, under the mistaken impression that nobody can be a genius and retain a disposition of amiability. So far as Mr. Dicksee is concerned, the popular generalisation is certainly quite inapplicable, for he is never so happy as when he is able to give some aid -- be it even the most elementary suggestion -- to his fellow-artists of less experience. Indeed, any ambitious young etcher who desires advice in an art that is not mastered in a day is sure of receiving from Mr. Dicksee assistance that is all the more stimulating because gladly given. It is Mr. Dicksee's willingness in this respect, that has enabled him to achieve signal popularity at the City of London School, where he occupies the congenial position of Art Master.

It is characteristic of our subject that he would not rest content unless he could live in a house of his own designing. Such is the case with the house which he occupies on the borders of Hampstead Heath, within a stone's throw of Finchley Road, and in the heart of a territory sacred to the Muses. Mr. Dicksee's house was built some eight or nine years ago and reveals distinct traces of the Voysey influence. Architecturally it is a triangular structure: aesthetically it is beautifully situated and the ideal home of an artist.

Like many English artists, Mr. Dicksee has been a member of the Langham Sketching Club. He attended its weekly meetings regularly for about twelve years, but as time went on he found that after a hard day's work the extra two hours drawing in a hot room told upon him, and left him rather fatigued the following morning. In another direction he has evinced an esprit de corps, as he was a member for eleven years of the Artists' Volunteer Corps. The colonel under whose command he served was the late Lord Leighton, the major being the late Mr. Val Prinsep. Mr. Dicksee, however, had no military ambition and did not attain to any higher rank than that of a modest lance-corporal. Mr. Dicksee's achievements in his own artistic domain are already great for a man in the early forties, and his past performances give promise of yet more valuable and enduring work.


Portrait by John Robert Dicksee
(1888 - d.)
Herbert Dicksee's sister

These children were presently sent to school, and drawing was in some danger of being pushed aside by the less congenial taskwork which their parents and teachers considered more important; for the former, being a matter-of-fact business people, did not attach importance to the recreations of their children. The bias, however, was too strong to be crushed by unfavourable conditions; and the youngsters used to be up and hard at work at abnormally early hours in order to pursue their favourite occupation.

Juvenile education did not take up so much time the as now; perhaps the assimilation of learning was expedited by a more liberal use of the birch than modern sentiment allows; perhaps there was so much less complexity in life, that a boy did not need as large an outfit before taking his plunge into commercial life in the days before modern science rendered it possible to make paper from pipe-clay, boots of paper, and substituted chemical devices for honest ingredients in the making of beer, bread, wine, butter, and other staple commodities.

The exhibition record of the Dicksee family is a remarkable and probably unrivaled one. T. F. Dicksee, his son, daughter, brother and nephew, since 1841, have shown 242 pictures at the Royal Academy alone, in addition to 100 at other London exhibitions. The latter number is probably below the mark, as it was taken from the Dictionary of Mr. Graves, which ends at the year 1893.

Webmaster note: The Dicksee Family of Painters is a long and convoluted journey through many conflicting sources, contradictory, mutually opposed or inconsistent information; this contributor asks readers to grant pardon for or remission of unsubstantiated, unverified or disputable account content.
With that said, "I do believe 'it be time to pop a cork' ". Whew!

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