Boningtons Find Forgotten Frith
A lost work by the renowned Victorian painter William Powell Frith has been uncovered by the picture department at Boningtons Auctioneers. The painting, measuring twenty five square centimetres, will be offered for sale in the firm’s Fine Art sale on 20th June 2012 with an estimate of £800-1200.
The unsigned oil on board was consigned unattributed by its owner who had little idea of its significance. However, the style and subject of the work – an 18th century scene by a 19th century hand – pointed Boningtons’ picture specialist Luke Bodalbhai in the direction of Frith’s oeuvre and to his masterpiece ‘The Rejected Poet’ which he exhibited at the Royal Academy.
The present work, a preparatory oil sketch for the final composition, depicts the notable English aristocrat and writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her contemporary, the poet Alexander Pope. Pope had written Lady Montagu a series of extravagant letters throughout her travels in the East as the wife of Edward Wortley Montagu, then the Ambassador of Istanbul. However, she did not reciprocate Pope’s affections and it is said that his eventual declaration of love for her was met with an outburst of laughter – an occasion effectively captured by Frith in the present picture.
The painting was subsequently shown to Frith expert Mark Bills, Curator of the Watts Gallery, who endorsed the attribution to the artist and noted the likelihood that the work was exhibited at the French Gallery winter exhibition of cabinet pictures in 1863.
Several years earlier another preparatory oil by Frith, for his celebrated work ‘Derby Day’, had also been exhibited in London at the French Gallery winter exhibition of 1858-59. Last year that painting was offered at auction and realised over £500,000. Whilst ‘The Rejected Poet’ was not expected to reach such lofty heights, it is certain to attract significant interest when it goes under the hammer on June 20th.