Harrogate’s biggest blockbuster exhibition for years not only boasts a £12 million painting, it’s already been graced by a visit from a genuine descendant of Queen Victoria’s favourite painter.
Launched at Mercer Art Gallery, the ‘William Powell Frith: The People’s Painter’ exhibition saw a visit by Patricia Panton, the 19th century Harrogate artist’s great, great granddaughter.
After viewing some of Frith’s most famous works, Panton said: “Frith’s daughter, Jane Ellen or ‘Cissy’ was my great grandmother but she unfortunately died before I was born.
“Nevertheless my Aunt Isabelle knew her, living with her for a time as a child and I was very close to my grandmother, Cissy’s daughter, so I enjoyed hearing lots of stories about Frith, his work and his approach to his paintings while I was growing up.”
Marking the bicentenary of Frith’s birth, the exhibition, which runs until Septemenbr 29, draws together over 70 paintings and prints from major national collections, including Tate Britain, the Royal Academy, HM The Queen, the V&A and the Mercer Art Gallery’s own collection.
A successful opera director in her own right and now based in Monte Carlo, Patricia credits Frith’s skill in painting his huge panoramas – which depicted in fine detail the social realities of his contemporary class-bound Victorian society, as the inspiration behind her love of directing opera crowd scenes.
The VIP visitor was also able to offer some unique insight into one of Frith’s most iconic paintings, The Private View at the Royal Academy 1881.
She said: “The gentleman who commissioned this painting was most unsure about Oscar Wilde being in the finished painting and asked Frith to paint him out, as he had a very mixed reputation at that time but Frith persuaded him to keep him in.”
The exhibition’s curator, Jane Sellars MBE, said the publically-owned Mercer Art Gallery had once again punched above its weight.
She said: ‘It’s a very exciting show. We have a great reputation for bringing historic and contemporary art together at the Mercer and this show is no exception.”