F. Dicksee, Romeo and Juliet, 1884, Southampton City Art Gallery.


F. Dicksee, photogravure of an illustration for Cassell's Romeo and Juliet, 1884.

Frank Dicksee’s studio portrait was taken by Frank Dudman for J. P. Mayall and published in May of 1884. Dicksee was photographed in his home at 2 Fitzroy Square, in an area of London called Fitzrovia.[1]

Dicksee’s Fitzroy Square studio portrait is highly composed and carefully rendered. Perhaps because Dicksee was thirty-one in 1884, one of the youngest of the twenty-five artists represented in Artists at Home, his photograph emphasizes his status as a working artist. The room is filled with artistic paraphernalia—paintbrushes, frames, costumes, and an embossed-leather folding screen--which confirm Dicksee’s dedication to his art. Posed slightly to the right of center, Dicksee is one of the only men in the series who is standing. He holds a mahl stick casually in his right hand as a symbol of his profession. Several of his works are featured, including the large unframed canvas of Romeo and Juliet, which would be exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1884, leaning against the wall in the corner of the room, with either a small study for that painting propped on the mantelpiece, along with an unidentified, framed landscape painting. On his right, on an easel although framed, is Spring Maiden (private collection), which would also be exhibited in 1884, at the Fine Art Society. The combination of completed works and works-in-progress suggests that Dicksee’s work never ends, even when he poses for a photograph.

The studio furnishings—several vases, a Japanese parasol, a suit of armor, and an elaborately upholstered chair—place Dicksee among the followers of aestheticism, who collected objects from foreign lands and distant times. This attention to contemporary trends suggests that Dicksee keeps up with what is in vogue. Dicksee’s abundant objets d’art also represent symbols of success: he can afford to live in lavish surroundings.

In efforts to make the room appear larger, and to give the photograph more depth, Dudman captured one corner of the studio with Dicksee at the center of the composition. The mirror above the mantelpiece further enhances the view of the studio as it reflects the back of Dicksee’s head and the opposite wall. The room is well lit by a window behind the photographer. Dicksee, dressed in a dapper suit, appears studiously serious. His disposition is comfortable, yet expectant. Whether he is waiting for the session to be over or waiting to pose again, or perhaps to finish one of his most recent works, Dicksee projects an air of solemnity. Despite his youth, he appears in the portrait as a thoughtful gentleman dedicated to his work and the beauty of his working space—a man who will do what is necessary to become successful and renowned.

Hilleary Gramling

[1] Giles Walkley, Artists’ Houses in London 1764-1914 (Aldershot, Hants, England; Brookfield, VT: Scolar Press, 1994), 30.



In the year of Mayall's photograph, Dicksee had just completed twelve designs in grisaille with gouache that would be published in 1884 as illustrations to a lavish edition of Romeo and Juliet (London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.). Dicksee's oil painting of Romeo and Juliet was based on one of those designs, undoubtedly the small picture propped on the mantelpiece; a few of the other eleven pictures are visible in the open portfolio on a stand in front of the Spanish leather screen. The painting itself is propped in the corner of the room and largely obscured by other furnishings; presumably, Dicksee did not want the unfinished work revealed before it was ready for the Royal Academy.

Dicksee produced a sketch after Romeo and Juliet to illustrate the 1884 Academy Notes (pen and ink, 21 cm x 14 cm, or 8 x 5 inches, Southampton City Art Gallery), but it is unlikely to have been completed by September 1883, when the Mayall photograph was made. Later, Dicksee's Romeo and Juliet was reproduced by the engraver Charles Albert Waltner (1846–1925) in a print that helped to popularize the image.


Simon Toll, Frank Dicksee (Woodbridge, Suffolk: ACC Art Books, 2016), p. 60 and catalogue entry FD.1884.1.B.