Stephens on Dicksee
Frank Dicksee’s biography is the shortest of Stephens’s texts (p. 42), perhaps because the artist is one of the youngest of the group. Though it contains a few references to Dicksee’s work, most of the text is focused on his familial ties—mainly to his father, T. F. Dicksee (1819-1895), who was a well-known genre, historical, and portrait artist. The biography is straightforward, noting Dicksee’s successes, his admission to the Royal Academy in 1871, his attainment of several medals, and the public attention he received early in his career, beginning with Elijah confronting Ahab and Jezebel in Naboth’s Valley.
The sketch lacks any personal opinions from Stephens himself and remains unbiased throughout. While Stephens pays attention to Dicksee’s accolades, he makes no effort to evaluate his skill. He does note one of Dicksee’s greatest early successes--the purchase of Harmony by the Council of the Royal Academy and its subsequent etching by Charles Albert Waltner—but otherwise we must conclude that because Dicksee was still a young artist whose career had only just begun, Stephens found little to write about. The only hint of reproof is Stephens’s reference to one of Dicksee’s illustrations, The Wise and Foolish Virgins, as “unusually large.”
The biography ends with Dicksee’s election as an A.R.A. in March 1881, along with four other artists (including another of the Artists at Home sitters, Hamo Thornycroft). “This five-fold election,” Stephens observes, “is supposed to have been an unprecedented event.” His use of the word “supposed” implies skepticism, but the concluding sentence is more likely to be the cause of his disbelief that Dicksee has legitimately earned the honor: “Our subject,” Stephens concludes, “had contributed only five pictures to the Academy.”