No. 2 Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square, London

In 1884, when Artists at Home was published, Frank Dicksee’s home was at No. 2 Fitzroy Square, the only Georgian Square in central London, in an area called Fitzrovia, in the borough of Camden. Previous occupants of the terraced house include the painters William Dyce (1806–1864) and James Sant (1820–1916), who had lived in Fitzrovia when it was a popular neighborhood for artists; from 1835 to 1885, approximately one dozen newly elected or potential Royal Academicians, as well as such outsiders as Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893), made their marks there. By the time Dicksee settled in Fitzroy Square, however, successful artists had begun to flee to the suburbs. His studio was in a converted coach house characterized by “extra-tall windows.”[1]

Dicksee remained in Fitzrovia until late 1884, when he moved to the more fashionable district of Holland Park, where he was to live for thirteen years. He settled at no. 80 Peel Street, Campden Hill, a house formerly occupied by the landscape painter Matthew Ridley Corbet (1850–1902)[2] C. Lewis Hind described the artist’s studio-house in The Art Journal:

Mr. Dicksee’s studio dominates the whole of his dwelling. . . . Situated on the first floor, it is bounded on either side by the outer walls, save where the staircase winds down to the front door. A workroom of a good size, with examples of old tapestry on the walls, a cast of a fragment of the Parthenon frieze at the further end, Oriental lamps hanging from the ceiling, dark wood cabinets, an organ, which is not the organ the rapt maiden played in Harmony and here, there, and everywhere those curios an artists picks up in his wanderings.[3]

This description, which could almost apply to the studio pictured in Artists at Home, is confirmed by Mary Angela Dickens six years later in “A Popular Painter,” published in The Windsor Magazine. She calls Dicksee’s studio “essentially a background and a workshop, and a man’s workshop,” echoing Hind’s observation that “there is about it a suggestion of bachelor comfort”: 

There are the ordinary simple provisions for comfort in the shape of armchairs—since even the most industrious worker must relax at times, and visitors have to be taken into consideration. But these details modestly fulfill to perfection the requirements made of them and otherwise produce no noticeable effect. The tone of the colouring is very quiet—as befits a background—and it is very rich, for you get an impression that the walls are hung with beautiful dull tapestry. It is lighted up here and there by bits of burnished steel: conspicuously by a full suit of armour from which that note of gleaming light, repeated again and again, seems to radiate.

(That suit of armor, which stands just behind Dicksee in Mayall’s photograph, must have moved with the artist from Fitzroy Square.) Dickens goes on to postulate that in such a studio, “any amount of fancies might form themselves”: “Here no such dream forming itself in the imagination, would find itself either rudely dissipated or crowded out. And here, day after day, Mr. Dicksee’s work is done.” [4]

 Hilleary Gramling

 

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

[2] Ibid., 70-71.

[3] C. Lewis Hind, “Painters’ Studios,” The Art Journal 52 (1890):136.

[4]. Mary Angela Dickens, "A Popular Painter: Mr. Frank Dicksee, R.A.," The Windsor Magazine 5 (December 1896): 385-91, Proquest.

Note

On September 14, 1883, Frank Dudman registered the photograph "of Mr J Dicksea [sic] A F A, & interior of his studio at 2 Fitzroy Square, London," from which the photogravure for Artists at Home appears to have been made: the sitter is described as "Standing by Mantel Piece." Ten days later, Dudman registered a second image, also produced at the artist's studio "at 2 Fitzroy Square W.," in which Dicksee is posed "seated in arm chair, palette in hand" (Public Records, The National Archives, Kew, COPY 1/365/269 and 270). Although the photographer misspelled the sitter's name on both applications, he is unlikely to have twice misstated the address, so we can be fairly confident that the image published in Artists at Home documents Dicksee's final days at No. 2 Fitzroy Square. Soon afterward, he leased Peel Cottage, a house and studio on Campden Hill, from the landscapist Matthew Ridley Corbet, who had commissioned the house from Richard Norman Shaw in the late 1870s. 

Dicksee's family had settled at 2 Fitzroy Square in 1869, when the artist, then sixteen, had just left school. A decade earlier, the artist William Dyce had made a studio of the coach-house, but otherwise the elegant house remained much as Robert Adam has designed it. Thomas Francis Dicksee, the artist's father, gave painting lessons to Frank and his sister Minnie in his coach-house studio, but it soon became necessary to create a studio for them to share in one of the first-floor reception rooms. In 1870, Dicksee was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools, where he was taught by John Everett Millais and Frederic Leighton, among other distinguished Victorians; Hamo Thornycroft was among Dicksee's classmates. While still a student, Dicksee launched his career as an illustrator, often setting scenes in the interiors of his family's residence, and even as he gained popular acclaim and financial success he remained at home, working in a part of a makeshift studio he shared with this sister. This may account for the rather haphazard arrangement of furnishings and easels in Dudman's photograph, and for the fact that the studio looks like a drawing room cluttered with artistic paraphernalia. The photographer may have been hurriedly arranged the scene to present an impression of Dicksee, regardless of his youth, as a man in possession of a studio of his own.

–LM

Simon Toll, Frank Dicksee (Woodbridge, Suffolk: ACC Art Books, 2016), 17–59 passim. Toll's authoritative discussion of Dicksee in these years places the Mayall photograph in Campden Hill.

FRANK DICKSEE, A.R.A.
No. 2 Fitzroy Square