Object of the Month: September 2014
Oil on canvas
Frederic James Shields, A.R.W.S.
Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.
Frederic James Shields, the creator of this work, was one of many provincial artists to embrace the tenets of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Like many artistic movements, the Brotherhood began with a small group of youthful idealists decrying the conventions of their day. The founding members, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt were a diverse set of friends with one thing in common—a genuine admiration for “the immaculate purity of Pre-Renaissance art” (K. E. Sullivan). This passion, coupled with their growing disdain for London’s Royal Academy, motivated these young painters to set down four principles to govern their work. These principles (or “declarations” as the young men labeled them) were:
- To have genuine ideas to express;
- To study Nature attentively;
- To sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and
- Most indispensible of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.
Time would mellow some of the Brotherhood’s youthful disdain (Millais later became President of the Royal Academy). More importantly, it would refine and extend the Pre-Raphaelite vision.
The famed Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition (1857) “awakened” the Victorian public to a wide range of artistic venues including Pre-Raphaelite art. It was at this exhibition that Frederic James Shields first encountered the meticulously executed, vibrantly colored canvases of Rossetti, Millais, and Hunt. Shields later studied with Rossetti, and the two became life-long friends. However, the rich detail and typological symbolism in works like Patience reveals that Shields’ artistic technique and iconography are more in tune with William Holman Hunt’s oeuvre. A comparison of the topological symbolism in Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd with Shields’ commentary on Patience illustrates some of the fascinating similarities between these two artists’ approach to subject and technique:
Set upon a sundial, her ankle chained thereto, her motions circumscribed with its time-measuring limit, stands Patience. Wings has she like a dove’s, but not till God shall loose her chain shall she fly away and be at rest. Meanwhile she waits, crowned with thorns, with eyelids dropped as seeing things invisible, and lips, firm closed, like unto the Lamb of God, who brought to the slaughter, opened not His mouth. Her once green garment is faded, stained and tattered with storm and wrack, and she is environed by sharp thorns and thistles, the thorns bearing still some lingering withered leaves of the past winter, and putting forth fresh green shoots (new woes fast on the heels of the old ones, and the thistle seeding to multiply yet more). She keeps pressed to her bosom the word of Christ’s patience, and bears His yoke, its noose around her neck. Moreover, she carries a basketful of seed corn, and from her girded loins hangs a sickle (Frederic James Shields).
Donnalynn Hess. Director of Education
Published in 2014