Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Venetia 1900c.

Samuel Luke Fildes 

Portrait of Venetia, Samuel Luke Fildes
Oil on canvas
20th Century
18 1/2 x 15 inches 47 x 38.1 cm
The artist''s studio sale Christie''s 24th June 1927 (lot 27) ''Venetta''
This beautiful portrait spans two of the genres for which Fildes had become celebrated by the turn of the twentieth century. Although a portrait the likeness reputedly based on one of the artist''s daughters it also recalls the genre scenes, often of Venetian subjects, that the painter produced in the manner of Eugene de Blaas, or of his brother-in-law Henry Woods. Whilst unquestionably the likeness of a living person, and recognizable as such to those that knew them, it also has a more timeless and universal in representing a mood or sentiment. It is an ideal of a beauty as much a portrait of an individual, and the alternative name by which it is known in the artist's sale catalogue alludes to the specific mood that it personifies. The title Venetta need not be taken as the sitter's name, but perhaps as an allusion to the women in the Venetian subjects for which the artist was so popular, as well as to the deep Venetian blue of her dress. The painter's oeuvre contained a great many head studies of this kind, simultaneously portrait and genre which appealed to the late nineteenth century taste for ideal female images, often with wistful and allusory themes. Where identified the sitters are often members of the artist's family and friends.

Fildes is well-known for the coronation portraits of King Edward VII, painted in 1902, and of King George V painted a decade later. The bombast of these magnificent images, however, is not representative of his manner as a whole, and the sensitivity of the present portrait is far more typical. Fildes came late to painting, and his earliest work is as a graphic illustrator in a pre-Raphaelite manner that appealed to John Everett Millais, and led the later to recommend Fildes as an illustrator for Charles Dickens's last novel Edwin Drood. When Fildes took up painting in the 1870s it was in a vein of Dickensian realism much to the taste of the contemporary public, and one of his first public essays, the large canvas of Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (Royal Holloway College) was rapturously received in 1874. Four years later Fildes was elected ARA and in 1887 was made a member of the Royal Academy.

In 1894 he Fildes was commissioned to paint the portrait of Alexandra of Denmark Princess of Wales, and this simple, direct and dignified representation found immediate favour with the Royal Family and led to subsequent commissions, most notably the state portraits of her husband and son in the following decades. The crowning glory of Fildes's career came in 1906 when he was knighted by Edward VII.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.