Frank Dicksee studied with his father Thomas Francis Dicksee and then at the Royal Academy Schools in London where he was taught by Frederic Leighton and John Everett Millais. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1881, an academician in 1891, and president in 1924.
Dicksee began to achieve official success in the late 1870s when Harmony, his Pre-Raphaelite-inspired picture of a young man gazing adoringly into the eyes of a girl playing the organ, was purchased by the Chantrey Bequest (Tate Gallery).
While Dicksee’s artistic production embraced a variety of different subjects, including contemporary ‘domestic dramas’ in the style of William Quiller Orchardson, and elegant society portraits, he is perhaps best known for his romantic, medievalising pictures which continued the figurative tradition of late Pre-Raphaelitism well into the Edwardian era.
The Art Gallery of NSW’s watercolour Hesperia is a later and smaller-scale reworking of Dicksee’s oil painting of the same title exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887 (now in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston).
At exactly the same date, the painting was given a mixed review by Claude Phillips in The Academy: ‘Mr Frank Dicksee’s idealised portrait “Hesperia” may also take its place here, for it partakes to a great extent of the nature of a decoration. A beautiful woman of heroic life-size stands fronting the spectator, robed in splendid Venetian brocade of varying shades of crimson, and holding in her hand a branch bearing the golden fruit which has suggested the name for the picture. The work, like most of the young painter’s productions, shows unerring skill of draughtsmanship and the most strenuous effort to attain brilliancy and charm of colour. If it is not the work of a born colourist, and lacks to some extent strength, vibration, and real decorative effect, it attains a fair measure of richness and harmony, and thus far justifies its existence; but if we look beyond, we are struck by a pervading emptiness and lack of real sincerity of feeling…’
Adapted from Victorian watercolours, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 2017