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Frederic James Shields (1833-1911)

Frederic James Shields (1833-1911) The Fairy Tale signed and dated 'F. Shields/1901' and inscribed on the original frame in the artist's hand 'Joseph Constantine Esq./23 Oxford St./Manchester'; oil on canvas 14¾ x 10in. (37.5 x 25.5cm.)
Given by the artist to Joseph Constantine
Manchester, City Art Gallery, The Collected Works of Frederic J. Shields, 1907, no.56

Lot Essay

The picture is sold with a letter from Shields to his fellow Mancunian Joseph Constantine, dated 20 April 1902. 'I take the opportunity,' he writes, 'of sending off to you a little domestic picture of a kind I have ceased to do - but still find pleasure in as a relief from more strenuous subjects. I think this pleasure is apparent in the subject ... a young mother telling her child such a story as Blue Beard or Little Red Hood [sic], that curdles the tender hearer's blood, & makes her knit her little fist, & clench her mother's arm with fearful interest, ere she is tucked into the little bed that waits for her up the sunset lit staircase. I had you in my mind ever since you mentioned your desire to have a work of mine, and have lately finished this - not necessarily for you - save as you like it & as the price of it is agreeable to your own mind's expectation - fifty guineas. What I desire above all is that you shall feel no compulsion on you to purchase this picture - and if it is more than you wished to expend, let me know candidly, and then I will ask you kindly to send it to another friend in Manchester for disposal. Money must never come between me and friendship [as] ancient as yours.'

Constantine evidently fell for this amusing combination of delicacy and hard-nosed salesmanship, purchasing the picture and lending it to Shields' retrospective exhibition at the Manchester City Art Gallery in 1907. Unfortunately nothing more has yet been discovered about this patron. He does not appear in Ernestine Mills' Life and Letters of Frederic Shields (1912), nor does he seem to have given or left pictures to the Manchester Art Gallery, which has benefited so notably from the munificence of local collectors.

Shields' remark that the picture was 'a relief from more strenuous subjects' refers to the cycle of murals which he painted in the Chapel of the Ascension in the Bayswater Road, London, in the later part of his career, the progress of which was currently bogged down in a tiresome legal dispute. The paintings were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.


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