Shields was a Manchester painter, watercolourist and decorator whose artistic career was determined when he saw the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857. He later became a close friend of both Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown.
His two most substantial commissions were mural decorations for the Chapel of Eaton Hall, Cheshire, and the Chapel of the Ascension, Bayswater Road, for which this striking and rather sensual watercolour was probably executed. The chapel was commissioned by Mrs Russell Gurney, widow of the Recorder of London, and designed by Herbert Horne in 1887 and although construction began in 1890, legal disputes ensured that it was not completed until 1910. Shields chose to decorate the interior with the principal scenes of Christ's Life and visited Italy in 1889 to gather material for the sequence. It was destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War.
We know that, for all his rather crabbed and prickly personality, Shields did respond intensely to female beauty. In 1874, at the age of forty, he married a very pretty but totally uneducated girl of sixteen, and proceeded, in true Victorian fashion, to try and turn her into a young lady. Indeed he also adopted her younger sister, Jessie. According to Ernestine Mills, his biographer, the early death of this 'very lovely girl' was 'a terrible grief' to the artist.
An oil painting by Shields of Mary Magdalene, possibly for the chapel, was sold in these Rooms, 11 June 2002, lot 119.