The picture is an exceptionally ambitious example of the artist's work, with the added interest that it is still in its original Renaissance-style frame. Those artists who attempted, against all the forces to modernism, to maintain the Pre-Raphaelite tradition well into the twentieth century - sometimes known today, faute de mieux, as 'Last Romantics' - fall into many categories. The Birmingham Group, for instance, saw Pre-Raphaelitism as a living tradition mediated through the Arts and Crafts movement, while Fortescue-Brickdale and Byam Shaw, her close friend and exact contemporary, regarded it as a phenomenon ripe for revival, going back to the early work of Rossetti and Millais and reinterpreting it in a more academic spirit.
Of the various galleries which specialised in the work of these artists, none was more important than the Dowdeswell Galleries at 160 New Bond Street. Fortescue-Brickdale held three one-woman shows there in the 1990s, and Byam Shaw was another of their 'regulars'. Love and his Counterfeits was included in the artist's second show, in June 1905, and illustrates a text, probably written by the artist herself, of which a copy appears on the back. A young girl stands at the doorway of her 'Hearts Castle', watching a procession of figures all of whom represent some bogus form of love. First come Fear, Romance (making her 'in love with being in love') and Ambition; then Position, offering all the good things of life, and Pity, seeking to gain her heart by appealing to her sympathy. Next comes Arts, 'a brave fellow who is but words and emptiness..., painting a wound upon him and singing that it is real', followed by Flattery, with a mirror, and Gratitude, whose aim is to make her feel guilty 'if she does not love one who has been kind'. Finally True Love appears, 'empty-handed, to take and win her Heart's Castle'.
The picture belongs to a well defined convention. Within the previous decade Byam Shaw had twice treated the theme of Love allegorically in terms of a processional composition. Love's Baubles (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1897, followed by Love the Conqueror (private collection), probably the artist's masterpiece, in 1899. Fortescue-Brickdale's admiration for Love's Baubles is clear from a comment quoted by Rex Vicat Cole in The Art and Life of Byam Shaw (1932, p. 70). 'Miss Brickdale adds: "No one can describe how fresh and delightful it looked at the Academy. Most of the subject pictures at that time were a bit dreary, generally very 'aesthetic' or 'arty', and hardly any one of them seemed to be sincere. The picture is painted in an inexperienced manner, for he was still very young (twenty-five), but the drawing is fine and the colour full of joy and fearlessness"'. Nor can she have failed to take note of Love the Conqueror, an enormous canvas which aroused fierce controversy when it was exhibited two years later, the critics outdoing one author in praise or scorn.
Both Fortescue-Brickdale's and Byam Shaw's pictures owe a debt to processional works by older representatives of the Pre-Raphaelite and academic traditions. Burne-Jones's Masque of Cupid, a design inspired by Spenser's Faerie Queene which exists in varying forms, offers a fairly close parallel, while general comparisons can be made with the processional paintings that were such a notable feature of the work of Leighton and Walter Crane. Needless to say, all these in turn look back to such illustrious precedents as the Parthenon friezes and the triumphal processions of Mantegna.
Yet when all is said on the subject of artistic context, it is hard to resist a suspicion that Fortescue-Brickdale's painting contains an element of autobiography. Beneath the romantic and literary trappings lies a shrewd awareness of human nature which may well reflect the artist's own experience. She was, after all, thirty-two when the picture was painted, old enough to have suffered many amorous disappointments and perhaps to wonder if she would ever meet 'True Love'. She certainly never married.