Until he settled in London in 1876, Frederic Shields was a Manchester-based artist and illustrator whose artistic direction had been determined when he saw the work of the Pre-Raphaelites at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition in 1857. Modern taste tends to prefer his early watercolours, which often betray a tender social conscience, and the illustrations which, like so many artists at this period, he made in the 1860s. His designs for Defoe's History of the Plague (1863) and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1864) are undoubtedly his masterpieces in this field. Less attractive are his later religious works, in which a somewhat fanatical temperament is uneasily expressed in terms of a style based on Blake and Rossetti, who was one of his closest friends. Few tears have been shed over the wartime destruction of the cycle of murals in the Chapel of the Ascension, Bayswater, to which he devoted the last twenty years of his life.
The present drawing has not been connected with a painting or mural by Shields, and may indeed be an independent study, comparable to the one sold in these Rooms on 28 November 2000, lot 65 (£16,450). 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, not content with one Eliza Doolittle on his hands, he 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.
A number of studies of this kind were included in Shields' memorial exhibition at the Alpine Club Gallery, London, in 1911. Although the descriptions are too brief for certainty, our example may well have been one of them.