This picture is one of a pair of Hogarthian pendants - the other entitled Fear - which Frith exhibited in one frame at the Royal Academy of 1882. Sadly the whereabouts of Fear is unknown, but two smaller versions of the subjects were recently sold at Christie's London in the sale of the Forbes Collection, 19 and February 2003, lot 99 (£33,460).
The pictures were well received when exhibited. The Art Journal commented: 'Mr Frith depicts in two compartments within one frame, according to his accustomed point, a domestic crisis under the suggestive title 'Hope and Fear'. In the first scene a young gentleman sustains, as best he can, an interview with the father of a girl to whose affections he aspires. His position, we fear, is not secure; he may wish to wait awhile. In the second frame we behold a contemporaneous incident: the young lady herself, deeply moved, seeking consolation of her mother. On both sides it is a moment of painful suspense. As regards the Art brought to bear upon the incidents, little remains to be said: we are always sure of cleverness when we encounter Mr. Frith'.
The Illustrated London News wrote: 'We are glad to welcome Mr. Frith again as a painter of human life in contemporary guise in his very skilfully and daintily executed 'Hope and Fear' - two pictures in one frame, representing scenes in 'A Drama of the Affections' being enacted simultaneously in the library and drawing-room of a house, whose appointments indicate that the circumstances of the owner are such as to enable him to gratify learned and refined taste. In the former a prepossessing young gentleman is earnestly, yet without loss of self respect, proposing to papa, who sits in dressing-gown and slippers, and has the air of a beneficed clergyman, for the hand of his daughter: but papa looks askant, dubiously revolving his objections; meanwhile in the latter, the daughter, aware of what is passing in the next room, and conscious of some reason in the juvenility, prospects, pale and anxious, in mamma's plump and sympathetic bosom. The happiest touch of the picture is the look of irrepressible pride in the maternal face, mingling with something of confidence, which assures us that all will end well. Mr Frith's success in the treatment of a subject whereof every spectator must needs be fastidiously critical is not unworthy of his unrivalled reputation as a painter of familiar life'.
Frith's singular genius was to choose subjects with which the broadest number of visitors to the Royal Academy could empathise, and then depict subtle characterisation in the faces of each protagonist. With Queen Victoria amongst his staunchest admirers, his popularity amongst the picture-viewing public was assured.
We are grateful to Ruth Wood, author of a forthcoming monograph on William Powell Frith, for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.