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George Elgar Hicks

  • George Elgar Hicks - Billingsgate Fish Market
    George Elgar Hicks Billingsgate Fish Market Full details

    BM 189

     

    GEORGE ELGAR HICKS RBA

    Lymington 1824 - 1914 Odiham

     

    Billingsgate Fish Market

     

    Signed and dated lower right: G.E. Hicks 1861

    Oil on panel: 9 ¾ x 16 ⅞ in / 24.8 x 42.9 cm

    Frame size: 14 ¾ x 21 ¾ in / 37.5 x 55.2 cm

     

    Provenance:

    Purchased from the artist by William Vokins, London in 1861

    E.W. Radcliffe, 123 Pall Mall, by 1866

    Sale Sotheby’s London, 22nd February 1972, lot 51

    Richard Green, London

    Lady Isabel Throckmorton

    The Guinness Trusts and Collections

     

     

    Literature:

    Rosamond Allwood, George Elgar Hicks – Painter of Victorian Life, exhibition catalogue, Geffrye Museum, London and Southampton Art Gallery, 1983, p. 27, illustrated p. 28, no. 23a

     

     

    This extraordinary work is a highly detailed sketch for a larger version of Billingsgate Fish Market (oil on canvas: 68.6 x 124.5 cm), exhibited at the Royal Academy of 1861 and presented to the Fishmongers’ Company in 1975 by Rear-Admiral the Earl Cairns, GCVO, CB, DL.

     

    Billingsgate Fish Market was one in a sequence of Royal Academy successes for George Elgar Hicks, which saw his rise to fame as a Victorian painter of modern life subjects. These meticulous, panoramic London scenes began with Dividend Day at the Bank of England, 1859 (Bank of England), The General Post Office, One minute to Six, 1860 (Museum of London), Billingsgate Fish Market, 1861, Changing Homes, 1862 (The Geffrye Museum) and later, An Infant Orphan Election at the London Tavern ‘Polling’, 1865 (Museum of London). Hicks often chose to represent unusual events in contemporary urban life and it is thought that no other Victorian painter depicted this unique and vibrant subject. The painting’s importance as a historical record was noted in reviews at the time, for example in the Athenaeum: ‘Mr G.E. Hicks hit upon a good idea when he resolved to paint for us the scenes which take place at some well-known places of business in the City of London…Such pictures, even if less well painted than these really are, will be interesting for the future time, and therefore we shall be thankful to get them as creditably executed as this one is.’[1]

     

    In her important exhibition catalogue on the artist’s work, Rosamond Allwood suggests that Billingsgate Fish Market may have been inspired by a description in Twice Round the Clock by G.A. Sala, 1858, and documents the Fish Market after its improvement in the late 1840s, when ‘the old devious, narrow, and half-sheltered passages’ were replaced ‘by a series of arches admirably lighted’.[2] ‘A new river front was built from the design of Mr Bunning, with an Italian façade. This was finished around 1850’.[3] A new market designed by the City Architect, Sir Horace Jones was built by John Mowlem during the 1870s and was used until 1982, when the market relocated to new premises in London’s Docklands.[4]

     

    Allwood proposes the painting depicts the Market in full swing at about 6am and quotes contemporary sources, such as H. Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, that document the event and its main protagonists: ‘The market opens at four, but for the first two or three hours, it is attended solely by the regular fishmongers and “bummarees” who have the pick of the best there. As soon as these have gone, the costers’ (ie. street sellers with barrows) sale begins…The wooden barn-looking square where the fish is sold, is soon after six o’clock crowded with shiny cord jackets and greasy caps. Everyone comes to Billingsgate in his worst clothes, and nobody knows the length of time a coat can be worn until they have been to a fish sale. Through the bright opening at the end are seen the tangled rigging of oyster boats and the red worsted caps of the sailors. Over the hum of voices is heard the shouts of the salesmen, who, with their white aprons, peering above the heads of the mob, stand on their tables, roaring out their prices...Boys in ragged clothes, who have slept during the night under a railway-arch, clamour for employment.’[5]

     

    ‘The men carrying baskets of fish on their heads were the ‘fellow-ships porters’, who had ‘the sole privilege of landing the fish from the vessels,…they are the veritable Caryatides of the commerce of Billingsgate.’[6] ‘Each porter wore ‘a kind of tarpaulin hat, which fits close to his skull, boasting a brim of some nine inches in width at the rear, and which curls up at the edges to catch and retain the moisture which would else flow down his back from his dripping burden. His outer garment is a whitish hybrid surtout, half jacket, half smock-frock, reaching down to the middle of the thigh; it is open at the breast, and displays a voluminous neckerchief, tied in a double knot, the long ends fluttering jauntily in the breeze. His trousers are of any material you like to imagine, as imagination alone can penetrate the coating of mud which is all that is visible to the eye…’[7]

     

                          

    Dividend Day at the Bank of England, 1859               Dividend Day at the Bank of England, 1859 (sketch)

    Oil on canvas: 90 x 135 cm                                Oil on canvas: 34 x 52 cm

    Bank of England Museum                                 Bank of England Museum

     

    The General Post Office, One minute to Six, 1860

    Oil on canvas: 108 x 153.7 cm

    Museum of London

     

                          

    Changing Homes, 1862                                          An Infant Orphan Election at the London Tavern ‘Polling’, 1865

    Oil on canvas: 89 x 150 cm                                Oil on canvas: 46.7 x 61.7 cm

    The Geffrye Museum of the Home                    Museum of London

     

     

    GEORGE ELGAR HICKS RBA

    Lymington 1824 - 1914 Odiham

     

    George Elgar Hicks painted a variety of subjects including religious scenes, landscapes and his preferred form of genre scenes.  His most famous works were his extraordinarily detailed portrayals of Victorian life which are reminiscent of the great Victorian novelists Charles Dickens and George Augustus Sala in their narrative intensity and documentary power. Perhaps the best known of these images are General Post Office, one minute to six, Billingsgate Fish Market, Woman's Mission, Changing Homes and Before the magistrates.  Late in life Hicks developed his skill as a portraitist.

     

    The Athenaeum commented upon the significance Hicks’s views of Victorian life would hold for future generations: ‘Mr G E Hicks hit upon a good idea when he resolved to paint for us the scenes which take place at some of the well-known places of business of the City of London...Such pictures, even less well painted than these really are, will be interesting for the future time, and therefore we shall be thankful to get them as creditably executed as [those of Hicks are.]’

     

    Hicks studied for a medical degree at University College, London, before becoming an artist.  He studied at Sass’s Academy and the Royal Academy Schools, which he entered in 1844.  He won a Silver medal for his studies from the Antique.  He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1848, though many of his works reached their greatest fame through their exhibition at private galleries which gained enormous prestige in the mid-nineteenth century art world, in particular Henry Wallis’ French Gallery.  The vast dissemination of these compelling images in the form of prints engraved for the print dealer Louis Victor Flatow, ensured the enormous and enduring popularity of the artist.

     

    He married Maria Harriss in 1847 and the marriage produced six children, Georgina, Edward, Frederick, Mary, Rosa Gordon and Annie.  Several of these children died in childhood and Hicks lost his wife Maria in 1880.  He remarried in 1884 to Anne Ross.  He lived most of his life in London and Hampshire.

     

    The work of George Elgar Hicks is represented in the following public collections: Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool; Bristol Museum & Art Gallery; the Manchester City Art Gallery; National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Southampton City Art Gallery; The Atkinson Gallery, Southport; World Rugby Museum, Twickenham Stadium; Ulster Museum, National Museums Northern Ireland; the Bank of England Museum; Imperial College Heathcare, St Mary’s Hospital; the Geffrye Museum; the Museum of London and Tate Britain, London.

     

    [1] Athenaeum, 25th May 1861, p. 699, cited in Rosamond Allwood, op. cit., p. 11.

    [2] ‘The Morning Peep at Billingsgate’, The Leisure Hour, 20th May 1852, p. 324. Cited in Rosamond Allwood, op.cit., p. 27.

    [3] ‘The History of Billingsgate’, The Fish Trades Gazette, 20th March 1915, p. 65. Cited in Rosamond Allwood, op.cit., p. 27

    [4] Rosamund Allgood, op.cit., p. 27. ‘History of Billingsgate’, www.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

    [5] H. Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 1864, vol. I, p. 68. Cited in op. cit.

    [6] Rosamund Allwood, op. cit, citing The Leisure Hour, op. cit., p. 322.

    [7] Rosamund Allwood, op. cit, citing The Leisure Hour, op. cit., p. 322.

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