Painter of Victorian Life

F.M.L. Thompson looks at the public reception of the artist George Elgar Hicks.

In the teeth of uniformly bad notices from the art critics, George Elgar Hicks enjoyed half a dozen years of immense popularity in the 1860s, the crowds pressing to look at his paintings greatly outnumbering the figures in the 'crush scenes' they had come to see. He then moved on to the less populated but more remunerative world of society portraiture, before becoming almost as completely forgotten as most of his sitters, consigned to the limbo which the Lytton Strachey generation fashioned for their smug Victorian parents. With the revival of interest in Victorian art, Hicks is due for the rediscovery which the excellently mounted exhibition at the Geffrye Museum, London, makes such a pleasant possibility. His paintings may not draw the crowds quite as they did at their first showings, but with the vogue for recapturing the flavour of the past through contemporary pictures they will surely be popular, and deservedly so. The question is, however, just what flavour is there to be recaptured from his scenes of London life: is it plain or milk, with nuts or without, bitter or sweet?

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