Week one of the residency. My red Renault is hidden behind the green bush in the middle of the above location shot. I’m working in an office on the ground floor at the right hand side of the building, but I’ve got access to the Nineteenth Century riches of the whole place, a bounty that feeds my postmodern tastes, big-time.

In the end, this website will take a chronological approach to Patrick Allan-Fraser’s life. But, for the moment, I’ll just be grabbing what I can. And what I have easy access to is the self-portraits of artists that used to belong to the Clique (they’re hanging in the gallery which is the grand space to the left of the central tower in the above photo) and the correspondence from those artists (each individual letter wrapped in white tissue). Together, I’m hoping they will throw light on the commissioning process and more. I mean I’m hoping that by the time I’m finished this page, these paintings will be dripping with meaning, flaming with significance.

The series starts with a self-portrait by Patrick Allan-Fraser which was painted in 1849 and hung in the Dining Room (the Gallery being built at the time). At least that’s what
The Book of Hospitalfield states, a volume that in 1894, shortly after Patrick’s death, was commissioned by Hospitalfield Trustees. The book was edited by George Hay and published in an edition of just 14 copies, of which number 9 is in the library here. Which is where I read it, though I never can spend time there without regretting the loss of the First Folio that was sold in the Twentieth Century. I wonder how much cash they got for a copy of the best book ever. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough.

I thought about extracting the left panel of PAF’s triptych, to focus on that as a self-portrait with palette, brush and some kind of frame (I don’t mean the glorious carved wooden frame that surrounds the whole). But it’s obvious that the context in which Patrick chose to present himself is with his wife and his mother-in-law.

Triptych, Patrick Allan-Fraser, 1849. Hospitalfield

The scheme - Elizabeth senior in the middle - must have been so conceived from the beginning, given the way each figure is looking: Patrick and Elizabeth towards each other, the parent - one rich old lady - gazing straight ahead. At the time of painting, she had just two years to live. After that, her English property was inherited by Patrick and Elizabeth. I’m not sure what Patrick called the picture. ‘
Two’s a marriage settlement, three’s an investment’? Possibly not, as Patrick and Elizabeth’s marriage seems to have been a genuine match.

So when did Patrick float the self-portrait scheme to his old friends of the Clique? I’m not sure exactly, presumably once the Gallery was finished by 1850 and Patrick realised he couldn't come close to filling it with the rather dull copies he’d made of Old Masters in Rome and Paris. But in June 1852, William Powell Frith wrote to Patrick as follows:

‘My Dear Allan,
I take great shame to myself for not having replied at once to your kind note, the receipt of which gave me very great pleasure. Not so much because I have a commission out of it, as because it proves the gratifying humour in which you seem to remember your old friends. Pray accept my best thanks for your kind recollection of me. I [illegible] not say how happy I should be to do my best for you, and I think you will not be disappointed when I tell you that it will be some time before I can execute your commission in consequence of numbers of prior engagements and you will not blame me if I cannot break through my rule of painting
first for those who came first even in favour of so old a friend as yourself. I hope, however, you will allow your commission to stand over for the present, and before very long I hope to be able to offer you something. Always dear Allan, faithfully yours,
WP Frith.’

Below is a painting that would have fitted the bill. A self-portrait, but evidently commissioned by someone else. (In fact, it’s the painting that was presented as Frith’s diploma work to the Royal Academy on the occasion of his election in 1853, and is still owned by the RA.) William Powell Frith stands confident, alert in his London studio. A model sits asleep, her condition underlined by a mannequin lying spreadeagled on the bed behind her. Masterly Frith, ignoring his model’s slackened posture, paints on...

The Sleepy Model, WP Frith, 1853. Royal Academy

At this stage in my investigation I’m not that keen on the bold, possibly arrogant and misogynist WP Frith. Let me put it this way:

Frith: “Just imagine you’re holding my balls.”
Model: “I am imagining I’m holding your balls, having torn them from your scrotum.”
Frith: “But why my dear?”
Model: “Because you don’t seem to understand why I’m exhausted. ‘The sleepy model’, indeed! - that’s just so patronising. ‘The overworked servant’ would be closer to the mark.”

I wonder if I’ll get away with the beginning of that. I suspect such a modern perspective may jar, but let it stand for the moment. Meantime, Frith will emerge more clearly as the years roll on.

It seems the other members of the Clique were equally slow off the blocks. The first painting didn’t arrive in Arbroath until 1855 and that was painted by Thomas Brooks, a fringe member of the group. Below is how he broke the news to Patrick. (Don’t worry, I’ll transcribe this page, further below. Where you may find that the carping content undermines the assured aesthetic.)

Letter from Thomas Brookes to Patrick Allan Fraser, 1855. Courtesy of the Hospitalfield Archive.

’24 Campden Grove,
May 9, 1855

My dear Sir,
I believe Phillip told you when in Scotland the other day that I had finished the picture you commissioned me to paint, and that it had been sent to the Royal Academy. To my great astonishment and anger they have not had the civility to hang it, I shall therefore...’

The letter goes on to say that as a result of its rejection by the RA, the picture can be sent north anytime. The artist then laments at length the hanging committee at the RA, so much so that he runs out of space on what is a single sheet of paper folded once to give four ‘pages’. So, as you see above, Brooks had to finish off writing at right angles over his first page:

‘If you will kindly send me a few lines saying how you will [illegible] to be forwarded I shall feel obliged - it is probable I shall go into Yorkshire to the [illegible] for a few weeks to paint a picture or two, should you come to town before then I shall be most happy to see you.’

What did Patrick think of the picture? I don’t know. But he paid £100 for it, which is £10,000 in today’s prices - so he must have been content. Actually, I think he would have liked the theme of a mature man facilitating/overseeing/tolerating creativity in the next generation. In just the same way, Patrick Allan Fraser might be peeping down from above at the six young(ish) artists in residence at Hospitalfield in June of 2013.

Mischief in the Studio, Thomas Brooks, 1855. Hospitalfield.

What’s not immediately obvious and is only slightly clearer on the original picture which is hung in rather a dark corner of the Gallery at Hospitalfield, is that there is another person in the room, top left of the painting. She is wearing a turquoise shawl and a red skirt. A professional model, hired by the hour? The children’s mother? If so she’s been given a distinctly marginal role. In any case, the self-portrait would seem to be a family portrait, as is Patrick Allan-Fraser’s own.

In August 1856, Brooks wrote that he had heard that John Phillip and WP Frith would start their pictures soon. Patrick must have replied to this point, because in September Brooks wrote again:

‘I am sorry to hear that you have not yet received any more of your pictures, as you say this is really too bad – the fellows deserve a good lecture. I told Egg yesterday that you talked of being in town in October, he says he will have his picture ready.’

Augustus Egg was the next to make a picture for Patrick, but not until two years later. Egg was closely connected with Charles Dickens through the Guild of Literature and Art, a philanthropic organisation they set up to provide welfare payments to struggling artists and writers. Patrick Allan Fraser expressed interest in this and was considering donating Hawkesbury Hall to the Guild, a property he and Elizabeth had inherited when Elizabeth senior died in 1851. Charles Dickens wrote four letters to PAF on the subject, which I’m delighted to say are still here at Hospitalfield, but I’ll save that treasure for another page. Augustus Egg acted the lead in Not So Bad As We Seem, a play written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton to raise funds for the Guild, and Egg’s own role in this was to be the inspiration for the self-portrait he came up with.

In July 1858, Egg wrote as follows (transcription below the reproduction):

Letter from Augustus Egg to Patrick Allan Fraser, 1858. Courtesy of the Hospitalfield Archive.

‘I saw Ward the other day and delivered your message respecting the picture. He says that he shall be very glad indeed to begin it at once if he could only find a subject and wished me to ask you if you could suggest something as he feels it is a most difficult thing to do which it most certainly is; for my part, you would have had mine long ago if I could have thought of something that would have fulfilled all that...’

Perhaps this means that EM Ward was not included in the original list of Clique members commissioned by Patrick. Or does it simply mean that Allan-Fraser was reminding Ward of the commission that had been left unfulfilled since 1852. Anyway, the letter continues overleaf on the original, as transcribed below:

‘...was required, however I have one now and I expect it will be done very shortly, and what is more I think you will like the subject. I will tell you what it is. Since we met in London, and seeing how truly in earnest you were about everything connected with our Guild, I thought I could not do better than paint myself as the poor author in our play, now as I understand you that the pictures were to be mixed up in the affair that that was just the subject suited for the purpose and one that I felt certain you would like. Now tell me whether you do like. You will be glad to hear also that both Frith and Phillip are on the point of commencing theirs so I think you stand a very fair chance of getting them all before the end of the year. With best regards to Mrs Fraser. Believe me, my dear Allan, very sincerely yours, Augustus Egg.
PS Would you like me to put a frame on the picture?’

Self-Portrait as a Distressed Poet, Augustus Leopold Egg, 1858. Hospitalfield

Now, as the purpose of donating Hawkesbury Hall to Dickens’s Guild was to help poor authors and artists, I see why Egg, who was dedicated to the Guild’s purpose, would think it appropriate to portray himself as a poor author. However, I’m not sure what Egg means when he says that he understands that the pictures were to be mixed up in the affair. Perhaps part of PAF’s brief was that the self-portraits had to have a social purpose. Certainly, that might explain why Thomas Brooks was neglecting his female sitter and instead encouraging his children to explore their creativity. OK, I’ll bear that in mind as I go forward.

I have to say, so far it’s been a joy writing this page. Admittedly, peering at the photographed images of letters in an effort to decipher Victorian handwriting is hard on the eyes, but when I’ve had my fill of that I can skip up the red-carpeted staircase and along to the Gallery to rest my eyes on the paintings. The Augustus Egg is in a gold frame. There seems to be a bed in front of the ‘distressed poet’ and another behind him. These may not even be his own pants and socks hanging from a rafter in the garret. What can I say?

PAF: “I think you would be much better off in Hawkesbury Hall, young man.”
DP: “Is there a washing machine at this Hawkesbury Hall?”
PAF: “Well, no, but you won’t have to share a room, I can assure you of that.”

On August 23, 1858, Egg wrote that he’d sent off the picture, and that Frith and Phillip had started theirs. He also took the trouble to suggest that Henry O’Neill be included in the commission, having been a prominent member of the Clique.

On September 10, Egg wrote that he was glad that Allan liked the painting and that he would forward a copy of the play upon which the portrait was based: Not So Bad as We Seem. In the letter, he mentions that he’s glad that O’Neill was to paint a picture, as the series would not be complete without him.

So, following that up, let’s take a look at the incoming letters from Henry Eugene O’Neil. There are seven of these, just as there are six from Augustus Egg, eight from WP Frith, eight from Thomas Brooks, 11 from EM Ward and 23 from John Phillip. What riches in terms of handwriting and historical content! As with the other artists, each letter from O’Neill is wrapped in tissue, with another tissue wrapping the batch. The writing covers all four sheets, the first of which is reproduced below, followed by a transcription of the whole thing:

henry o'neill
Letter from Henry O’Neil to Patrick Allan Fraser, 1858. Courtesy of the Hospitalfield Archive.

‘My dear Allan, I duly received your letter this morning and with much pleasure accept your commission in the same spirit in which it was made and please be certain that I will do my best. though (if I am to believe Egg and Phillip) the subject (myself) is not a very inviting one - I thought Egg’s a capital work better than any he has done lately. Frith’s is a nice sketch, and the picture, which I saw today, promises very well. I cannot help thinking that he is making himself more good looking than he is: after all that is a personal affair for him alone to decide. Phillip’s is a capital subject and the sketch was good. I am sorry to hear him complaining so much of his health.’

I like the way that the members of the Clique refer to each other in their letters, and that it’s the same names that keep coming up, confirming the core members. Interesting to learn that Frith had started a sketch and that he’d made himself look more handsome than he was. Pity nothing seems to have come of this, perhaps because Frith was becoming so famous and sought after. Below is a reproduction of The Derby Day. The product of eighteen months of unremitting toil, according to the painter. It caused a sensation when it was shown in the Royal Academy Summer Show of 1858. A railing had to be installed in the gallery to keep onlookers back, the first time that had happened since David Wilkie’s Chelsea Pensioners in 1822. So the scene in the gallery would have echoed the crowd scene depicted in the painting itself. WP Frith - socially engaged artist?

The Derby Day, WP Frith, 1858. Tate Gallery.

But back to O’Neil in the ex-members of the Clique’s glory year of 1858:

‘I have no idea what I will make of the uninviting subject but no doubt a moment of inspiration will come all in good time. At present I am busy painting a copy of my picture “Eastward Ho!” for the engraver, not a nice occupation, but I thank my constitution, that has enabled me to stick at it for nine hours daily, and hope to be free in another week.’

Eastward Ho!
created almost as great a sensation at the 1858 Royal Academy Summer Show as The Derby Day. Subsequently, the painting toured Britain and was seen by half a million people. The vivid drama of soldiers boarding a ship at Gravesend - leaving Britain to fight in the Indian ‘Mutiny’, the first Indian war of Independence in 1857 - caught the imagination of the general public.

Henry Nelson O'Neil - Eastward Ho
Eastward Ho! Henry O’Neill, 1858. Museum of London.

O’Neil’s letter continues:

‘You may well say “poor Dadd”.He is a great loss to the profession – I often think of him, but have no desire to see him. Such insanity only brings pain. I hear that on all matters pertaining to art he is fully alive and reasonable.’

Ah, good, Patrick has obviously mentioned Richard Dadd, one-time leader of the Clique. The same year, 1942, that Patrick Allan came north and found a wife, Richard Dadd went travelling in the Middle East and lost his mind, possibly through sunstroke. On returning from his travels about a year later, he killed his father and was confined in an asylum. He did continue to paint, but I don’t think he would have been able to satisfy Patrick’s commission. Having said that, what is the gloriously mad picture below, which was worked on at Bethlem from 1855, but a blockbuster of a self-portrait?

The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, Richard Dadd,1855-1864. Tate Gallery.

Superb title! And it was painted in the asylum from 1855 to 1864, so perhaps Dadd had heard about Patrick’s commission and it had inspired him to paint a figure about to smash a batch of skull-sized nuts. Each nut might represent a different member of the Clique. “Take that WP Frith, empty vessel... Take that, Augustus Egg, arse-licker... Take that, Henry O’Neill, war-mongerer.” And - the fairy feller’s master-stroke: “Take that, Patrick Allan, who hasn’t commissioned me, the pick of the bunch, the leader of the pack, for the ridiculous reason that I’m stuck here in this bloody nut house.”

PAF: “Sorry, Richard, do make a self-portrait for me with a socialist outlook.”
RD: “D.D.D..”
PAF: “Pardon.”
RD: “Dadd’s dead Dad...Dadd’s Dad’s dead...Dead Dad’s Dadd...Dead Dadd’s Dad...Dad’s dead Dadd...Dad Dadd’s dead...”

In short, there is no self-portrait by Richard Dadd in the Hospitalfield collection. But back to the letter of Henry O’Neil to PAF:

‘I suppose you have not quite deserted your easel. Though I can fancy myself the idlest of living mortals if I could afford such a luxury. When you are in London again I hope to see you and revive our friendship of “auld lang syne”.
Believe me, most truly yours,
Henry O’Neill.’

Three months later, December 29, 1858, O’Neill forwarded the picture along with one painted by John Phillip. Here is a short extract from the covering letter:

‘I call the picture “Painting con Amore” as artists always do with a pretty girl before them.’

Painting Con Amoure, Henry Eugene O’Neill, 1858. Hospitalfield.

Isn’t it the same model who features prominently in
Eastward Ho!? The woman returning down the gangway after saying farewell to her soldier husband? If so, O’Neil, having just painted a copy of his much-admired work, is celebrating his success d’éstime by painting the ‘pretty girl’ another couple of times.

I can’t see much of a socialist theme to this work though. I don’t see how it would help the common man or woman get through his or her working day. Perhaps, in briefing O’Neil, Patrick had given up on his original idealism and was now settling for a self-portrait of any description.

What is that rod doing, floating in the air, pointing towards the woman? I think another trip up the red carpet is called for, to see how the picture is hung in the gallery at Hospitalfield. I’m actually running up the stairs so keen am I to get on with this. And I see that the ‘rod’, O’Neil’s walking cane, is actually lying against the steps, throwing a dark shadow across them.


The O’Neill is hung next to the Egg. Are they supposed to speak to one another?:

Egg: “I’m a distressed poet.”
O’Neil: “I’m a rich artist. My paintings sell for hundreds of guineas. I can afford to buy anything I want!”
Egg: “I have to wash my own underpants.”
O’Neil: “Ha! I have a washer woman for that purpose. And I have a beautiful woman to paint until I feel a bit frisky, if you follow my drift.”

PAF might have hung the Henry O’Neill next to the John Phillip since the paintings arrived together. But there might be many good reasons why they wouldn’t be so hung, so I’ll hold fire on that one. Meanwhile, there is another letter from O’Neill which I must return downstairs to peruse:

Jan 7 1959: Thanks for cheque. I will not fail to stir up Frith. As to Ward, except Egg, none of our set are even on nodding terms with him.’

John Phillip also sent a letter to Patrick on 29 December, probably along with the paintings and O’Neil’s letter of that date. His writing is the most difficult to read of all the members of the Clique:

john phillip
Letter from John Phillip to Patrick Allan Fraser, 1858. Courtesy of the Hospitalfield Archive.

This is as much as I can make out of the whole letter:

29 December 1858
My dear Allan Fraser
At last your kind commission is finished and [illegible] the same case with O’Neil’s. I hope when you see both pictures you will like them and live long to enjoy them. O’Neil’s I think is excellent and very like what he is now. My [missing word] you will say is surely not like Jock but it is for time and its [four illegible words] has made great havoc with your old friend. The subject is something I saw in the south. Please excuse this hurried note and with the sincere wishes that you and your good lady will enjoy a happy year. Yours from, John Phillip.
(I expect to be in your neighbourhood soon and hope to see you)


Evil Eye, John Philip, 1858. Hospitalfield

Not sure I understand how the above picture ticks all the boxes. It looks to me that a smartly dressed, middle-aged British man has invaded the living space of a Spanish family and upset the woman. Of course, I could be wrong. The man may be saying, ‘Excuse me Ma’am, I’m running as a Labour candidate in the forthcoming election. Can I rely on your husband’s vote?’

John Phillip was from the Aberdeen area and would sometimes return to Scotland. I suspect that he and Patrick were on especially warm terms given the number of letters from him to PAF, and when Lucy Byatt, the director at Hospitalfield, was showing we current artists-in-residence around the place on our first day, she suggested that the portrait PAF painted of Spanish Phillip was one of his most accomplished. I agree, but I’ve also stumbled on a portrait by John Ballantyne of Spanish Philip in his very plush London studio. The woman sitting in the picture below is Maria Phillip, John’s wife, and the sister of his old friend of Clique years, the unfortunate Richard Dadd.

Screen shot 2013-09-16 at 18.54.57
John Phillip in his Studio, John Ballantyne, 1859. Aberdeen Art Gallery.

The notes about the above painting on the ‘Your Paintings’ site are revealing:

‘In this scene John Phillip stands at his easel. He wears a black skullcap and can be identified by his distinctive 'thoughtful, grizzly bearded face'. His wife Maria is seen in profile, seated on a red sofa. Clearly, in spite of her chronic illness and violent, even dangerous, episodes, she was not yet a permanent patient but was living at home for periods. Yet their relationship was extremely difficult. In a chilling passage, a family friend wrote: “
We liked John Phillip: 'Phillip of Spain' as he was always called: but at the time I, for one, was afraid of him. He could never tolerate the least amount of movement, and I can see now how he turned round on his wife with a snap and a snarl, which nearly frightened her into fits because she would sit just behind him while he was painting, drawing her needle in and out of some very stiff material which creaked in the most horrible manner possible. I hated the noise too but I would rather have put up with it than been as alarmed as I was at his sudden rage. Poor lady! She was even then on the borderland.”’

That’s an unsettling thing to read. Perhaps Maria’s ‘madness’ was partly a case of domestic abuse. And when one looks at
Evil Eye again, one can read it differently. John Phillip has been drawing something when a flash of movement has put him off his sketch. Furious at the loss of his muse, he turns around and gives the evil eye to the woman who has knocked a bowl of fruit off her table.

The Cedar Room, where Evil Eye hangs, was only added around the time of PAF’s death. And the inventory of paintings made at the time indicates that all the self-portraits by members of the Clique were hung in the main gallery, though the triptych featuring himself and the Elizabeths hung in the dining room. Nevertheless, it’s to the Cedar Room one has to go in order to look at Evil Eye today.

I’ve just taken a photo of the painting and I can see myself in the reflection (the dark vertical up the middle of the picture) while I can no longer make out the Spanish woman cowering from John Philip’s gaze. Together, the assessing gazes of John Phillip and myself have made her disappear, which may have been what she was afraid of in the first place, but which I think is most unfortunate. If I go away again, having deflected John Phillip’s malevolent stare, hopefully she’ll come back to enjoy the sunlight falling onto the street in the town where she lived once and will always live as long as this painting survives.


OK let’s take stock.

PAF: “What a great Christmas 1858 has been for the self-portrait project,” said Patrick, with a trace of sarcasm, to Elizabeth.
EAF: “Both Henry O’Neill and Phillip of Spain trussed up like partridges for our delectation!”

Could the PAF picture below represent Patrick enjoying his new paintings in the Gallery, which is where it was hanging at his death?

Cat and Partridges, Patrick Allan-Fraser, 1844. Hospitalfield.

No more pictures from the old Clique for a couple of years. In June of 1861, Patrick self-published
An Unpopular View of Our Times. I’ll be investigating this on another page, but here I’ll just report the Clique’s reaction:

Letter from Augustus Egg, dated June 24, 1861:
My Dear Allan, I just send you a line today that the Book has arrived quite safely and to thank you for it. The title I think an admirable one, and from what I have at present seen you have thoroughly gone into your subject.’

Translation: “You’ve sent me a thick book and I’ve glanced at the cover.”

Also posted that day was this letter from WP Frith:
‘I have received your book which was a pleasant surprise, as I had no idea your leisure had taken such a learned turn. I have not yet read much of it but what I have read encourages me to go on.’

Translation: “You’ve sent me a thick book and I’ve glanced at the table of contents.”

Letter from Henry O’Neill, dated July 4 1861:
‘I ought to have acknowledged the receipt of your Book before this but I have been enormously busy lately. I thank you for your kindness in sending it and complimenting you on [illegible] industry. I must visit a future opportunity to speak of its materials which I have not yet had time to peruse.’

Translation: “You’ve sent me a thick book and nothing would persuade me to read it.”

Letter from EM Ward dated 26 June 1861:
‘My dear Fraser, I ought long since to have acknowledged the receipt of your book which I am reading with much interest and in which it appears to me that you have brought to bear a considerable amount of practical sound sense and originality of thought on a most important subject to the interests of humanity. Believe me to remain, My Dear Fraser, Your very [illegible] E M Ward.’

Actually, the business of sending out a book and getting some kind of acknowledgement letter in return, reminds me of something that’s going on today at Hospitalfield. Laura Mansfield, one of my fellow artists-in-residence, is a curator, and as part of her ongoing work she is posting out hundreds of a particular postcard made by the artists, Heather and Ivan Morrison. The card is a white square and contains one line of black text:

That for you. What for me?

It’s quite a neat way of summing up the relationship between collector and artist. Or between writer and reader. Or between any two parties that are involved in a transaction.

Perhaps the book elicited more than a thank-you letter from EM Ward. Perhaps it stirred Ward’s creative juices, because a year later, in September 1862, he was able to write:
‘I have actually begun to sketch your picture out on the canvas…but nevertheless such is the …of having once begun it shall not be very good faith if it is delayed beyond a reasonable time to its completion.’

Despite what I take to be these good intentions, it was another twelve (yes, 12) years before the painting was in its buyer’s hands. So we’ll leave that self-portrait for now but please believe me when I say it’ll be worth waiting for.

Augustus Egg died in 1863, five years after portraying himself as a distressed poet. It was also five years after painting
Past and Present, a triptych about the fall of a woman through adultery, a morality tale that helped make Egg famous when the work was shown at the Royal Academy in 1859. As with Frith’s very successful Derby Day, the large paintings now belong to the Tate. Egg had a chronic respiratory disease and was advised that he’d be better off living in the hotter, drier climate of north Africa, where he died shortly after moving there.

Portrait down, as it were. Dickens said of Egg: a "dear gentle little fellow, always sweet-tempered, humorous, conscientious, thoroughly good, and thoroughly beloved."

John Phillip died in February 1867, a few days after suffering a stroke while visiting the studio of William Powell Frith.

So, in the 1860s, Patrick Allan Fraser was losing friends rather than gaining self-portraits.

Perhaps the funeral of John Phillip put PAF and WPF back in touch. Frith wrote to his old friend asking for more money in order to complete the commission and with a suggestion as to what he would send in return. And in April 1867, Patrick replied. Potentially, we know what PAF said, because he kept a copy of the letter. It actually gets more difficult to read as it goes along, but I need to put that to the back of my mind and take this important communication one sentence at a time. However, that’s easier said than done as Patrick’s first sentence weaves its way from the first to the second page without a full stop. So I’ll just have to break things up as best I can:


‘My Dear Frith,
There are several reasons why I must not agree to either of your proposals but think we may by simply adhering to the conditions on which I gave and you accepted the commission and of the difficulty caused by your delay in painting the picture – ‘

I had to gaze long and hard to come up with the word ‘either’ and can’t be certain it’s right. But I’m sticking with that for now. OK, back to you Pat:


‘ you will no doubt remember I left the subject and size wholly to you and that the only condition I attached was that your own portrait should be introduced - now as I will...’


‘...not pay the price you now ask for the “new model” the picture you intended to give me nor accept of a copy of it.’

Does that make any sense? Let’s put the first sentence all together: ‘There are several reasons why I must not agree to either of your proposals but think we may by simply adhering to the conditions on which I gave and you accepted the commission and of the difficulty caused by your delay in painting the picture – you will no doubt remember I left the subject and size wholly to you and that the only condition I attached was that your own portrait should be introduced - now as I will not pay the price you now ask for the “new model” the picture you intended to give me nor accept of a copy of it.

Actually, that does make sense. For a start it tells me that the original commission did not have any ‘socialist’ requirements. Unless Patrick, when writing this letter in 1867 had forgotten how he’d expressed his wishes in 1852. But, more immediately, it also suggests that there should be a painting called The New Model by William Powell Frith in existence. What does Google have to say? It tells me that in 1892, when Frith was in his seventies, he was the only retired academician to submit a picture to the RA’s Summer Show that year, and it was called The New Model. Obviously, Frith had painted this many years before and it hadn’t found a buyer. Perhaps the person who commissioned the work turned it down for some reason. Certainly, Patrick Allan-Fraser turned it down. A further search of Google has turned up a reproduction of the work. The repro is of low quality, but then we’ve got used to staring at letters to make out the content, so why not paintings too? The Artnet site states that the painting was oil-on-canvas, painted in 1892, and 36 “ by 24”. Drumroll, please:

The New Model, WP Frith, 1892 (largely completed by 1867)

I love it. It brings back that moment in 1852 when Patrick wrote to Frith along the following lines:

‘My Dear Frith, Please stop doing what you’re presently at (churning out a portrait of some politician’s mistress, no doubt) and put your mind to painting for me a picture of yourself as saviour of the human race. A big ask, I know, so we’ll make the fee a whopping £100, shall we? Yours truly, Patrick Allan-Fraser.’

Back to the real letter written in 1867. Or at least the copy that Patrick retained for his records and for our eyestrain:

Frith_0001 - Version 2

‘Can’t you paint something else for me and make the size and subject such as you would give to a stranger for £100 the amount promised [illegible]. I must however still stipulate for your portrait to be in the picture.’

That’s it Patrick, stick to your reasonable grounds.

Frith_0001 - Version 3

‘I certainly never intended you should give me a work of greater value than the price mentioned - you know your reasons for not giving me the picture you intended I should have and I have mine for not giving you more than the sum I gave to our late friends Egg and Phillip and to O’Neil but do not let us quarrel about this or about anything else.’

Frith_0001 - Version 4

‘We will if you please talk over this and that. Mostly(?) when I have the pleasure of seeing you which I hope to on or about the end of next month.’

Frith_0001 - Version 5

‘Meanwhile, I am with kind regards your [illegible] Patrick Allan Fraser.’

Anyway, the gist is that Frith asked for more money and Patrick refused it. So what happened? Nothing. Until, eight years later, by which time EM Ward had come up with the goods, so we’ll put Frith aside again. His day will come though, and, ultimately, he will no more let you down than he let PAF down.

In the summer of 1874, EM Ward wrote this letter. I won’t transcribe it as the 58-year-old painter has clear handwriting. In other words, it’s you, dear reader, who has to come to terms with Victorian script this time:

Letter from EM Ward to Patrick Allan Fraser, 1874. Courtesy of the Hospitalfield Archive.

The letter goes on describing Beatrice as having
‘artistic proclivities being a very fair player on the violin (for her age) and passionately fond of pictures. I repeated your kind message to her and she bids me say how proud she is in being preserved in perpetuiti in your collection.

Here is the image:

Portrait of the Artist in his Studio, Edward Matthew Ward, 1874. Hospitalfield.

It’s so straightforward that you wonder why it took him twenty-two years to complete the commission. But I think I know the answer to that. In 1843, (the year that Patrick married Elizabeth; the year that Richard Dadd killed his father) Ward met an 11-year-old girl called Henrietta Ward. She was no relation at the time, the similarity of surname is coincidental, but he married her five years later when she was 16, at which time he was 32. The marriage lasted and in due course the couple had children. It seems, in order to paint a self-portrait that really did the business, he had to wait until his children were seven and thirteen.

So look at the image again, from one girl to the other, on either side of the bowed head of the clear-eyed painter. Look from seven-year-old Enid, to 13-year-old Beatrice, bearing in mind 11-year-old and 15-year-old Henrietta. What a revealing and yet ultimately ambiguous statement in oil paint. Rembrandt eat your heart out: The Ward feller’s masterstroke?

OK that’s the lot. Except for William Powell Frith, who first wrote to Patrick about the commission in 1852, mentioning the queuing principle that he adhered to. Surely Patrick was getting closer to the top of the queue 20-odd years later! This letter was posted from London in August 1875, from one elderly man to another (well, Patrick would have been 62, Frith 56, so they may have been hanging on to middle-age). I know you, dear reader, would rather be reading the letter itself than my transcription of it, so here is a photograph of it:

Letter from William Powell Frith to Patrick Allan Fraser, 1875. Courtesy of the Hospitalfield Archive.

The important words are these: ‘
As I was walking at Naples one morning a flower girl came up to me and put a flower into the buttonhole of my coat without “with your leave or by your leave” Of course I had to pay and it afterwards occurred to me that the scene …offered a subject for you. the picture is about 24x20 I have …a framer and will send it to you wherever…'

Ah, so Patrick’s money is buying a smaller picture than was previously offered. Still, the letter sounds promising. Below is the picture that finally made its way from WPF to PAF twenty-three years after it was commissioned:

An Adventure in Naples, WP Frith, 1875. Hospitalfield

Why is this an appropriate image to satisfy the commission? Ostensibly, because Frith is in it. But the image may sum up what Frith feels about the transaction between Allan-Fraser and himself. In retrospect, the painter suspects he was buttonholed by his collector friend, and that he’d felt he had no choice but to ‘pay up’ for a commission that he hadn’t asked for.

I suppose I mean that the original letter from Patrick amounted to the placing of the flower in Frith’s lapel. But there was also the grouse that would arrive in August of certain years. There are several letters from members of the Clique, all dated in August shortly after the glorious 12th (opening of the grouse shooting season), when Patrick and Elizabeth would go for the autumn to Blackcraig, their house in Perthshire, where the shooting was plentiful.

Quite good that - the fashionable painter sitting in his house in Kensington, innocently opening his post, suddenly confronted with the corpse of a bird and a covering letter that effectively said: ‘That for you. What for me?’

The buttonhole motif might explain why Frith seems to have been upset by Patrick paying him for the picture before he actually received it. On August 22 Frith wrote:
‘My Dear Fraser, Many thanks for the money which came safe to hand – but why did you [illegible] to tell you got the picture? You may not like it in which case I shall feel I must return you the money. As soon as you see the picture let me know how you like it and if you think its likeness as good as …do. The picture will come tomorrow by [illegible].

Perhaps Frith was pissed off because Patrick was playing him at his own game. Though, if he was, he was doing so innocently. Patrick also paid several of the others once he knew their picture was done but before actually receiving it.

In December Frith again wrote to Patrick, who had requested a title for the picture. ‘I think “An Adventure in Naples” would do. if you can think of a better don’t scruple to use it.’

Could I think of a better title? How about:

‘That from me. Grouse from you?’

But I prefer the suggestion that comes courtesy of Richard Dadd: The Frith Feller’s Masterstroke.

OK, that deals with the paintings commissioned from members of the Clique. But there were other self-portraits commissioned by Patrick Allan-Fraser as well as many paintings that were not self-portraits. Bundles of incoming letters are in the archive here at Hospitalfield waiting to be delved into. Letters waiting to bring life into paintings that otherwise hang so quietly on the walls of the Gallery.

Oh, by the way, at Patrick’s death, the triptych by Patrick Allan-Fraser was valued at £30, the pictures by Frith, Brooks, O’Neill, Ward and Egg were valued at £50. While only the Phillip retained the £100 value that Patrick had paid for it.

But time has moved on. As far as I’m concerned they’re all priceless. By which I mean that they’re part of the invaluable fabric of this place, which is something I tried to get across when asked to do ten-minute add-ons to the heritage tours of the house that took place over the June open weekend at Hospitalfield.

Self-Portrait as a Distressed Poet (aka.The Fairy-Feller’s Master-stroke), Duncan McLaren, 2013 (courtesy of Laura Simpson)

I see the above as a self-portrait. It strikes me that it’s almost as vain and self-important as one of Frith’s self-portraits made in the studio with models. Accordingly, I am waiting for Patrick Allan-Fraser to cough up an inflation-adjusted fee for it. The moment the £10,000 arrives I’ll uncross my arms and the party can really begin.

But what am I actually saying in the above ‘self-portrait’? If I remember back to the instant the photograph was taken, I believe I was pointing out that apart from the self-portrait by Augustus Egg, all the others illustrate a relationship between the genders that seems foreign to a contemporary sensibility. Only in Patrick Allan-Fraser’s own self-portrait, which includes his wife and mother-in-law as equals, do I sense a rapport between man and woman that I can feel comfortable with. I think this is the place to say that Elizabeth, who died in 1873, wasn’t around when the self-portraits of Ward and Frith arrived. And I’m certain that this took the edge off Patrick’s pleasure on seeing his vision through to the end.

PAF: “FInally bagged those two elusive birds.”

Sidestepping this sadness for now, what a bold piece of commissioning the self-portrait series was! Patrick persisted with it over the decades until he had portraits of all the painters that he’d known well in his London days. I can’t help thinking that the self-portraits, combined with the fine paintings by those same members of the Clique that are owned by the Trustees of the Tate would make a great show for the art lovers of London.

In one way, the Tate’s Richard Dadd painting would be the centrepiece of any such show. But is not the long story of the WP Frith self-portrait not just as interesting? Or the story behind the EM Ward picture?

However, it’s John Phillip that I’d like to follow up next. The man who married the sister of one founding member of the Clique and died in the studio of another. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to look at all 23 of the letters that he wrote PAF from Aberdeen and London. And I’ll see where they lead me. Spain?

This page was first drafted during my residency at Hospitalfield in June, 2013. But following the hours I spent in the Gallery giving my self-portrait talk again as part of ‘Exchange’, the show presented over the open weekend of September 14-15, 2013, I’ve revised the material, going into things more deeply.


Is there more to say? Of course there is, and I dare say this page will be transformed in the future.