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Dividend Day at the Bank of England

George Elgar Hicks (Lymington 1824 – Odiham 1914)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1859 (signed and dated)

Materials

Oil on board

Measurements

280 x 380 mm

Place of origin

England

Order this image

Collection

Wimpole, Cambridgeshire

NT 207840

Caption

This is Hicks's preliminary study for a painting at the Bank of England. 'Dividend Day' was the quarter-day when dividends on Bank Stock and Government Securities were paid to personal applicants. 'Consols', as the Consolidated Government Annuities yielding an unvarying interest of 3% per annum were known, were the only investment permitted to the trustees of widows, orphans, and the like, which offered touching dramatic possibilities to the artist. Hicks was inspired to paint crowd scenes such as this by the success of W.P. Frith's Ramsgate Sands (1854) and Derby Day (1858), and briefly enjoyed the same popularity, before sinking into oblivion.

Summary

Oil painting on board, Dividend Day at the Bank of England, by George Elgar Hicks (Lymington 1824 – Odiham 1914), signed bottom right GE Hicks 1859. A sketch for the finished painting (exhibited RA 1859, now at the Bank of England). Dividend day was the quarterly day when dividends on Bank Stock and Government Securities (known as Consols) were paid to personal callers. These were regarded as the safest form of investment, hence the widows shown on the right. The banking hall was designed by Soane, the architect of the Yellow Drawing Room, and embodied a similar use of space. Label - Exhibition of Victorian Life held at Leicester Galleries, Leicester Sq, London June 1937, No. 57 Dividend Day at the Bank of England. G.E. Hicks. Purchase Capt G. Bambridge. Label - Geo Rowney with handwritten G.E.Hicks 1859. Label - Exhibited at National Gallery - In Trust for the Nation. Painted gilt frame and gilt slip.

Full description

Hick's Dividend Day at the Bank of England, together with his The General Post Office:1 minute to 6 (1860; private collection), and his model W.P. Frith's Ramsgate Sands (1854; Royal Collections), Derby Day (1858, Tate Gallery), and The Railway Station (1862; Royal Holloway College), are the best-known and most popular tableaux of Victorian life in England. Yet whereas W.P. Frith (1819-1909) gained fame and fortune, became a Royal Academician, and had his badge as CVO pinned to him by Edward VII himself the year before he died, Hicks received no honours of any kind, was omitted from both the Dictionary of National Biography and T.S.R. Boase's pioneering survey of English Art 1800-1870 for the Oxford History of Art, and remained virtually unknown in this century, until - stimulated by his purchase of Changing Homes for the Geffrye Museum in 1974, the late Jeffery Daniels mounted an exhibition devoted to him there in 1982. Even in his lifetime, he was the object of only one study, and that was a slightly misleading one, as the 104th of James Dafforne's articles on contemporary British artists, in The Art Journal in 1872 , in which, according to Dafforne, the space taken up by the steel-engravings of three untypical examples of Hicks's paintings prevented him from saying much at all. The reason for this neglect appears to have been that Hicks, though loved by visitors to the RA, was generally disapproved of by the critics. Why this should have been so when Frith was so lauded is not immediately obvious. It may partly have been because Frith, when he took up these subjects, was an established Academician, a friend of such writers as Dickens, and had already made his name with comparable pictures, only set in a golden past. He was the pioneer, and Hicks an imitator, whose Dividend Day at the Bank was quite clearly cashing in on the success of Derby Day the year before, whilst he had previously only made a modest name for himself, first as a book-illustrator (notably of Thomas Campbell's Gertrude of Wyoming, 1846) and then primarily as a painter of rural and sentimental subjects. Something of the stigma of the semi-amateur may also have dogged him. Beyond that, however, it seems to have been felt that Hicks, but not Frith, had overstepped the fine line between vivid observation and caricature: it was perhaps no accident that Punch was amongst his more favourable critics. When the finished version of the present picture (Bank of England; along with a small replica) was exhibited at the RA in 1859, it was a one of a number of imitations evidently called forth by the success of Frith's Derby Day (one of them, Barwell's Parting words - a crowded scene at a railway station, even sounding like a precursor of Frith's own The Railway Station), which were criticised for aspiring to ape Hogarth, but without his moral message. The Times thundered that Hicks's picture was: "degenerating into that excessive characterization which borders on caricature .... these subjects bring out whatever vulgarity is in a man" . The Athenaeum, which, as a partisan of the pre-Raphaelites was in the opposite camp to both Hicks and Frith, mounted a full-frontal assault on the two of them: "Mr. Hicks, exquisite in drawing-room idylls, must now forsooth attempt Frithisms and the humours of London life. Dividend Day at the Bank is an unreal, laboured piece of unsuccessful humour, with here and there a pretty face. The subject is too much for Mr. Hicks. let him get back to his violet banks and silk gowns - there he is at home" . None of these criticisms affected the crowds surging round the picture at the exhibition, however; so that Hicks was encouraged to go on and paint the equally popular General Post Office the next year, of which Punch aptly wrote: "the crush represented in Mr. Hicks's picture gives only a faint idea of the crowd around it. The glimpses which you catch of it between hats, over shoulders, and under arms, increase the reality of the scene" . He followed this up with Billingsgate Fish Market (1861; The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers), Infant Orphan Election at the London Tavern — Polling (1865; private collection); and Before the Magistrates (1866; private collection), but the novelty had worn off, whereas criticism had not abated, so he reverted to his sentimental subjects, dabbling too with oriental, biblical, and historical scenes, right into the next and unsympathetic century (when his notebooks increasingly read "refused" or "rejected"). From the later 1870s, however, the majority of his paintings were portraits, including the huge and extraordinary Adelaide, Countess of Iveagh (1884-5; Elveden Hall sale, 21-24 May 1984). Hicks was clever in his choice of subject for the present picture. 'Dividend day' was the quarter-day when dividends on Bank Stock and Government Securities were paid to personal applicants. In the handsome vaulted room built by Soane, the clerks on the left — significantly, the seated young man visible in the present sketch was made into a bewhiskered and top-hatted old one in the final painting — handed out dividend warrants, which were cashed in another part of the building. What afforded the painter particularly moving possibilities was that 'Consols', as the Consolidated Government Annuities yielding an unvarying (from their consolidation in 1751 until 1889) interest of 3% per annum were known, were the only investment permitted to the trustees of widows, orphans, and the like, representatives of whom are thus shown touchingly here. They were also, in consequence of their security, the most widely-held investment, so that almost anyone with any savings held some in these stocks. In consequence, as Disraeli put into the mouth of the eponym of Vivian Grey: "There is nothing like a fall in Consols to bring the blood of our good people of England into cool order ... If the Consols were again at 60 [instead of at par, 100] we should be again bellowing, God save the King! eating roast beef, and damning the French" . Hicks's picture was thus pace the critic of The Times - not merely anecdotal, but implied a subtle reassurance to visitors to the RA of the peace and stability of mid-Victorian England: that all was well with the world, and that Consols stood at 100. (i) The Art Journal, 1 April 1872, pp.97-99, 'British Artists: their Style and Character. No.CIV - George Elgar Hicks'. (ii) The Times, 18 May 1859, p.12, quoted in Rosemary Treble's excellent entry on The General Post Office in exh.cat. Great Victorian Painters, Arts Council, Leeds City Art Gallery, &c., 1978, no.21, to which this entry owes a large debt. (iii) The Athenaeum, 21 May 1859, p.683, quoted ibid. (iv) Punch, ...., quoted ibid. [LOOK UP] (v) Benjamin Disraeli, Vivian Grey [orig. 1825-26], 1853 edn., Book IV, ch.i, p.140. (adapated from the author's pre-publication/unedited version of Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)

Provenance

Sold for £30 to G. Simms of Bathwick Hill, Bath (who had bought Osier Whitening two years previously; cf. exh. cat. G.E. Hicks, 1982, no.16 and 'Notebooks', pp.54 & 55); with the Leicester Galleries, London, in 1937; bought by Captain George Bambridge; thence to his widow, Elsie Kipling, Mrs Bambridge, by whom left to the National Trust with Wimpole and all its contents on her death in 1976

Marks and inscriptions

GE Hicks 1859

Makers and roles

George Elgar Hicks (Lymington 1824 – Odiham 1914)

Exhibition history

In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.27

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