Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Sir (Samuel) Luke Fildes (1843-1927), Illustrator and genre and portrait painter

Illustrator and painter; born 18 October 1843, in Liverpool; always known as ‘Luke’. Studied at South Kensington Art School and Royal Academy Schools; began career as magazine illustrator 1866; major success 1869, in first issue of the Graphic, with Houseless and Homeless (painted as oil, Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward, RA 1874; RHUL); other notable works include The Widower (RA 1876; AG New South Wales, Sydney / Walker AG, Liverpool) and The Doctor (RA 1891; Tate); elected ARA 1879, RA 1887, after which accepted portrait commissions, including Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (NPG 1691 and NPG 1889); [1] knighted 1906, KCVO 1918; died 27 February 1927, in London, buried at Brookwood.

His early success led to a commission to illustrate what proved the last novel by Charles Dickens, whose death Fildes marked with The Empty Chair (1870). The expressive graphic style of these works influenced the young Van Gogh. Fildes was also known for genre and Venetian subjects.

Fildes described his aim as ‘to paint pictures dealing with my own times, and to treat subjects with which most of us are quite familiar ... the interest of your commonplace subject, and the value of your picture, depends upon the sincerity of your treatment and the strength of your feeling about it’. [2] On his death he was described as one of the public’s favourite painters, a useful and competent member of the RA, a valued former chair of the Arts Club and a genial and well-loved friend. [3] Today, Fildes’s social realism is more highly valued than his popular fancy pictures.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) The latter is a replica after a version of 1894.
2) Quoted Temple Magazine, vol.2, 1897–8, pp.227–8.
3) The Times, 28 Feb. 1927, p.17.

Referencesback to top

Dakers 1999
Dakers, C., The Holland Park Circle: Artists and Victorian Society, New Haven and London, 1999.

Davis 2004
Davis, J.E., ‘Fildes, Sir (Samuel) Luke (1843–1927)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; online ed. May 2006.

Dickens 1970
Charles Dickens: An Exhibition to Commemorate the Centenary of His Death, exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1970.

Downey & Downey 1890–94
Downey, W., and D. Downey, The Cabinet Portrait Gallery: Photographs by W. & D. Downey, 5 ser., London, 1890–94.

Fildes 1968
Fildes, L.V., Luke Fildes, R.A.: A Victorian Painter, London, 1968.

Fox 2009
Fox, J., ‘“Traitor Painters”: Artists and Espionage in the First World War 1914–18’, British Art Journal, vol.9, no.3, 2009, pp.62–8.

Fox-Davies 1907
Fox-Davies, A.C., ed., Their Majesties’ Court, 1906, London, 1907.

Hart-Davis 2010
Hart-Davis, D., Philip de László: His Life and Art, London, 2010.

Herkomer 1910–11
Herkomer, H. von, The Herkomers, 2 vols, London, 1910–11.

London 1907–9
Prominent Men of London, Shaftesbury Press, London, 1907–9.

McMaster 2008
McMaster, J., ‘That Mighty Art of Black-and-White: Linley Sambourne, Punch and the Royal Academy’, British Art Journal, Autumn 2008, pp.62–76.

McMaster 2009
McMaster, J., That Mighty Art of Black-and-White: Linley Sambourne, Punch and the Royal Academy, Edmonton, Canada, 2009.

Pearson 1979
Pearson, F., Goscombe John at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, 1979.

Robinson [1892]
Robinson, R.W., Members and Associates of the Royal Academy of Arts, 1891. Photographed in their Studios by Ralph W. Robinson of Redhill, n.p., [1892].

Thomson 1895
Thomson, D.C., ‘The Life and Work of Luke Fildes R.A.’, Art Annual (supplement to Art Journal), 1895.

Walkley 1994
Walkley, G., Artists’ Houses in London 1764–1914, Aldershot, 1994.

Ward 1923
Ward, E.A., Recollections of a Savage, London, 1923.