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Oil painting - Charles Dickens
  • Charles Dickens
    Frith, William Powell RA, born 1819 - died 1909
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Charles Dickens

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1859 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Frith, William Powell RA, born 1819 - died 1909 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Forster

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 122c, case 3

Object Type
In Victorian times portraits of the rich and famous included many personalities who were artists, politicians, literary figures and scientists. This reflected a much wider interest in such individuals than was evident in the18th century. Before 1800, a typical portrait would be of a wealthy landowner, merchant or a nobleman and their families. Increasingly, after that date, portraits of all kinds of people were commissioned. The invention of photography finally ensured that even people of modest means could have their portraits made.

Frith painted this portrait at the height of the novelist's fame in 1859. Dickens is seated in his study in his house in Bloomsbury, and some of the first chapter of ' A Tale of Two Cities' (published 1859) is shown on the desk in front of him. The picture delighted John Forster, Dickens's friend and biographer, who had commissioned the work, but Dickens himself was less enthusiastic about the way his expression had been rendered. Forster had arranged for a photograph of Dickens to be taken before the painting was started, but it was not a success, and the artist Frith did not use it to help him paint the portrait.

Physical description

Dickens, wearing a black overcoat, sits writing 'A Tale of Two Cities'. 'David Copperfield' and another bound volume lie nearby. Behind him a calendar and an address from the City of Birmingham are displayed.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1859 (painted)


Frith, William Powell RA, born 1819 - died 1909 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

'W P Frith fecit 1859'
Signed and dated by the artist, lower left


Height: 98 cm framed, Width: 84 cm, Depth: 10.5 cm

Object history note

Bequeathed by John Forster, 1876.
Commissioned by John Forster Painted in London by William Powell Frith RA (born in Aldfield, North Yorkshire, 1819, died in London, 1909)

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Charles Dickens', William Powell Frith, 1859

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bills, Mark and Vivien Knight (Eds.), William Powell Frith: Painting the Victorian Age. Yale University Press, 2006
Parkinson, R., Victoria and Albert Museum, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, London: HMSO, 1990, pp. 94-96
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985, p.158
Richard Green and Jane Sellars, eds. William Powell Frith. The people’s painter. Bloomsbury, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2019.
p. 115

Labels and date

British Galleries:
The writer is shown with a copy of 'David Copperfield' and the manuscript of 'A Tale of Two Cities'. Portraits of Dickens were widely circulated as photographs and engravings. He willingly participated in efforts to promote his own 'personality cult' through reading tours and advertisements on hoardings. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

Dated 1859


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Desks; Studies; Interiors


British Galleries; Paintings; Portraits; Dickens


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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