An important insight

Guide of Childhood: Sketch for Woman’s Mission 1, by George Hicks. COLLECTION OF THE DUNEDIN...
Guide of Childhood: Sketch for Woman’s Mission 1, by George Hicks. COLLECTION OF THE DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY
A scene from "everyday life" in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery collection provides a missing link, writes Lauren Gutsell.

George Hicks (1824-1914) was an English painter who, at the age of 16, spent two years studying medicine at University College London (1840-42) before deciding to pursue a career as an artist. Following his study at Sass’ Academy in 1843, an art school established by Henry Sass to support those who were seeking entry into various academies, Hicks began training at the Royal Academy Schools in 1844.

It wasn’t until 1859 that Hicks painted his first large genre painting, Dividend Day at the Bank of England, and he would continue producing scenes drawn from everyday life until the late 1860s.

The Dunedin Public Art Gallery collection holds a triptych by Hicks - three small-scale sketches for larger paintings, Guide of Childhood, Companion of Manhood and Comfort of Old Age. Companion of Manhood and Comfort of Old Age are both held in the collection of Tate Britain, but unfortunately the whereabouts of Guide of Childhood is unknown, making the sketch in Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s collection all the more important.

Domestic scenes which depict the lives and roles of women were a popular focus for artists in the Victorian era, with Hicks presenting the subject as a loving mother, supportive wife and devoted daughter.

When describing the larger works The Art Journal (1863) stated: "... a young mother ... leading a child tenderly along a woodland path, turning aside a mischievous bramble which besets his steps.

"In the second, we see a wife in the act of giving solace to her husband under a severe blow of affliction.

"The last scene of all that ends life’s strange, eventful history ... is a dying father, sedulously watched and waited on by a daughter’s affection."

Hicks’ triptych is on display in "Style and Substance: A journey through the collection" until May 16.

Lauren Gutsell is Gallery Curator at Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

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