Measuring Heights : A scene from Oliver Goldsmith's 'The Vicar of Wakefield' signed and dated 'W.P.Frith.1863' (lower right) oil on canvas 53.5 x 68 cm. (21 x 26 3/4 in.)
Provenance: Private collection, UK, since c.1950.
The present lot is one of a number of later versions of a subject which Frith first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842 (no. 454). The Academy work, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, was regarded by Frith himself as 'my first success'. Writing in his autobiography, the artist continues 'To my intense delight this picture was hung upon the line, that envied, coveted position which so many are destined to long for, but never to occupy. I confess I was as much astonished as I was delighted, for I had no interest, not knowing a single member of the Academy'.1
The scene depicted is taken from Chapter 16 of Goldsmith's satire on the sentimental novel, and shows two of the central characters, Olivia Primrose and Squire Thornhill standing back to back, so that Mrs. Primrose, can determine who is taller. This attempt to entrap the squire is, as Frith describes, 'a transparent device which, as the good old book says, she thought impenetrable'.2
1 W.P.Frith, RA, My Autobiography and Reminiscences, New York, 1888, p.70 2 ibid