The Library of Charles Dickens
Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, 1870
Dickens Library
Sir Samuel Luke Fildes (1844-1927) (after)
The Empty Chair, Gad's Hill -- Ninth of June 1870
British: 1870
Woodblock engraving and sepia ink on paper
14 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches, sheet
12 1/2 x 19 5/8 inches, image
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Engraving of the library at Gad's Hill, the Kent home of author Charles Dickens (1812-70), made shortly after Dickens' sudden death by Samuel Luke Fildes, who was then in the process of illustrating what was to be Dickens' final novel.

Fildes (usually referred to as "Luke Fildes") was raised by his grandmother, a prominent political activist in Liverpool, and his artwork was thereafter profoundly influenced by social concerns. He began his art studies in Liverpool, eventually winning admission to the Royal Academy in London. By the late 1860s he was contributing illustrations to several periodicals.

The story behind this print begins in 1869, when Fildes' social commentary engraving "Houseless and Hungry," appeared in the social reformist magazine "The Graphic" and was brought to the attention of Charles Dickens by the artist John Everett Millais. Dickens was so impressed he commissioned Fildes to illustrate "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," and they began a close collaboration, meeting at Dickens' London home. Eventually, Dickens invited the artist to spend a few days at his home in Gad's Hill, in Kent, where some of the scenes in the novel take place. The day Fildes was supposed to leave for the visit, Dickens died. After the funeral, Dickens' family invited him to stay there. "It was then," remarks Mr. Fildes, "while in the house of mourning, I conceived the idea of 'The Empty Chair,' and at once got my colours from London, and made the water-colour drawing a very faithful record of his library." An engraved reproduction of this picture appeared in "The Graphic," Christmas, 1870.

Fildes turned primarily to oil paintings of social subjects as well as commissioned portraits of prominent individuals, including paintings of the royal family which hang in Buckingham Palace. His painting "The Doctor," commissioned by Henry Tate for his new gallery of British art, became one of the best-selling engravings of the Victorian era. He was knighted in 1906.

References:

F.G. Kitton, "Dickens and His Illustrators: Luke Fildes, R.A.." 1899. Online at Mount Royal College English Department. http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/gaslight/drudXfil.htm#note-2.

"Famous People of Thanet." 1998. http://www.tourism.thanet.gov.uk/UK_Pages/FameUK.htm#anchor1155733.

"Luke Fildes." Spartacus Educational. 2001. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jfildes.htm.

"(Samuel) Luke Fildes." Grove Dictionary of Art Artists' Biographies. 2000. Online at Artnet.com. http://www.artnet.com/library/02/0282/T028243.asp.