Francis Bernard Dicksee was born in London on the 27th November 1853, the son of Thomas Francis Dicksee (1819-1895), painter and illustrator, and his wife Eliza nee Bernard. His uncle was John Robert Dicksee (1817-1905), another painter of some note, as was his sister Margaret (1858-1903), and brother Herbert Thomas (1862-1942). The family lived in the Bloomsbury area of London.
Young Frank was initially trained in art by his father, before enrolling at the Royal Academy Schools in 1870. Amongst the more notable of visiting lecturers at the time were Frederic Leighton, and Millais. Dicksee was an excellent student, quickly marked out for a promising future, and won many distinctions, and in 1875, the year he first exhibited his paintings at the Academy a Gold Medal.
Like many other artists of the nineteenth century, his early career was spent in book and magazine illustration, including the Cornhill magazine. In 1877 the painter exhibited his famous painting “Harmony” at the Academy, where it was a great success, and was bought by the Trustees of The Chantrey Bequest for 350 guineas.
Frank Dicksee’s artistic home remained the Royal Academy throughout his career, and he became ARA in 1881, and was elected a full RA ten years later. “Startled” was his Diploma work. The painter’s art, and taste were totally in sympathy with that of the public, and his career at this time was one of unbroken success. Dicksee paintings were often of historical scenes, involving drama, and sentiment. Dicksee was a competent portrait painter of men, and a great portrait painter of attractive women - happy was the fashionable lady who was painted by Dicksee!
His wonderful portrait paintings of women had a charm of their own, uniting soft-focus, elegance, charm, warm colours, and excellent drapery painting. In 1927 Dicksee painted his famous portrait painting “Elsa, Daughter of William Hall Esq.” This brilliant portrait captures the charming personality of the young sitter, the sheen of her silk evening dress is marvellously painted. This Dicksee painting was painted in the last year of the artist’s life, and shows no deterioration in his ability.His last portrait painting of a woman was of Mrs Frank S Pershouse in 1928. Dicksee lived in St John’s Wood, and remained a sophisticated, and elegant bachelor.
Dicksee was noted for his good manners, and kindness. Rather surprisingly the painter was elected President of the Royal Academy in 1924, succeeding Sir Aston Webb who had retired under the recently-introduced maximum age rule. This appointment was the subject of considerable reservation on the part of more modern artists, many of whom were had little real artistic talent, who thought of the craftsmanship and aesthetic beauty of Dicksee paintings with disdain. In the event it was a brilliant success, with his social graces and integrity more than compensating for what was regarded as the old-fashioned nature of his art.
Dicksee was knighted in 1925, and became KCVO in 1927. Dicksee was a Trustee of the British Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery, and was awarded an Honorary Oxford Degree in 1927. He was also the President of the Artists Benevolent Foundation. Sir Frank Dicksee died suddenly on the 17th October 1928. A retrospective exhibition of Dicksee paintings was held at the Royal Academy in 1933.