Early in his career, William Frith specialised in painting episodes from the lives of famous historical personalities. Here he depicts the disastrous moment that spelled future enmity between the poet Alexander Pope and his potential patron Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

Frith explained the situation for viewers of the 1852 Royal Academy exhibition. ‘Her own statement, as to the origin of the quarrel, was this: That at some ill-chosen time, when she least expected what romancers call a declaration, he made such passionate love to her, that in spite of her utmost endeavours to be angry and look grave, provoked an immediate fit of laughter: from which moment he became her implacable enemy.’

The salon displays several references to Lady Mary’s social position and personal background – the coronet on the wall above the sconce, the literary texts, the tulip – while the writing materials indicate her position as the wife of the first Ambassador to Turkey and her fame as a correspondent and writer. Although the sculpted lovers in the background gently mock Pope’s declaration, Frith has in fact treated both figures kindly; Pope’s hunched back is hidden from sight because he is seated, and Lady Mary’s face is shown without disfiguring smallpox scars.

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  • Title: Pope Makes Love To Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
  • Creator: William Frith
  • Creator Lifespan: 1819 - 1909
  • Creator Nationality: Great Britain
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Birth Place: North Yorkshire, England
  • Date Created: 1852
  • Physical Dimensions: w942 x h1180 mm (Without frame)
  • Artist biography: William Frith was born in 1819. He specialised in genre subjects and his paintings frequently take the form of panoramic narratives of Victorian life. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1852 and has been described as the ‘greatest British painter of the social scene since Hogarth’. Frith started his formal art training in 1835 at Sass’s Academy in Charlotte Street, later attending the Royal Academy Schools. He started his career as a portrait painter and first exhibited at the British Institution in 1838. In the 1840s he often based his painting on the literature of Charles Dickens, whose portrait he painted. Firth died in 1909.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Sir Frank Mappin, 1974
  • External Link: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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