Many Happy Returns of the Day

Study for Many Happy Returns of the Day by William Powell Frith, RA (1819-1909). 1852. Oil on millboard. H 29 x W 40.4 cm. York Museums Trust. Reference YORAG : 1457, purchased with the help of National Art Collections Fund, the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of York Art Gallery, the R. M. Burton Charitable Trust and Anthony Boynton-Wood, Esq., 1991.

The painting shows Frith's fourth daughter Alice’s birthday party and was exhibited in 1856. Although his second daughter Cissie, who was born in 1848, does not refer to this picture in her memoirs, it perfectly illustrates the comfortable middle class life that the family was living by then, and that she describes so well. However, despite the pleasant occasion it commemorates, the finished work was not one of Frith's favourites. He had made a number of changes to it by then, for example, showing the older girl on the right of the painting wearing a patterned but predominantly white frock, and standing beside her grandfather rather than her grandmother. As she hands him a glass, he looks up from his newspaper, which is spread out on his lap — this also makes that corner lighter. Yet the whole composition still seemed too dark. Unfortunately, it was hung in a dim part of the exhibition room as well. Worse, Frith was distinctly put out when John Ruskin commented on the "advancing Pre-Raphaelitism in the wreath of leaves around the [seated] child's head" (qtd. in Sellars 138).

Such was the irregularity of Frith's domestic life that the painting may have been calculated to confirm his status as a conventional family man: "A consummate self-publicist, he was quite capable of producing a picture with a propaganda slant to it," says Sellars (138). However, it seems rather early for him to have felt the need to put up such a front.

Image identified on Art UK as being in the public domain, and downloaded with its caption material by Jacqueline Banerjee. Text by Shirley Nicholson, with additional comments by Banerjee.


"Study for Many Happy Returns. Art UK. Web. 21 November 2022.

Sellars, Jane. "Frith's Women: William Powell Frith and the Female Model." William Powell Frith: Painting the Victorian Age, edited by Mark Bills and Vivien Knight. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, in association with Guildhall Art Gallery and Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate Museums and Arts, 2006 [Review]. 131-44.

Created 21 November 2022