Frank Moss Bennett (British, 1874–1953), The Price of a Song [Temptations Serenade], Liverpool, oil on canvas, signed and dated 1903, 36″ x 50″
Frank Moss Bennett was a British painter, well known for his portraits and detailed genre scenes. Born in Liverpool in 1874, he was sent to study at Browns House, Clifton College in Bristol in 1892. That same year he decided to become an artist, and transferred to the Slade School of Art in London, where he was a pupil of several distinguished painters, including Henry Tonks, Philip Wilson Steer, and John Singer Sargent. Bennett attended London’s St. Johns Wood School of Art in 1894, and enrolled in the Royal Academy School of Art in 1896.
In 1899, the artist was presented with a gold medal and a travel scholarship. The following year, he embarked on a tour of Italy with friend and fellow painter Eddie Wells. Bennett then returned to Liverpool, and continued to develop his artistic skills. He created a number of portraits during this period, including the now famous painting of poet Sir Thomas Martin. However, Bennett’s primary interest was historical painting. He was strongly influenced by French artist Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, who was renowned for his depictions of 18th-century figures. Like Meissonier, Bennett strove to be historically accurate; he studied period furniture and dressed his models in appropriate costumes. Some of his favorite subjects included tavern scenes, hunting scenes, Elizabethan and Stuart figures, and cardinals.
One of Bennett’s most identifiable works is a tavern scene titled The Landlord’s Story. The artist achieved great success during his lifetime. He exhibited his works at the Royal Academy between 1898 and 1928, the Liverpool Art Gallery between 1899 and 1932, and a number of other prestigious institutions. Bennett died at home in 1953. His popularity persists, and his paintings are frequently reproduced today.
Bennett is well known for his detailed portraits and meticulous genre paintings. He depicted scenes from everyday life and portrayed sentimental and romantic scenes from the past. His subjects ranged from famous historical figures to Cardinals in their private quarters. He became best known for his Elizabethan subjects, many of which were reproduced as prints and used in advertising, calendars, blotters, jigsaw puzzles, greeting cards, and magazines. Bennett also designed, restored and made furniture, and had a large collection of historical costumes.
Frank Moss Bennett was born in Liverpool, England in 1874 to Henry Mellor Bennett and Kate nee Stuart. He was the second of four sons and his father, an Iron Founder and later the Mayor of Liverpool, was a well-known philanthropist. Not much is known about Bennett’s early education except that he was probably taught at home with his brothers, and that he showed a talent for painting at an early age.
Bennett enrolled at Browns House, Clifton College in Bristol where he studied until 1892. He then decided that he wanted to become an artist and enrolled that year, in the Slade School of Art in London, where he met Eddie Wells who would become a close friend and later his brother-in-law. Together they studied under some well-known artists such as Henry Tonks (1862-1937), Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942), and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). In 1894, Bennett went to St. Johns Wood School of Art where he spent a few months, before joining the Royal Academy School of Art in 1986. While studying at the Academy, he won a gold medal and a travel scholarship in 1899 for his lithograph entitled Ladas the Greek runner falling dead as he goes to receive his crown of wild olives at Olympia.
Around 1900, Bennett invited his friend Wells to join him on a painting expedition to Italy. He financed the trip with the award that he received from the Royal Academy in the amount of two hundred and thirty pounds, and probably with additional funds from his father. Bennett and Wells toured Italy for approximately a year, visiting Florence, Sienna, Brescia, Ravenna, Viterbo, Rome, Naples, Capri, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast. Upon his return from Italy, Bennett went to live with his parents in London, where they had recently moved from Liverpool. He continued to study, and at the time painted mostly portraits and some genre paintings.
In 1907, Bennett married Margaret Alma Pellew. The Bennetts, and their 2 children, lived primarily in London, but eventually moved to Devon to live on a 330-acre farm called Whetcombe Barton.
While the introduction of photography in Britain in the 1830s put an end to Grand-manner portraiture, there was still a demand for portraits that were modest in both size and demeanor. As a result, throughout his artistic career Bennett painted many portraits for the nobility, wealthy middle class, ordinary men, women, children, his family, and one of King George IV (which was commissioned or painted from a photograph). One of his most famous portraits was that of Sir Theodore Martin (1909. It was presented to the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1909. Bennett also painted posthumous portraits, which were a great solace to families who have lost their loved ones, especially the many young British soldiers who were killed during World War One.
While Bennett established his reputation in portraiture, it was in the realm of genre paintings that he truly became popular. Like some other artists working during the late nineteenth century, he favored the historic genre, which continued to appeal to art patrons. Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, a French artist famous for his meticulous and historically accurate renditions of his subjects, was a strong influence on Bennett.
Bennett painted a range of historic genre paintings that were set in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His favorite subjects were tavern scenes, hunting scenes, everyday life, and Elizabethan and Stuart historical figures. Examples of this genre include The Landlords Story, one of his most famous paintings; Cavaliers Playing Cards (1934); Tea and Scandal (1938); and Dr. Johnson at the Cheshire Cheese (1945). The latter painting is an eighteenth century scene showing Dr. Johnson, conversing with well known figures of the time, such as the portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1732-1792), the British statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797), among others.
Bennett aspired to achieve historical accuracy in his paintings. He would use the furniture that he designed, restored and made in his pictures, and would dress his models in historical costumes, of which he had a very large collection (some are now in the Platt Hall Museum in Manchester, the Museum of London, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia in the United States). On his expeditions abroad and throughout Britain, he would make sketches in oil or in pencil of the exteriors and interiors of cottages, inns, castles, famous estates and country houses, and would later use them as the backdrop for his paintings in his studio.
Bennett enjoyed public success during his lifetime. He exhibited his works in London at the Royal Academy from 1898 until 1928, Liverpool Art Gallery from 1899-1832; the Royal Institute of Watercolor Painters; Royal Institute of Oil Painters; Rembrandt Gallery, and at the Paris Salon in France. Furthermore, Bennett sold many of his works through a number of art dealers mostly in London. Many of Bennett’s works were reproduced as prints and were often used commercially. Some examples of the commercial use include: calendars published by Thomas Foreman and Sons; cigarette cards for Imperial Tobacco Company, advertising for Worthington Beers; cover for Country Life and Vogue magazines.