Date: English painter, illustrator, and designer, 1833–1911
Biography: Frederic Shields came from a poor working-class family. After studying briefly in London, he settled in Manchester, where his early work included skillful but sentimental compositions, many with rosy-cheeked children and detailed landscape elements, possibly influenced by William Henry "Birds Nest" Hunt (1790-1864). A visit to the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 sparked Shields's enthusiasm for the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1864 Shields was introduced to Rossetti through George Butterworth, a student and previous assistant to John Ruskin. This visit and Rossetti's words of encouragement with regard to his work marked a major turning point in Shields's artistic career and stylistic development.
Shields was a deeply religious man, and this trait is clearly reflected in his work. Greatly inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite illustrations in the Moxon edition of Tennyson's Poems, published in 1857, Shields also turned to black-and-white illustrative work. Although he illustrated very few texts, he is remembered for the Illustrations to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1864), a publication virtually without text. Like many of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, he was influenced by Alfred Rethel and associated German woodcut artists of previous decades.
Late in 1876 Shields and Ford Madox Brown entered into negotiations with the Manchester Town Council regarding the decoration of the Great Hall of Alfred Waterhouse's new Town Hall, one of the grandest buildings of the Gothic Revival. The work was to be divided between the two artists, with Shields being responsible for six of the fresco decorations. As time went on, however, and Brown came closer to the completion of his portion, Shields handed the remainder of the project over to Brown.
In 1876 he received a commission from Alfred Waterhouse to design stained-glass windows for a chapel at Coodham, Kilmarnock. The success of this venture led to additional work for the architect, including stained glass and mosaics for the Duke of Westminster's chapel at Eaton. The decorative scheme for this building is full of complex religious symbolism.
Possibly through his work at Eaton, Shields became involved with Mrs. Russell Gurney, the wealthy widow of a Quaker hanker. Together with the architect Herbert Horne, the three designed, built, and decorated the Chapel of the Ascension in Bayswater, London (destroyed in World War II). Mrs. Russell Gurney sent Shields and Horne to Italy to study Renaissance religious structures in preparation for the work. The project became Shields's life work, and he died in 1911 just a few months after its completion.
From "Biography of Frederic James Shields (1833-1911)" by Stephen Wildman, in 'Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum' (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2004), p. 369-370.