Ripon residents feature in a 21st century reboot of a painting by a Victorian master - due to be unveiled in Harrogate

A past master is re-imagined
A past master is re-imagined

Dozens of Ripon residents feature in a painting modelled on a picture by superstar Victorian artist William Powell Frith.

The artwork will be unveiled at the opening of an exhibition of Frith works at Harrogate’s Mercer Art Gallery on Saturday June 15.

Frith's painting has been reimagined for the 21st century, in a piece of contemporary art which will star dozens of people from the Ripon community.

Drawing together nearly 70 artworks from galleries and collections in the country, the exhibition has already garnered attention as it will showcase The Private View (at the Royal Academy), a painting which Frith painted in 1881 and which hit the headlines due to being sold for the first time since 1883 for £12 million..

More than 65 people answered the call out by northern photographer Jonathan Turner to star in the photoshoot at Ripon Operatic Society’s Allhallowgate home. The aim of the event was to re-create one of Frith’s ‘big four’ panoramas, The Railway Station (1862).

Jonathan said: “Frith’s original painting depicted Paddington Station and the social mix of people from Victorian society – so my idea was to re-create that using modern day archetypes: the young people off to a festival, a hen do, business people commuting, families out with their children for the day, couples off on holiday etc.

"It was a huge community effort as we were kindly lent a store of props and outfits by Ripon Amateur Operatic Society to help people create their characters and we had several volunteers from Ripon Museums come along too. People commented that they loved taking part in such an unusual and unique project and are looking forward to seeing the finished artwork.”

All Jonathan’s new art works will sit alongside the originals in the exhibition and which draws together almost the entire collection of Frith’s work, including several previously unseen works along with paintings from major national collections, including the Tate, the V&A and the Queen.

The exhibition marks the bicentenary of Frith’s birth at Aldfield near Ripon.

Moving to London in 1835 to become a student at the Royal Academy, Frith quickly became one of the great masters of the Victorian era, painting multi-layered modern scenes that highlighted the social tensions and complexities of the times.

Jane Sellars, curator of arts projects at the Mercer Art Gallery and co-author with art historian, Richard Green of William Powell Frith: The People’s Painter, said: “This bicentenary celebration of the work of William Powell Frith is very significant, as it draws together a comprehensive and outstanding collection of his work in the town of his birth, surrounded by the rich backdrop of the stories and landscapes of his early life.

“The exhibition will also explore in detail how Frith created his paintings demonstrating the crucial role of his oil sketches, the way he employed models and the nature of his studio.”

The Mercer Art Gallery is a public gallery and free for everyone to enjoy. The exhibition runs until Sunday September 29.