Sculptor born in Leicester, a son of Henry Frith, the owner of a stone and wood carving business. At an uncertain date, Henry moved to Gloucester and the family business was carried on there by William’s older brother, Henry Chapman Frith. William moved to London, studying at Lambeth School of Art from the late 1860s and the RA Schools from 1872. In 1879, he was engaged to teach modelling at Lambeth (renamed South London Technical School in 1879), holding that position (part-time from 1895) until his death. Frith was one of the most influential sculpture teachers of his age, his students including many leading figures of the subsequent generation. Firmly believing in the essential unity of all the sculptor’s arts, Frith took on commissions of every sort, while nevertheless always considering himself principally an architectural sculptor. The architect for whom he carried out most work was Aston Webb. He worked on the architect’s Victoria Law Courts, Birmingham, 1887–91; Metropolitan Life Assurance Building, Moorgate, London, 1890–93; Christ’s Hospital School, Horsham, 1902–03; and the new frontages for the V&A Museum, 1905–08; he also carved Webb’s pedestal design for Heinrich Baucke’s statue of William III outside Kensington Palace, 1907. In addition, Frith worked for Doulton & Co, supervising the modelling team and executing the ‘Canada’ group for the firm’s Victoria Fountain, Glasgow, 1888. He executed two fine monuments in Gloucester Cathedral, a marble tablet to T.B. Lloyd Baker, c.1886, and the tomb of Bishop Charles Ellicott, 1908 (Frith carving the effigy, his brother the tomb-chest). For Lord Astor, Frith executed works for both 2 Temple Place, his London office, and Cliveden, his Buckinghamshire residence: for the former, a marble fireplace and overmantel for the library and, outside the main entrance, two bronze lamp standards decorated with putti calling each other on telephones; and for the latter, figures and groups in wood on the newel posts of the grand staircase. The importance of Frith’s teaching has tended to overshadow the excellence of his sculpture, which M.H. Spielmann considered to be ‘of an important order’, adding, the ‘qualities of Mr. Frith’s work are surely its freedom of line and vigour of modelling; the consideration and intelligence displayed throughout, the spirit of design, richness of effect, and the clear understanding of the virtues and the limitations of his materials’.
Bibliography: S. Beattie, The New Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1983; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 166, 167, 168, 171, 172, 479–80; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Leicestershire and Rutland, Liverpool, 2000, p. 252; F. Lloyd et al, Public Sculpture of Outer South and West London, Liverpool, 2011, p. 302; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow, Liverpool, 2002, pp. 166, 167; Mapping Sculpture; G.T. Noszlopy, Public Sculpture of Birmingham (ed. J. Beach), Liverpool, 1998, p. 50; M.H. Spielmann, British Sculpture and Sculptors of To-day, London, 1901; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 270–71, 334–36, 347–48; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 133–34.
Terry Cavanagh November 2022