The Child Handel discovered by his Parents, by Margaret Isabel Dicksee, 1893. Oil on canvas. H 91.5 x W 122 cm. Credit: Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust, Brighton and Hove. Accession number FA000165. Identified on the gallery's own website as being in the public domain (Public Domain/CC0).

This was the work that established Dicksee as a crowd favourite, a decade after her Academy debut. Although her previous year's exhibit, Miss Angel – a legendary scene from the life of the eighteenth-century painter Angelika Kauffmann – had been well received, it was with this anecdote from the early life of the musical prodigy George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) that she struck a vein that she was able to mine for the rest of her career. As Arthur Levi noted in his posthumous appreciation of her work, "The 'biographical anecdote' became in future her chosen subject, and she was always happiest in the execution of it when a child was the centre of the action" (380). The childhood of great artists had been a fascination with the gallery-going since the middle of the century, and the belief that "talent will out" was widely held, making juvenile manifestations of creative ability an enduringly popular theme.

The subject of this composition originated in a commission to illustrate a story in The Children's Friend: the anecdote allocated to her took the artist's fancy to the extent that she elaborated it into her next submission to the Academy. The scene depicts the discovery of the little boy, forbidden by his authoritarian father from developing his interest in music, secretly practising on the spinet at night in the attic of the family home. His guileless face is illuminated by the lantern his father holds up as he, his wife and the curious servants investigate the "ghostly" music that has awakened them. Though Handel was German, the Victorians liked to claim him as their own, since he spent the most important part of his life in London. Its companions in Dicksee's oeuvre include her treatments of the childhood of the writer Sir Walter Scott (The Childhood of Sir Walter Scott ) and the painter Thomas Lawrence (The First Commission). This was the first of Dicksee's paintings to enter the public domain, donated to the art gallery in Oldham in the year of its exhibition.


Levi, Arthur. "The Art of Margaret Dicksee." The Windsor Magazine. Vol. 26 (1895): 368-82. Internet Archive. Contributed by the University of Michigan. Web. 1 April 2022.

Created 1 April 2022