The Fishmonger's

The Fishmonger's (1872-73). Frederick Walker, ARA (1840-1875). Water-colour, 14 x 22.5 inches (36.3 x 57.2 cm), at the Lady Lever Gallery, Liverpool Museums. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

According to the late-Victorian critic Claude Phillips, “many connoisseurs” judged The Fishmonger's to be Walker's “finest achievement in water-colour.” Nonetheless, despite what he terms its “daring and splendid” color harmonies, Phillips asserts that “it is nevertheless more of an amusing, richly-tinted object-study than a picture in the truest sense of the word,” since it supposedly “lacks vitality and significance” (61).

The group which is the centre of the colour-harmony, the blue-aproned, rosy-cheeked fishmonger who bends forward across the marble slab as he offers his fish to a gaily dressed damsel in the habit of about 1800, though it is well enough placed in the brilliant ensemble, . The tour de force lies in the happy combination of the bright green woodwork which frames the shop with the blue-green and red of the sparkling fish, with the indigo blue of the jolly salesman's apron, and the yellow and tawny of the girl's pretty, old-fashioned costume, relieved by the coral pink ribbon in her hat. This is undoubtedly a brilliant performance of its kind, a nearer approach to the bravura of the purely technical exercise than anything Walker has produced. [Phillips, 61]

Whereas many of Walker's finest paintings of the 1860s have their origins in his magazine illustrations, this 14 x 22.5-inch water-colour has no counterpart among Walker's engravings. However, the customer and her child as well as the the genial vendor appear in a small drawing that Walker produced on a much smaller scale. This was not exhibited during his lifetime, but was No. 9 in his Memorial Exhibition in 1876.

The fish unquestionably steal the show; in fact, in their luxuriant variety of colour and form they rather than the three static human beings serve as a metonymy for the spectacular multiplicity of nature. The elderly fishmonger draws life from his wares as he offers his wondrous stock to the female customer in Regency dress. Confronted with so much choice, she finds it hard to make up her mind:

Mullet, mackerel, skate, cod, sea bass, herring, salmon, and gurnard (sea robin) can all be identified in the display. A flounder and a puffer fish hang from the shop front above. In the foreground, a child with a hoop gazes into a tub, probably filled with live carp. Given the variety of seafood on display, it is not surprising to learn that the artist was an enthusiastic fisherman. [RasMarley]


Chesterton, Gilbert. Famous Paintings. London, New York, and Toronto: Cassell, 1912.

Phillips, Claude. Frederick Walker and His Works. London: Seeley & Co., 1894, rpt. 1905.

RasMarley. "Walker, Frederick (1840-1875) — 1872c. A Fishmonger's Shop" from the Lady Lever Collection, Liverpool Museums. Online version available from Flickr. Web. 5 August 2018.

Last modified 27 August 2018