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Frederic Shields (1833-1911)

Frederic James Shields (Hartlepool, 14 March 1833 - 26 February 1911, London) was a British artist, illustrator and designer closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites through Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown.
Frederic James Shields was born in Hartlepool on 14 March 1833, the eldest of four children of Georgiana Storey (d. 1853) a straw hat maker and John Shields (c.1808–1849) a bookbinder, stationer, and printer who ran a circulating library. Baptised Frederick, he later adopted the spelling Frederic.

The family moved to London in 1839 and Shields attended St Clement Danes parish school until he was fourteen.
His father was a skilled draughtsman and gave Shields his first drawing lessons, and the boy went on to study engraving at evening classes at the London Mechanics' Institute, winning a drawing prize aged thirteen.
In October 1847 he was apprenticed to a firm of lithographers.

His father's business failed in 1848 and the family moved back north where Shields joined them.
He was brought up in extreme poverty, and as a young man was employed on hack-work for commercial engravers.
He managed to study art briefly at evening classes in London and then in Manchester, where he settled in about 1848. He spent much of his artistic life in Manchester, and it was there that his drawings and watercolours were noticed and appreciated.

Book illustrations

The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 made a great impression on Shields. His style became more elegant and minute. Inspired by Edward Moxon's illustrated edition of Poems by Alfred Tennyson (1857), he started to work in black-and-white as a book illustrator.
His designs for Daniel Defoe's History of the Plague (1862) and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1864) were very successful and brought him admirers, among whose were John Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
In May 1864 Shields went to London and met Rossetti, through whom he soon came to know the whole Pre-Raphaelite circle.
Influenced by Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown, Shields was sensitive to the artistic legacy of William Blake who was admired by the Pre-Raphaelites. His portrayal of the room in which William Blake had died (Manchester Art Gallery, a version at Delaware Fine Art Museum, USA) inspired a poem by DG Rossetti.

Frederic Shields was deeply religious man. His faith influenced his artistic manner which was gradually becoming more mannered and mystical in theme. These changes can be seen in his most significant book design – the second edition of Alexander Gilchrist's Life of William Blake (London: Macmillan, 1880. 2 vols).

It was inspired by Rossetti about whom The New York Times wrote:
Rossetti shows increasing zeal in /…/ recommending others who would be qualified to help with the work. Of Frederic Shields he says, 'Of course his labour would be purely one of love. He is an ardent worshipper of Blake, and no man could write better about him or with more practical exactness'.

Shields' binding can be considered today as a very fine example of early Art Nouveau style.