'The New Frock' 1889

William Powell Frith (1819 – 1909)

Oil on canvas, 92 x 72cm
Accession Number LL3419

William Powell Frith 'The New Frock'

In this painting, the sentimental emphasis on the girl’s pride in her appearance and clothes made this piece ideal for Lever’s advertising strategy. Lever reproduced it as an advert for Sunlight Soap with the caption ‘So Clean’. Frith vigorously protested at what he saw as the prostitution of his art for commercial purposes. However, no copyright agreement had been made Leverhulme was free to reproduce it as he wished.

When first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1889, Frith gave this painting the sub-title ‘Vanitas vanitatum; omnia vanitas’, or ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity’. This would imply that the artist’s intended message was exactly the opposite to that insisted upon by Leverhulme in his soap advertisements.