Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mystery around Holst sketchbook unveiled

A RARE sketchbook on display in Cheltenham could have influenced a renowned 19th century artist.

Staff at the Holst Birthplace Museum said the book which is part of an exhibition of painter Theodor von Holst was once owned by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Up until now, the history of the book had not been known until a scholar recently wrote to the museum to explain the link.

Holst, great uncle of composer Gustav Holst, was greatly admired by Rosetti, the painter and poet who was founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

A bewildered brotherhood

[Deceived in love: William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini, illustrating a tale told by Dante and Boccaccio]

Edward Burne-Jones - Girl with Book with Roses Behind

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Monna Rosa

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Study for 'The Bower Meadow'

Arthur Hughes - The Dial

William Holman Hunt - The Festival of St. Swithin or The Dovecote, 1866-75

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

John William Waterhouse - Spring spreads one green lap of flowers

Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 556,650 GBP (2002)

106 by 77cm., 41¾ by 30¼in.

signed and dated l.r.: J.W.Waterhouse 1910
oil on canvas

John William Waterhouse established his reputation in the 1880s and 1890s as a painter of literary and mythological subjects, almost always including beautiful young girls, but also often introducing themes with tragic implications. Works such as Ophelia and Miranda, to name two of his paintings of Shakespearean heroines, The Lady of Shallot - a subject from Tennyson - or The Awakening of Adonis or Flora and the Zephyrs, each inspired by ancient mythology, lead to the conclusion that Waterhouse was one of the last and greatest subject painters of British art.

In the last decade or so of his career, essentially from about the turn of the twentieth century, he increasingly painted themes which are unspecific in terms of narrative, but instead loosely evocative of the ancient world. A theme which preoccupied him over a long period, and which led to a memorable series of single figure compositions, was that of a landscape in spring with the single figure of a girl gathering flowers. Even when these may be recognised as echoing the painter's earlier mythological works in showing figures suggestive of the ancient legends - of, for example, Psyche, who was brought to a meadow of flowers by Zepherus, or that of Persephone and her return from the Underworld to rejoin her mother Demeter at the return of spring, or of the death of Narcissus when he fell in love with his own image, of which he caught sight when reflected in the surface of the stream - the meaning of these later paintings is usually veiled or ambiguous.

Perhaps the clearest indication that Waterhouse sought to evoke mythological legend in the present painting, even if there is no ostensible narrative subject, is the choice of the two varieties of flowers - narcissi and anemones. The former is of course associated with Narcissus himself, because after his death narcissi grew at the edge of the stream in which he drowned and are therefore a symbol of rebirth, while purple and red anemones sprang up from the ground from the drops of blood which fell from the body of Adonis at the moment of his death, gored by a wild boar into which Ares, a former lover of Aphrodite had transformed himself in a fit of mad jealousy when told that she loved Adonis rather than him.

The series of flower gathering girls seems to have originated with the painting Windflowers (private collection) of 1902, in which the flowers picked are about to be scattered by a gust of wind. The present subject, which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1910, appears to be a worked up and completed version of a sketch titled Flora (fig.1, Sotheby's, London, 19 June 1991, lot 236). The sequence was completed in 1913, when Waterhouse exhibited a painting entitled Narcissus (fig.2, Sotheby's, London, 20 November 1996, lot 257), in which the same model appears, even wearing the same or a similar pink diaphanous dress as is shown in the present subject. The principal difference between the two is that while in the later painting the figure is standing, here she is seen on her knees as she stretches out to pick the narcissi.

Waterhouse may have known, and was perhaps consciously or unconsciously imitating, Burne-Jones's painting The March Marigold (Piccadilly Gallery, London) when he treated subjects of girls picking flowers. This particular painting by Burne-Jones was a work of the early 1870s, and shows a stooping figure in flowing draperies picking flowers at a stream's edge. As a subject, it seems to derive from the artist's earlier sequence of drawings which were intended to illustrate the legend of Cupid and Psyche as told by William Morris in the verse cycle The Earthly Paradise. If so, it, like Waterhouse's Spring Spreads One Green Lap of Flowers, has evolved into an independent image no longer serving a story-telling purpose, but instead subscribing to the aesthetic principle that painting should be concerned with mood rather than narrative, combined with abstract qualities of composition and colour which are intrinsically pleasing for their own sake.

London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1910, no.14

Anthony Hobson, The Art and Life of J.W. Waterhouse RA 1849-1917, London, 1980, p.190, catalogue no.175

John Everett Millais - Esther

Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 251,200 USD (2005)

42 by 30 1/2 in.

signed with monogram (lower left)

oil on canvas

London, Royal Academy, 1865, no. 522
London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1886, no. 118
London, Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition, 1898, no. 35
Manchester City Art Gallery, Ford Madox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelites, 1911, no. 239
The Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1912, no. 3

Soon after seeing Millais’ work, Anne Thackery, daughter of William Thackery, wrote “I cannot help longing to know the fate of ‘Esther’… after she went in through the curtains.” (as quoted in Millais, p. 385). The Biblical Queen had long been a popular subject for artists from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century's Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who thrilled in the dramatic Old Testament tale of the great Hebrew beauty's daring courage. However, Millais' work is unique in that he chooses to depict Esther without obvious narrative force; instead, he captures an intermittent scene where she “put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king’s house” (Esther, 5:1), preparing to set in motion an elaborate plan to defend her people from King Ahasuerus' genocide. The story of Esther is translated into the aesthetic possibilities of a woman dressed in an elaborately brocaded grown, grasping a crown in one hand, her other pulling beads through her long auburn tresses. The tense mood of the moment is revealed in color contrasts and geometric arrangements, as the Queen seems poised to push through the heavy blue curtains.

In its focus on aesthetics as narrative, Esther is obviously different from Millais' major, more conventional, Academy paintings. This work builds on experiments first made in The Black Brunswicker (1859-60, Lady Lever Art Gallery, National Museums, Liverpool) and Eve of St. Agnes (1863, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) in which the realistic tonal capture of silk skirts, brocaded fabrics, and atmospheric settings superceded distinct action or compelling situation. The arrangement of model and props was crucial inspiration, and for the present work, Millais carefully selected a jacket for its color and texture: “The robe thrown over the shoulders of ‘Esther’ was General Gordon’s ‘Yellow Jacket.’ In this ‘Yellow Jacket’ General Gordon sat for Valentine Prinsep, R.A., for the portrait of the Royal Engineer's mess-room at Chatham. Millais so admired this splendid piece of brocade that he dressed Miss Muir Mackenzie in it, but turning it inside out, so as to have broader masses of colour." (Millais, p. 384). Using the elaborate patterns of the jacket, the artist moves away from morality, plot, and meaning, to focus on colors and contours—consequently, the narrative subject becomes a painted portrait of timeless beauty. As such, this work would prove inspirational to several of Millais' contemporaries. William Michael Rossetti noted its parallels to Whistler's Symphony in White No. 2: The Little White Girl (1864, Tate Gallery, London) while Waterhouse credited the work for his Marianne (1887, Private Collection). For these artists and Millais, Esther was an important work, poised, just as its royal subject, to enter unchartered, revolutionary territory.

John Everett Millais - The Somnambulist, 1871

Edward Burne-Jones - William Morris

John William Waterhouse - Flora and the Zephyrs - A Sketch

The full sized oil sketch for the painting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Frederick Sandys - Portrait of Mrs Christy and her two sons

[Portrait of Mrs Christy and her two sons, Stephen and Basil]
signed F Sandys 1900 l.l.
coloured chalks over traces of pencil on a backboard
Mrs Christy was the daughter of Admiral Sir G. Phipps Hornby.
She married Henry Edmund Christy (1865 - 1931) of Lordington, Emsworth, near Chichester.
Both these sons died in the Great War (WWI). Apparently the two boys were rather troublesome during the sitting, particularly Stephen who kept turning his head away.
Stephen was born in 1896, Basil the year after.

John Ruskin, by Sir John Everett Millais

Andrew Graham-Dixon

The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro during the Drunkenness Attending the Revelry, by William Holman Hunt

Andrew Graham-Dixon

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The Sermon on the Mount

John William Waterhouse - apollo and daphne

Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 1,103,500 GBP (2001)

signed and dated l.l.: J.W.Waterhouse 1908
oil on canvas
145 by 112 cm., 57 by 44 in.

The second half of the 1890s witnessed J.W. Waterhouse's arrival as one of the leading artists of the day (he had been elected as a full member of the Royal Academy in 1895). In this period he turned largely to mythological subjects, finding in these themes a compelling and sometimes ominous drama. Among the great works of this type are Hylas and the Nymphs (Manchester City Art Gallery), which was painted in 1896 and exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year, and Flora and the Zephyrs (ex Sotheby's, London, 6 November 1996, lot 307), of 1897. He particularly relished moments of fateful confrontation between the gods and mortals of Greek and Roman legend, and paintings by him such as the present subject Apollo and Daphne, which illustrates the story told in Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses (also given in the Fabulae of Hyginus), are darkly beautiful and thoughtful reinterpretations of an ancient iconographic tradition.

Daphne was the daughter of a river-god called Peneus who lived as a wild huntress who 'roamed the pathless woods, knowing nothing of men.' Apollo saw Daphne, and because he had been smitten with a golden arrow of Cupid, he fell in love with her. To revenge himself upon Apollo who had questioned his supremacy as an archer, Cupid also wounded Daphne but with an arrow that would cause her always to flee from love. Therefore, and despite Apollo's entreaties and attempts to reassure her that he meant her no harm, she ran from him - 'even then, she was graceful to see, as the wind bared her limbs, and its gusts stirred her garments, blowing them out behind her. Her hair streamed in the light breeze, and her beauty was enhanced by her flight.' Apollo ran after her, and pursued her to the river of which Peneus was the god; at the moment when finally he laid his hands upon her and as she uttered a plea to her father to save her she was transformed into a laurel or bay-tree: 'A deep languor took hold on her limbs, her soft breast was enclosed in thin bark, her hair grew into leaves, her arms into branches, and her feet that were lately so swift were held fast by sluggish roots, while her face became the treetop. Nothing of her was left, except her shining loveliness.'

Waterhouse shows Apollo rushing towards Daphne; his right arm has practically enclosed her, while in his left hand he holds his lyre. Daphne looks back at him with an expression of fear, perhaps mixed with submission, as if startled both by his passionate attempt upon her and by the sudden awareness that she was at that moment changing into the form of a living tree. One of her legs is already encased within the bole, while the folds of her dress seem to be solidifying into bark. At the centre of the composition is a glimpse of the river to which she had returned in search of refuge.

The painter had perhaps looked at earlier representations of the subject. A painting attributed to Antonio Pollaiuolo, from the late fifteenth century, in the National Gallery since 1876, may have served as a loose prototype for the iconographic elements. However, the clear source for the dynamic movement and physicality of the composition is Bernini's marble statue Apollo and Daphne, of 1622-4. Waterhouse would undoubtedly have seen this group in the Borghese Gallery in Rome, having made frequent visits to Italy - and specifically to Rome (in which city, incidentally, he had been born) - in the 1870s and 1880s.

Waterhouse seems to have made two versions of this subject. In his 1980 monograph on the artist Anthony Hobson reproduces an early photograph of the alternative version - distinguished from the present painting by the fact that the figure of Apollo is wearing sandals. In his second book, of 1989, Hobson indicates that the present painting is the version of the subject that belonged to Lord Lambton.

London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1908, no.177 (?)
Liverpool, Autumn Exhibition, 1910, no.1042 (?)
Bristol, Royal West of England Academy, 1918, no.119 (?)

Anthony Hobson, The Art and Life of J.W. Waterhouse RA 1849-1917, London, 1980, p.190, cat. no.162 (reproduces another version of the subject pl.130 )
Anthony Hobson, J.W. Waterhouse, Oxford, 1989, p.89, pl.66

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Portrait of Robert Browning

Arthur Hughes - Edward Robert Hughes as a Child, c.1853-4

Sunday, October 24, 2010

John William Waterhouse - Dolce Far Niente

Price Realized £289,250

signed and dated 'J. W. Waterhouse/1879' (lower right)
oil on canvas
19½ x 14¼ in. (49.6 x 36.2 cm.)

P. Trippi, J. W. Waterhouse, Phaidon, 2002, pl. 26.
E. Prettejohn, P. Trippi, R. Upstone and P. Wagemen, J.W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite, exhibition catalogue, 2009, p. 80, no. 7.

Waterhouse's most important works of the 1870s were remarkably melancholy. In classicized scenes such as A Sick Child Brought into the Temple of Aesculapius (1877) and The Remorse of Nero after the Murder of his Mother (1878), this budding talent, not yet 30 years old, created moody reveries in darkened rooms. Yet, the critic Claude Phillips observed later, 'it was impossible for a painter of Mr Waterhouse's susceptibilities not to be caught in the great naturalistic wave which swept Europe.'

Intrigued by the French Impressionist pictures that had stirred controversy worldwide since 1874 and by his hero Lawrence Alma-Tadema's recent shift to lighter tones, Waterhouse threw open his shutters in 1879, muting his melancholy and experimenting with the play of sunlight on models' forms. His colours began to lighten and he used shorter, broken brushstrokes that build up, in some areas, to a thicker impasto.
In this brighter key, Waterhouse developed two totally different paintings bearing the same title, Dolce Far Niente (Sweet Doing Nothing). Although smaller than the 1880 version now in the Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery, the present picture of 1879 is far more compelling in both composition and colour. The Illustrated London News was particularly astute to praise its 'happy harmony of blue and bluish-green,' which delights and draws back our eyes even as they scan the rest of the scene.

Inspired in part by the Italianate pictures of women Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted from 1859 to 1882, Aesthetic-minded artists like Waterhouse favoured the theme of idleness because it liberated them from illustrating narratives and pointing morals, seeking only beauty through harmonious arrangements of form, line and colour. In Dolce Far Niente, the model's lethargy and closed-off setting removes her from everyday life, while her supine pose encourages male fantasy. Waterhouse had explored these avenues earlier, but by 1879 he was clearly referring to Albert Moore's famous pictures of maidens lounging in classical drapery with anachronistic Aesthetic props. (Waterhouse did not, however, emulate Moore's rigour in design and tonal modulation.)

Mistakenly catalogued in 1996 as The White Feather Fan because the model holds one in her hand, this picture is actually summarized by the sunflowers at lower right and in the background. The sunflower was a key emblem of Aestheticism, representing self-admiration in the 'language of flowers' familiar to all Victorians through popular literature. The model's partially averted face renders her a decorative form; like a sunflower, she faces the light streaming from above. The Magazine of Art cautioned that Dolce Far Niente was 'too fantastically imitated from the peculiarities of Mr Alma-Tadema's work': indeed it echoes Alma-Tadema's Water Pets and Play Garden, both of 1875. Both artists depicted a Roman girl absorbed in a trivial activity. Waterhouse used three floating feathers to lead the eye upward from the extended arm to the hanging lamp; the resulting arc focuses attention on the mottled wall, a crucial element in this composition not only for its size and centrality, but also because it reflects light falling on the figure.

This picture's bold, asymmetrical design and lighting reveal Waterhouse's awareness of what was happening across the Channel. So, too, does the bravura handling of an oil sketch of this model (private collection), dedicated on its reverse to the Scottish artist Robert Payton Reid (1859-1945), who studied in Paris and Munich. The nature of the men's relationship is unknown, and it is possible that they met on the Continent. Suggestive of Italian origin, the crooked nose and curly red hair of the model here also reflect the current vogue for the actress Sarah Bernhardt's exotic beauty, celebrated in the renowned portrait by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-84) exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1879. This model also appears in Waterhouse's La Favorita, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1879 and now known only through a line drawing.

We are grateful to Peter Trippi for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

England's Michelangelo: George Frederic Watts, Watts Gallery. Tate Britain, 2004

[Lily Langtry]
Andrew Graham-Dixon

John William Inchbold - Anstey's Cove, Devon, 1854

The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon by Edward Burne-Jones at Tate Britain

Andrew Graham-Dixon

William Holman Hunt - Cyril Benoni Holman Hunt, 1880
Fanny Waugh who died following childbirth, and of her child Cyril Benoni Holman Hunt who survived her.

John Everett Millais - Flowing to the Sea, 1871

Marie Spartali Stillman - Girl Playing Music

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Simeon Solomon - Marguerite

signed with monogram and dated SS/'66 I.r.
inscribed Given to me by Andrew Lang about 1898 H. Rider Haggard on the reverse,
oil on canvas
40.5 by 35.5cm.; 16 by 14in.

Simeon Solomon's Marguerite is a wonderful example of the type of figurative composition halfway between a portrait and a genre subject, and with ambiguous and even disturbing associations - that painters in the artistic circle that formed around Gabriel Rossetti in the 1860s were making. In its abstract refinement of line and colour, and self-contained and uncertain mood, it is a representative work of the early Aesthetic Movement. When it was shown in 1871, five years after it was painted, the conservative Art Journal remained unsure as to its artistic purpose, suggesting that it should have been titled A Reverie, for 'as the title stands we feel there is something lacking to complete our ideal of Goethe's Marguerite'. Despite his uncenainty as to the essential subject of the painting, the same critic recognized its intrinsic quality: 'Nevertheless, the modelling of the face is very beautiful, and the half-shut eye is tender and full of love.'

This painting has a particularly interesting history, having been owned by Andrew Lang, the Scottish poet, anthropologist, Homeric scholar, and author and collector of fairy-tales. Lang then gave the painting to his close friend and literary collaborator H Rider Haggard, author of King Solomon's Mines (1886). At about the turn of the century, when Solomon was still alive but living in poverty, a new interest in his painting and drawing grew up in certain circles. In 1905 Rupert Brooke inquired of a friend: 'Did you ever hear of S. Solomon. painter? He died the other day, and I read an article on him in the Westminster (written by Robert Ross, the friend and literary executor of Oscar Wilde, 24 August 1905, pp.1-21]. He was a delightful painter of 1850-70-about: but he succumbed to drink etc., and became "impossible" .... Why haven't I ever heard of him?' (Quoted by Gayle Seymour in her article 'The Trial and its Aftermath'. Solomon - A Family of Painters, exhibition catalogue, Geffyre Museum, London, 1985, pp.28-30)
Art Journal. 1871, p.285

estimate: £5,000-7,000

Simeon Solomon - 'For the Night Must Pass Before the Coming Day', 1893

Simeon Solomon - The Toilet of a Roman Lady, 1869

Helen Thornycroft - Narcissus, 1876

Frederick Sandys - Olive Margaret Slaughter, 1860