Thursday, September 30, 2010
Price Realized £9,400
Forest Creek, Newport Sandbanks, Pembrokeshire Coast
inscribed 'FOREST Creek 15 July 82' (upper right); and signed and inscribed 'Newport Sandbank Pembrokeshire Coast/by John Brett/ARA' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
71/8 x 141/8 in. (18.1 x 36 cm.)
A sketch for this view can be found in the artist's sketchbook, held in the National Maritime Museum.
The present work is a smaller version of one commissioned by Dr J. Watt Black in 1882. The larger oil measures 15 x 29½ in. and is currently in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
Brett is particularly known for his Pre-Raphaelite works of the 1850s, including The Glacier of Rosenlaui, (1856) (Tate Gallery, London), The Stonebreaker, (1857-8) (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and Val d'Aosta, (1858) (Private Collection).
In 1863-64 Brett visited the Bay of Naples and began thereafter to paint sea pictures and coastal views; in subsequent years he frequently travelled along the coast of the British Isles during the summer months. He painted several pictures of Cardigan Bay including one which was exhibited in 1892 at the Royal Academy.
Brett frequently included rocks in the foreground of his coastal scenes which enabled him to display his skills at portraying their detailed surfaces. He was interested in geology and, as a scientist of some repute, was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He used strict mathematical theory to determine the size of his canvases; the eye could take in a view on a horizontal azimuth of 60 degrees, and it was his opinion that 'all the paintable phenomena in nature occur within an angle of about fifteen degrees above or below the horizon'. This resulted in almost all of his paintings being exactly twice as long as they are high.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Price Realized £318,850
signed with monogram and dated lower right: '18JM76'
oil on canvas
40½ x 35¾ in. (103 x 91 cm)
Bought from the artist by Edward Hermon, M.P., of Wyfold Court, Henley-on-Thames; (+), Christie's, London, 13 May 1882 (810 gns. to Agnew).
Humphrey Roberts, by 1886.
Sir Joseph B Robinson and by descent to his daughter, Princess Labia, in 1929.
Sotheby's, London, 30 November 2000, lot 36.
London, Royal Academy, 1876, no. 387.
The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1876, when Millais was forty-seven. M.H. Spielmann stressed the insight and acute psychology displayed in the treatment of the principal figure. 'In the invalid herself', he wrote, 'will be recognised a wonderfully truthful rendering - not only the appearance of slow recovery, but also the observation that has caught the timidity with which a young convaslescent usually first receives visitors'. Writing in 1898, he also felt that the picture 'suffered through the style of the visitor's dress, now out of all fashion', but that is hardly a problem that is likely to worry us today.
The picture's genesis was unusual. In his painting The North West Passage, exhibited at the R.A. in 1874, Millais had originally intended to show a girl and a boy turning a globe in the upper right corner. Eventually, however, he decided to simplify the composition by focusing on the figures of the old mariner and his daughter. The area of canvas on which the children had been paintined was cut out, and onto the piece inserted to take the flag which appears in the picture today. Getting Better was painted on the discarded piece of canvas retaining the figures but altering them to form a completely new subject.
In developing his new theme, Millais seems to have been thinking of his two earlier accounts of children in bed, Sleeping and Waking, which had been exhibited together at the RA in 1867. The subject of convalescence was popular in Victorian art, being not only relevant to an age which suffered so much from ill health and high mortality but perfectly tailored to the fashion for emotive and sentimental themes. Millais himself treated it again in The Convalescent (Aberdeen Art Gallery), a work of 1875 which must have been in progress at the same time as Getting Better. Tissot's The Convalescent is another obvious comparison, although his protagonist, typically, is a young woman and the sentiment is very different.
The model for the invalid is Getting Better, who also appears in The Convalescent, has not been indentified, but for the other figures Millais followed his frequent practice of getting his own children to sit. His third daughter, Alice, posed for the elegantly dressed visitor, and his youngest son, John, for the boy. Alice was now fourteen. Born in 1862, she had already modelled for the child in Sleeping, and in later life was to be a fine pianist, and an intimate friend of Elgar. In 1886 she married Charles Stuart Wortley, a barrister and Conservative M.P. who was raised to the peerage in 1816. John Millais was born in 1865, so Getting Better shows him at the age of eleven. Later an artist and keen sportsman, he is remembered today as the author of his father's official biography, published in 1899.
Of the picture's early owners, perhaps the most remarkable was Sir Joseph Robinson. Born in the Cape Colony in 1840, Robinson made a fortune out of mining in South Africa. He moved to England in 1893, and the following year took a lease on Dudley House, a mansion in Park Lane. The house had a large vaulted picture gallery, and Robinson began to buy Old Master and modern paintings. He probably acquired Getting Better from its previous owner, Humphrey Roberts, at about this time, and he would soon be buying other Millais' from the dealer J.C. Wertheimer, including the famous Cherry Ripe (1879) and The Old Garden (1888) now in the Lloyd Webber Collection. In 1910, however, Robinson, aged seventy, decided to return to the Cape. His pictures were put into store in London, and did not re-appear until the collection, including Getting Better was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1958.
Friend of Oscar Wilde and mistress of Maurice Barres.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Price Realized £59,750
signed with monogram and dated '83' (lower right)
pencil and watercolour with gum arabic, heightened with bodycolour
39¾ x 29 1/8 in. (10.1 x 74 cm.)
London, New Gallery, 1883, no.349.
St Cecilia was a Roman virgin martyr who lived in the 2nd or 3rd century AD. Her relics, which are thought to be genuine, are preserved in the basilica of S. Cecilia in Trastevere, a church of very early foundation. Brought up as a Christian, she took a vow of chastity and, on marrying a Roman nobleman named Valerius, urged him to accept sexual abstinence. He agreed on condition that he was allowed to see her guardian angel, whereupon the angel descended and placed garlands of roses and lilies on their heads. Both Valerius and his brother Tiburtius were baptised as Christians, and in due course they and Cecilia suffered martyrdom for their faith.
Cecilia is famous in Christian iconography as the patron saint of music. Her connection with the art appears to stem from the legend that she rejected the sound of musical instruments that greeted her as she entered the house of her betrothed, having ears only for the heavenly music that required her to remain stainless in body and soul. In art, she usually betrays her patronal role by playing an organ; but she does not disdain other instruments, and the idea of her listening to celestial music is often represented by upturned eyes and angel choirs.
The story had entered the canon of Pre-Raphaelite subject matter when Rossetti illustrated Tennyson's poem 'The Palace of Art' in the famous Moxon edition of the poet's works (1857). His typically idiosyncratic design portrays one of the images in the 'lordly pleasure-house' which the aesthete erects in order to cultivate beauty and isolate himself from the outside world:
Or in a clear-wall'd city on the sea,
Near gilded organ-pipes, her hair
Wound with white roses, slept St Cecily;
An angel look'd at her
From then on the subject was never far from the movement's consciousness. Burne-Jones often represented the Saint in stained glass, notably in a window of 1875 in the Cathedral at Christ Church, Oxford, which not only shows her and her angels in the main lights but incidents from her life in 'predella' panels below. Other exponents of the late Pre-Raphaelite tradition who attempted the theme included J.M. Strudwick, J.W. Waterhouse and E.R. Frampton. Of these, Waterhouse's version is the most ambitious and familiar. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895, the picture was sold in these Rooms for a record price in June 2000 and is now in the Lloyd Webber Collection.
Marie Stillman's watercolour was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883. This radical alternative to the Royal Academy had opened six years earlier, and immediately established itself as a showcase for the Aesthetic movement. Burne-Jones was its undisputed star, and many of his followers and associates were keen supporters. Stillman had exhibited there from the outset, showing the occasional fanciful portrait or Italian landscape, but mainly the subjects from Rossetti's Early Italian Poets (1861) which were her speciality and gained such colour from her current residence in Florence.
The Childhood of St Cecily shows the Saint as a girl, playing a psaltery and listening to heavenly voices as an attendant dresses her hair. A piece of Tuscan countryside fills the background. Stylistically, the picture still owes much to Ford Madox Brown, under whom Stillman had studied for some years from 1864; the drapery is particularly Brunonian in treatment.
But there is a lot of Rossetti's influence here too. Indeed the fact that Rossetti had died the previous year suggests that an element of memorial may be built into the conception. True, the design has nothing in common with the Moxon illustration, but half-length figures of women either dressing their hair or having it attended to by others had been one of the central themes of Rossetti's later work, and Stillman, an acknowledged beauty whom the artist had often used as a model, would have seen numerous examples when she visited his studio. Nor is the motif of hair-dressing essential to the comparison. If we think of a picture such as The Beloved, Rossetti's masterpiece of 1865-6 (Tate Gallery), it is not difficult to see how much Stillman has learnt from her mentor in terms of the relationship of her two figure's heads, their hand movements, and so on. As for the idea of showing the Saint in her childhood, it is tempting to relate this to Rossetti's first completed picture, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin of 1848-9 (Tate Gallery), even though Stillman is unlikely to have known it in the flesh when her own contribution to the genre was conceived. Having been in a private collection almost since its execution, the picture did not appear in public until it was included in the Rossetti memorial exhibition held at the Royal Academy in the winter of 1883, a few months after the Grosvenor Gallery's summer exhibition had closed.
Price Realized £509,250
'Thy Music, faintly falling, dies away,
Thy dear eyes dream that Love will live for aye'
signed with initials and dated 'JMS.1893' (on a cartouche, lower left)
oil on canvas
30½ x 15½ in. (77.5 x 39.4 cm.)
Bought from the artist by William Imrie of Holmstead, Mossley Hill, Liverpool; (+) Christie's, London, 28 June 1907, lot 142 (160 gns. to Gooden and Fox).
London, New Gallery, 1893, no. 106.
Strudwick was born in Clapham, and educated there at St Saviour's Grammar School. Refusing to contemplate a career in business, he studied art at South Kensington and the Royal Academy Schools, but was a singularly unsuccessful student. The only visitor to the Schools who encouraged him was the Scottish artist John Pettie (1839-1893), whose fluent brushwork, typical of the pupils of Robert Scott Lauder at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, he emulated for a time. A picture illustrating the ballad of 'Auld Robin Gray', exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists in 1873 and sold in these Rooms on 5 November 1993, lot 181, is an interesting record of this early phase.
Strudwick eventually found his feet in the mid 1870s, when he acted as a temporary assistant first to J.R. Spencer Stanhope and then to Burne-Jones. Songs without Words, the picture with which he made his first and only appearance at the Royal Academy in 1876, shows his mature style formed, and it underwent little development from then on. Like so many of the younger 'Aesthetic' painters and Burne-Jones followers, he exhibited at the Dudley Gallery, at the Grosvenor Gallery from its dramatic opening in 1877, and finally at the New Gallery, which inherited the mantle of the Grosvenor in 1888. Despite his inauspicious start, he enjoyed considerable success; as George Bernard Shaw wrote in an article about him in the Art Journal for April 1891, 'there is no such thing in existence as an unsold picture by Strudwick'. Songs without Words was bought by Lord Southesk, a Scottish peer with antiquarian interests. A Golden Thread (1885) was acquired for the Chantrey Bequest as part of the Royal Academy's current campaign to woo the Burne-Jones school; and two wealthy Liverpool collectors, William Imrie and George Holt, became longstanding patrons. Bernard Shaw's article was a further sign of success. Shaw's main thesis is that Strudwick's very incapacity as a student was the making of him as an artist; he quotes Strudwick's comment that 'he could not draw - never could', and interprets this as 'a priceless gift', saving him from the empty virtuosity - 'execution for execution's sake' - which had become so common among young artists, especially those who had spent 'a couple of seasons in Paris'. Shaw also recorded that Strudwick had 'a fine sense of humour', something one would hardly guess from his pictures, and that he had never visited Italy, although critics often complained that his pictures were little more than pastiches of early Italian work.
Strudwick lived all his adult life in Hammersmith or Bedford Park, not far from Burne-Jones and his fellow assistant in Burne-Jones's studio, T.M. Rooke. His daughter Ethel, born in 1880, was to become High Mistress of St Paul's Girls' School, situated locally, in 1927. Strudwick was still contributing to the New Gallery in 1908, when it held its last but one exhibition, but he seems to have ceased painting about this time although he lived on until 1937. His Times obituary described him as 'a beautiful old man... (and) a charming personality, exceedingly kind to young artists'.
The present picture was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1893, three years after The Gentle Music of a Byegone Day, which was sold in these Rooms on 11 June 1993 (lot 130) and is now in the Lloyd Webber Collection. Like that well-known work, it has all the hallmarks of Strudwick's style, or, to put it another way, is a perfect demonstration of Aesthetic values. There is no narrative subject. Instead, mood is established by means of a musical reference, while a beautiful model in exotic draperies provides the pretext for a ravishing visual ensemble. Even the haloed figures in the frieze behind the girl's head seem to have no symbolic significance, being introduced merely for decorative effect and to suggest a vaguely medieval-cum-Renaissance mise-en-scène. Particularly typical of Strudwick is the extreme emphasis on surface pattern and texture. It is as if embroiderers and goldsmiths have been literally at work, bringing every detail to the highest pitch of polished perfection and finesse.
The picture seems to have received little attention in the press, apart from a characteristically hostile review by F.G. Stephens in the Athenaeum. Strudwick's work was anathema to Stephens, and every year he would slate his contributions at the Grosvenor and New Gallery exhibitions. This was no exception.
If press reaction was disappointing, however, the picture could hardly have had a better provenance, or one that suggests a keener apreciation of its qualities. It seems to have been bought direct from Strudwick by William Imrie (1837-1906), a partner in the Liverpool shipping firm of Ismay, Imrie & Co. (the White Star Line), who, as already noted, was one of Strudwick's most important patrons. In fact he was the most important. His posthumous sale at Christie's on 28 June 1907 included no fewer than six Strudwicks, the present picture among them, but there were also others. Witheld for one reason or another were a St Cecilia reproduced in Bernard Shaw's article (which is entirely illustrated with pictures from the Imrie collection), a pair of Angels offered in these Rooms on 5 March 1993 (lot 109), and The Ten Virgins, which Christie's sold in London on 13 June 2001 (lot 12). In view of the small number of pictures that Strudwick painted, this is an astonishing record. Two of the most important Strudwicks in the collection, Evensong (1898) and the large version of Passing Days (1904), were included in the Last Romantics exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery, London, in 1989 (nos. 46, and 47). Imrie also owned eight works by Evelyn De Morgan, another Burne-Jones follower, together with examples of Burne-Jones himself, D.G. Rossetti, Spencer Stanhope, Leighton, Alma-Tadema and others.
Imrie was one of a group of Liverpool shipowners and merchants who formed comparable collections of pictures at this period. Others were his partner T.H. Ismay (1837-1899), George Holt (1825-1896), whose collection remains intact at Sudley, and F.R. Leyland (died 1892), who patronized Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Whistler and others on such a princely scale and created one of the greatest 'Aesthetic' houses of the day at 49 Prince's Gate in London. As Edward Morris has observed, there was almost certainly a connection between Imrie and Holt, who also owned a Burne-Jones and bought a number of pictures by Strudwick in the 1890s. They lived near one another in Mossley Hill, a suburb of south Liverpool, and must have been acquainted. They were both businessmen of a reclusive type, not too strenuously engaged in commerce or public life, which may help to explain why they responded to the contemplative art of Burne-Jones and his school. On the other hand, we cannot assume that they were inspired by Leyland, despite his dazzling example of patronage in this field, since Leyland's collecting took place in London, and he himself was deeply unpopular in Liverpool. It is true that Imrie's partner, T.H. Ismay, employed Norman Shaw to build his country house, Dawpool, at Thurlaston in Cheshire, and that Shaw was responsible for creating Leyland's great interior in Prince's Gate; but even this link is weakened by the fact that Shaw had an extensive clientele in the Liverpool area.
In recent times, 'Thy Music...' has had two more distinguished owners. The writer and broadcaster Sir Tim Rice owned it in the 1970s, and in 1987 it was acquired by the late P.C. Withers of Reading, a leading authority on Strudwick whose guidance is sorely missed.
The couplet that gives the picture its title is by G.F. Bodley (1827-1907), the emminent Gothic Revival architect who was so closely associated with the later Pre-Raphaelite movement. In fact Bodley supplied the titles not only for 'Thy Music...' but for a second picture that Strudwick exhibited at the New Gallery in 1893, no. 19:
'Let come what may, for that grim Fate decides,
Love rules the day, and Love, enthroned, abides'.
It would be interesting to know which came first, the pictures or the poetic titles, and also to learn more about the relationship between Strudwick and Bodley which, on this evidence, would appear to have been quite close. All we can say at present is that a friendship would fit in with the fact that Bodley worked professionally with both Strudwick's masters, Burne-Jones and Spencer Stanhope. He also owned examples of their work. The early Burne-Jones triptych in the Tate Gallery was his; so was Stanhope's Our Lady of the Water Gate, sold in these Rooms on 15 November 1992, lot 120.
'Thy Music ...' is extremely unusual in being signed and dated. Strudwick rarely signed his pictures and may have had some special reason, such as a request from the buyer, for doing so on this occasion.
Price Realized £89,250
oil on canvas
21¾ x 17 1/8 in. (55.2 x 43.4 cm.)
Please note that this portrait depicts Gertie Lewis, the elder sister of Katie Lewis, rather than Katie herself.
During his later career, particularly in the 1880s when his reputation was at its height, Burne-Jones was often asked to paint portraits. It was not an art form he relished. He had the highest standards, claiming that portraiture should be 'the expression of character and moral quality, not of anything, temporary, fleeting, accidental'. There was also the problem of reconciling the demands of 'likeness' with his own very clearly perceived aesthetic ideal. 'I do not easily get portraiture', he wrote, 'and the perpetual hunt to find in a face what I like, and leave out what mislikes me, is a bad school for it'. Given these two imperatives, it is not surprising that he was often most successful when painting his own family and friends or those who conformed to his particular vision, namely children and young girls.
Gertie Lewis was the second child and elder daughter of George Lewis, the most famous solicitor of the day, and his wife, Elizabeth. Born in 1833, the same year as Burne-Jones, Lewis came from a Sephardic Jewish family that had probably emigrated to England from the Netherlands in the eighteenth century. Excluded from Oxford and Cambridge on account of his religion, he entered University College, London, as a schoolboy, in 1847, joining his father's firm of Lewis and Lewis three years later. He soon gained a reputation for exceptional shrewdness and ability, making his name by representing the relatives of the poisoned Charles Bravo in the so-called Balham Mystery of 1876; and from then on for some thirty years he was involved in nearly every cause célèbre that came to court in London. Though a genial, kindly man, he was prepared to fight ruthlessly for his clients, drawing on all the resources of his formidable intuition, an unrivalled knowledge of criminal records, and a network of underworld contacts at home and abroad which gave him something of the status of a private detective. His services were particularly sought in connection with society scandals. The strong-room at his offices in Ely Place, Holborn, was a legendary repository of secrets, and he refused to write his memoirs or even to keep a diary, boasting that 'when I die the confidences of London society die with me'. Inevitably he became associated with the Prince of Wales, extricating him from the embarrassing Tranby Croft baccarat affair (1890-91) and advising him in other cases where his mistresses, horse-racing and gambling were involved. Lewis's greatest public service was performed in connection with the Parnell Commission, when he exposed the forger Pigott, and for this Gladstone gave him a knighthood in 1893. In later years - by now a famous figure, whose side-whiskers, eyeglass and perennial fur coat were a gift to the caricaturists - he devoted much of his time to overdue reforms in criminal law, one of his major concerns being the injustices of divorce. At the Coronation of 1902 he was created a baronet by a King who had good reason to be grateful for his services.
Lewis married twice. His first wife died in 1865 and a year later he married Elizabeth Eberstadt, the third of five daughters of Ferdinand Eberstadt of Mannheim. Eleven years younger than her husband, she was blessed with good looks, great strength of character, boundless energy and a genius for friendship. Graham Robertson, who knew her well, described her as 'a strange woman... with a wonderful gift of sympathy and understanding. I would as soon take her opinion of a man as anyone's. (She doesn't know so much about women)'. Elizabeth came from a highly cultured background and was passionately devoted to the arts. As Max Beerbohm wrote when she died, 'good books, good plays, good pictures and, above all, good music were for her no mere topics of conversation, but vital needs of her nature'. George Lewis, whose work often brought him into contact with the stage, gave her every support, supplying the necessary financial resources and enjoying playing the genial host.
The Lewises were already entertaining artists during the early years of their marriage, but it was when they moved to 88 Portland Place in 1876 that Elizabeth's career as a hostess took wing, and she was able to launch a salon on the grand scale. A glance at the books in which she kept a record of her dinner guests reveals an astonishing galaxy of talent: Burne-Jones, Whistler, Du Maurier, Alma-Tadema, Sargent, Sullivan, Paderewski, Rubinstein, Sarasate, Joachim, George Henschel, Browning, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, J.M. Barrie, Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Lillie Langtry - these are only some of the more famous names. Nor were they by any means mere social trophies. Wilde's letters to Elizabeth during his tour of America in 1882 show with what affection and gratitude he regarded the Lewises, and Whistler, who was among the most prickly of men, remained a close friend for years, George representing him when he was declared bankrupt after his libel action against Ruskin in 1878. Famous musicians and actors gladly took part in the Lewises' entertainments, and Sargent executed portraits of both George and Elizabeth.
But by far the closest of these artistic friendships was with Burne-Jones, his wife and children. How and when the two families met is unclear, but they were on intimate terms by the late 1870s, and from then on the artist was a frequent visitor to Portland Place and Ashley Cottage, the Lewises' country retreat at Walton-on-Thames. He sought George's help over legal matters and wrote constantly to Elizabeth, relying on her for sympathy and practical advice. Perhaps he was a little in love with her, as he was with so many of his women friends. Certainly after his death she destroyed many of his letters, considering them too intimate to survive.
George Lewis's eldest child, Alice, was the daughter of his first wife. By Elizabeth he had three children: George, born in 1868, who was to take over the firm and inherit the baronetcy; Gertrude (or Gertie), born in 1871; and Katherine (Katie), born in 1878. These two girls were not only seven years apart in age but very different in character. As a child Gertie was gentle, pretty, intelligent and sympathetic. Katie, on the other hand, was alarmingly precocious, strong-willed and high-spirited. Oscar Wilde, writing to Elizabeth from Boston in June 1882, when Katie was still only four, called her 'that trenchant critic of life'. In another letter from Chicago he wrote that he had heard that she had 'ceased to be the modern Nero and is now angelic, and gives up to Gertie. If she does, I no longer adore her; her fascinating villainy touched my artist soul'. It is probably significant that Gertie had enjoyed a few years of quiet domestic life before her mother's career as a salonnière took off with the move to Portland Place in 1876, while Katie was born two years after the move and was thus pitched straight into a world bristling with intellectual stimulation.
Within that world the sisters played different roles. Gertie aroused protective feelings among her mother's many lions, notably Burne-Jones, George Meredith, Henry James, J.M. Barrie and Oscar Wilde; Katie diverted them with her sharp little sayings and gift for repartee. Both sisters were the recipients of letters from their circle of older admirers, and in Burne-Jones's case these were invariably illustrated with engagingly whimsical drawings. Those he sent to Katie, a particularly remarkable series in which he often seems to be speaking both to the child and her parents at different levels of awareness, are now in the British Museum and have twice been published.
Burne-Jones painted several portraits of the sisters as young girls. He also drew their mother, although the painting of her projected in 1882 was never carried out. The best-known of these likenesses is the highly unconventional full-length of Katie, showing her lying on her tummy absorbed in a book, with a pekinese curled up at her feet. Dated 1886, the picture was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery the following year and sold in these Rooms on 14 July 2000.
The present painting, which remains slightly unfinished and was certainly never exhibited, was probably a gift from the artist to the Lewises, as indeed was the full-length of Katie. It would appear to date from about 1879-80, which probably makes it the earliest of all the Lewis portraits by Burne-Jones. This date is suggested partly by the apparent age of the sitter, who would have been eight or nine at the time, and partly by the style. There is a distinct relationship with the head studies in oil that (somewhat unusually) Burne-Jones made for the well-known Golden Stairs (Tate Gallery), exhibited at the Grosvenor in 1880.
Burne-Jones painted a second portrait of Gertie in 1883, when she was twelve. Showing her in profile to left and rather dark in tonality, it seems to show the influence of Leonardo and his Milanese followers. Certainly it is a much more formal perfomance than the present picture. It was included in the Arts Council's Burne-Jones Exhibition in 1975-6, no. 239.
In 1902, at the age of thirty, Gertie made a late marriage to Theodore Birnbaum (changed to Burney in 1914). Her engagement produced a stream of letters from family friends. Ellen Terry dashed off a couple of pages, quoting Shakespeare; Kate Perugini, Dickens's daughter, wrote with affection; and Henry James penned a characteristic missive to Elizabeth: 'I really feel, tell her - but no, I shall tell her this myself - like an uncle, a very aged cousin, or, better still, a miraculously preserved grandparent. But does Mr Birnbaum really know? -, I mean, our young friend's exquisite value. If he ... has even a moderate intelligence of what he has done for himself - a cool, calm, calculating, penetrating intelligence - he's a more remarkable young man than I myself today mostly find the species, and I'm tranquille for ever about him'.
Although the two sisters remained close to one another, they were to lead very different lives. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Katie never married. As a child she seems to have been more than a little spoilt, and in later life, rich, witty, and self-centred, she may well have deterred suitors. After her father's death in 1911 she continued to live in Portland Place with her mother, to whom she was devoted. Then when Elizabeth died in 1931 she moved to Evelyn Gardens, South Kensington, before settling in the Costwold village of Broadway during the Second World War. She never lost her vitality and personal magnetism, and continued to attract the talented and famous until the end of her life. Her great love was Bernard Berenson, with whom she conducted a lively and flirtatious correspondence from 1914 until his death in 1959. When she herself died two years later, she stipulated in her will that his letters to her should be burnt, although hers to him survive.
Gertie and her husband often came to Portland Place to enjoy Elizabeth's dinners and parties. Their first child, Susan, was born in 1904, followed by a second daughter, Rachel, two years later, and a son, Anthony, in 1911. Then, just after the First World War had ended, tragedy struck. Theo's firm, the Gramophone and Typewriter Company (later HMV) went bankrupt, and he committed suicide.
Gertie's life changed completely. Withdrawing from society, apart from her immediate family and closest friends, she devoted herself to her children. Unlike Katie, she was naturally austere. She never kept a good table, and her idea of a summer holiday was a few weeks on the rainy Belgian coast with nothing stronger to drink than mineral water. Nonetheless, she, like Katie, had inherited her mother's love of music and art. Her home was a treasure-house of beautiful paintings and furniture, and the novels of her old friend Henry James were a constant solace.
In her quiet way, too, Gertie was as strong a character as Katie. After she was widowed she took charge of her own financial affairs, although she tended to rely on Katie for advice on such major decisions as buying a house or choosing Anthony's career. Both sisters remained strict Victorian moralists, and both took the keenest interest in Lewis family affairs. Susan married Seymour Karminski, a young barrister who was to become a Lord Justice of Appeal. Anthony became a chartered accountant, and was knighted for his work on a number of Government Commissions. Rachel, though lively and charming, never married. She died of leukaemia in 1956, only a year after her mother and five years before Katie, whose death in 1961 bought the story of the Lewis sisters to an end.
Price Realized £53,775
signed and dated 1906 (lower left)
oil on canvas
48 x 27 in. (121.9 x 68.6 cm)
The son of a stained-glass artist, Frampton was educated at Brighton Grammar School, where he was an exact contemporary of Beardsley. He then attended the Westminster School of Art (again like Beardsley), and after working with his father for seven years, spent lengthy periods studying in Italy and France. His highly formalised style owes much to his involvement with stained glass (which continued at least until 1918), and he acknowledged the influence of the early Italians, Puvis de Chavannes and Burne-Jones. The Burne-Jones retrospective exhibitions at the New Gallery in 1892 and 1898 were great formative experiences.
With such an artistic background it is not surprising that Frampton specialised in murals, carrying out schemes in a number of churches, often as war memorials, as well as some secular projects. Today, however, he is best known for his easel pictures, which he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy (1895-1923), the New Gallery, the Royal Society of British Artists (member 1894) and the (Royal) Institute of Oil Painters (member 1904). He also belonged to the Tempera Society (1907) and the Art Worker's Guild (1912), and had a one-man exhibition at Baillie's Gallery in 1914. For many years his paintings consisted of literary, religious and symbolist themes, but latterly he turned more to landscape, still working in the rigidly schematic style. He sought his subjects widely, finding them in Sussex, Cumberland, the Channel Islands, Brittany (which also inspired some Gauginesque figure compositions) and the Bernese Oberland. He died suddenly in Paris in November 1923 on his way to Austria, and is buried in the cemetery of Saint-Germain. A memorial exhibition was held at the Fine Art Society the following year.
The present painting is dated 1906, and is closely related to a figure of an angel in a mural that Frampton had painted at All Saints Church, Hastings, about a year earlier. The angel in the mural is standing, but his head, torso, wings and the globe he is holding are all taken over. A study for the mural, making the point very clearly, is illustrated in Rudolf Dircks, 'Mr E. Reginald Frampton', Art Journal, 1907, p. 295.
In fact, we can trace the pedigree of the figure back further, since the standing angel in the Hastings mural owes an obvious debt to Burne-Jones. Frampton was clearly thinking of the famous Days of Creation (Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard) and the magnificent Angels of the Hierachy in a window in the south transept in the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, dating from 1873. All these images would have been familiar to him, either from the Burne-Jones retrospective or from his close involvement with stained glass. A pilgrimage to see the great series of windows at Jesus would have been almost de rigueur for someone in his position.
Frampton was a keen sailor, and the present picture is characteristic in having a nautical theme. There are many other examples, among them The Passage of the Holy Grail to Sarras, exhibited at the New Gallery in 1907 and now in the Lloyd Webber Collection, The Voyage of St Brendan, which appeared at the New Gallery the following year and was sold in these Rooms in March 1995 and The Childhood of Perseus which was shown at the Royal Institute of Painters in Oil-Colours in 1911. None of these, however, comes so close to our picture as Navigation an allegorical figure seated on an island in the sea, surrounded by sailing ships, in much the same way as the Angel of the Sea is here. Both figures, moreover, pay homage not only to Burne-Jones but to Michelangelo, who of course was Burne-Jones's hero too. Navigation was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1909, and is reproduced in photogravure in Dircks's article.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
each 18 by 36cm., 7 by 14in.
one inscribed and dated l.l.: Lizard/ Aug 8/76; the other inscribed and dated l.r.: Caldy Island July 22 79
one oil on panel, the other oil on canvas
The Lizard', Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition, 1903, as Anglesea
Friday, September 24, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
A watercolour worked up over a cartoon for one of the set of stained glass windows commissioned by Walter Dunlop of Bradford.
Sir Tristram is driven mad by false reports of Iseult's love for Sir Kay inthe Morte d'Arthur.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
[Love Amongst the Ruins_BJ]
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 301,250 GBP
122 by 190.5 cm., 48 by 75 in.
'The Romans bade the Britaynes farewell, as not minding to returne thither agayne.'
signed with monogram and dated 1865 l.r.
oil on canvas
Royal Academy, 1865, no. 294;
The subject of Millais's painting – the departure of the Roman legions at the end of the period of occupation of Britain, in the late fourth or early fifth centuries – appears to have been inspired by a reading of Raphael Holinshead's Historie of England, which was part of the Chronicles that he published in 1577. Certainly the quotation that was attached to the subject when it first appeared at the Royal Academy was taken from Holinshead's text. Millais had first been interested in the subject in the early 1850s, and in 1853 he made a pen and sepia wash drawing of such a scene of leave-taking (unlocated). The genesis of the subject may therefore be associated with that distressing period of Millais's life when he first fell in love with Effie Ruskin (as she then was), and the agonising departure that he was forced to make from her during the two years when she continued to be married to John Ruskin and before that marriage could be annulled.
The main elements of the subject were described by the Art Journal in its review of the 1865 Royal Academy exhibition: 'A British maid – a very Amazon for size and force, her brow ominously shadowed, her black eye fixed and fierce, her brown hair as a cataract poured copiously upon her shoulders, her foot firmly planted on the ground, her stalwart frame clothed in fur and robe of scarlet – is seated on a headland of England's white cliffs, which stretch far away on the distant sea. The Roman galleys are already on the wing and the last boat is struggling with the surf upon the shore. One brave warrior for a moment lingers behind; he has laid aside his helmet, and clasps his British mistress in a close and rapturous embrace.'
Millais's Romans Leaving Britain was much admired when first exhibited at the Academy in 1865. F.G. Stephens commented that Millais 'now draws learnedly, and with power; doing so to the great benefit of the expressions, forms and atmospheric effect of a picture which will go far to replace him on the old level. Such a work as this the artist has not produced of late, whether as regards its intensity of expression, dramatic treatment, colour, or epical manner of telling a moving story.' The key to the success of the work lay in its mood of sad leave-taking, Stephens felt: 'The whole expression is tender, even in the depths of love that is wronged, but impotent; wrathful, but full of womanliness. If we read Mr Millais's meaning truly, he has expressed that mixture of feelings by the manner in which her bare feet clutch the earth, although the head is upon her lover's shoulders lies there tenderly, and is moved by the shocks of his grief. Unhelmeted, the Roman weeps; his brawny arms inclose [sic] her body. The figure is a complete rendering of despair instead of obedience to discipline [a reference to Poynter's Faithful unto Death]: as admirably drawn as it is truly designed. That of the woman shows a noble conception, poetic, vigorous and original.' The reviewer of the Art Journal regarded it as 'perhaps the largest and possibly the best work [Millais] has yet painted. The composition is original, even startling.'
In the late summer of 1865, while Millais was still in possession of the present prime version of the subject after its return from the Royal Academy exhibition in Trafalgar Square, he made a replica of the composition In 1873 F.G. Stephens saw the painting again and considered it 'instinct with power in design, and showing pathos and tragic passion of a high order, together with extraordinary skill of execution.' He further observed that the work had been shown 'at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1865, the year of Mr Millais's Academicianship, and its production was, probably, among the greatest proofs of the facility of the artist's powers.' Stephens particularly admired the painting's landscape setting and its sense of atmosphere: 'The effect of the, so to say, "sobbing" weather, and of the long, bare ranges of the landscape, highly poetical elements, is worthy of Mr Millais, and in thorough keeping with his subject. In so designing his background the artist has displayed his intense sympathy with the subject: this is one of the unmistakeable signs of genius, and, so far as this matter goes, Mr Millais is here at his best, at least, he never did better.'
Isaac Lowthian Bell (1816 – 1904) was a metallurgical chemist and iron master whose family originated near Carlisle, but who himself had moved to the North East to establish an industrial base on the Tyne and at Washington, County Durham. He married Margaret, daughter of Hugh Lee Pattison FRS, who was his business partner in the chemical works at Washington. Bell shared with both Pattison and his brother-in-law Robert Stirling Newall FRS a passionate enthusiasm for contemporary art. He was elected Liberal MP for Hartlepool in 1875, and raised to the baronetcy in 1885.
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 27,600 GBP
17 by 25cm., 6¾ by 9¾in.
signed lower right with monogram, and dated 1854
Holman Hunt’s watercolour shows the Great Pyramid of Cheops, at Giza, viewed from the east. Immediately in front of the main structure are seen the two smaller shapes of the so-called Queens’ Pyramids. The foreground consists of an expanse of water, through which figures wade, and with ducks swimming. The other Giza Pyramids, those of Chephren and Mycerinus, as well as the Sphinx, are out of view to the composition’s left side.
Hunt left London in January 1854, Palestine being his intended destination. His artist friend Thomas Seddon had departed a month or so earlier, with the plan that they should meet in Cairo before travelling on to the Holy Land. They were to camp at Giza, as Seddon explained to his fiancée Emmeline in a letter of 11 February: ‘We intend, in seven or eight days, to take a tent and two camels, with their drivers, and a servant to cook, and camp out by the Pyramids … By this plan we shall economise our hotel bill’ ([John Pollard Seddon], Memoir and Letters of the late Thomas Seddon, Artist. By his Brother., London, 1858, p.43). In 1857 Hunt produced an etching showing the encampment at Giza he had shared with Seddon in 1854 (fig.1). Hunt later spent some weeks working in Cairo, but returned to Giza in April. Of the drawings of Egypt that Hunt made in the course of these two desert sojourns in the early part of 1854, the best known is that entitled The Sphinx, Giza, looking towards the Pyramids of Saqqara (Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston; shown in the exhibition Pre-Raphaelite Vision – Truth to Nature, Tate Britain, 2004, catalogue no.58). In May 1854 Hunt, still accompanied by Seddon, moved on to Palestine, where Hunt painted The Scapegoat (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight).
The difference of approach to the desert landscape and ancient monuments taken by Holman Hunt and Seddon is interesting. Of the two, Seddon’s views are more topographically informative, but also more pictorially conventional. By contrast, Hunt looked for vantage points that allowed him to simplify and dramatise the extraordinary scenery.
The landscape, the like of which he had never seen before, seems to have made a most curious impression upon him. In a letter to John Everett Millais of 16 March 1854, Hunt wrote somewhat disparagingly of it as a subject for art. Of the wider landscape, however, Hunt could bring himself to say that ‘the desert is beautiful’ (W. Holman Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, two volumes, 1905, I, p.380). Hunt saw the landscape in aesthetic terms of shape and colour. The beauty and originality of the present watercolour, and of the other desert drawings that Hunt made in 1854, belies his apparent lack of enthusiasm for what he saw there.
The picture was in two distinguished collections. Sir John Pender also owned Mercury and Herse by J.M.W Turner (lot 40), and information on him as a collector is contained in the catalogue entry for that lot. William Brockbank was on the council of the Royal Manchester Institution from 1874-1880, becoming Vice-President in 1881. He commissioned Ford Madox Brown to paint Cromwell on his Farm (National Galleries and Museums on Merseyside, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), which was exhibited at the Manchester Academy of Art in 1874.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 12,500 GBP
33 by 20cm., 13 by 8in.
watercolour, arched top
This watercolour replicates a section of Strudwick's oil painting A Golden Thread of 1885 (Tate).
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 9,625 GBP
66 by 53cm., 26 by 21in.
oil on canvas
This sitter bears a resemblance to the handsome, aristocratic and raffish poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840-1922). The 14-year-old Blunt was tutored in painting by Watts, who rarely took pupils. A portrait of Blunt painted by Watts in 1899 for one of his former mistresses Madeline Wyndham is known from a photograph by Frederic Hollyer. This portrait depicts Blunt with greying hair and beard and if the present lot does indeed depict Blunt it dates from an earlier decade when his looks were their most beguiling to the beautiful women that risked their reputation to be with him. The style is consistent with Watts' portraits of Millais, Morris, Rossetti, Leighton and Burne-Jones painted in the 1870s when Blunt was in his 30s.
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 181,250 GBP
90 by 70cm., 35½ by 27½in.
signed with monogram and dated 1869 u.r.
red and black chalks heightened with white on buff paper
Purchased from the artist by Thomas Agnew & Sons, 17 March 1870, for 80 guineas (Agnew's stock no. 9659 and entitled La Mandoline)
W.M. Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer, London, 1889, p. 284, catalogue no. 259 (as 'La Mandolinata (The Mandolin Player)');
H.C. Marillier, Dante Gabriel Rossetti – An Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life, London, London, 1899, p. 155, catalogue no. 221 (as 'La Mandolinata');
Helen Rossetti Angeli, Pre-Raphaelite Twilight – The Story of Charles Augustus Howell, London, 1954, p. 243;
Virginia Surtees, Dante Gabriel Rossetti – The Paintings and Drawings – A Catalogue Raisonné, two volumes, Oxford, 1971, I, p. 121, catalogue no. 211
Rossetti's fine chalk drawing, La Mandolinata shows an unidentified model at half length playing a mandolin. Her hair is dressed with strands of pearls gathered in an elaborate spiral decoration worn at the side of her head (an ornament seen previously in the artist's oil painting Fiammetta (Private Collection) and Monna Vanna (Tate), each of 1866, and Joli Coeur (Manchester City Galleries) and A Christmas Carol (ex Lord Leverhulme collection), each of 1867, and a again in paintings of the early 1870s). She wears a necklace in the form of stylised pansies and at her wrist a bracelet made in the pattern of flower whorls. On the third finger of her right hand she wears a ring consisting of a pyramid of metal with a stone resting at its centre (as also worn in Monna Vanna). Her dress is of a rich brocade pattern of flowers in red on a white of pale coloured ground, in the Venetian style, and falling from below her shoulders and decorated across her corsage with ribbon bows. On the right side is an architectural form decorated with a wreath of laurel leaves at the centre of which the artist has placed his monogram, while from behind the woman's back there appears further sprays of leaves.
Although the woman shown in La Mandolinata is not immediately recognisable as one of Rossetti's familiar models of the 1860s, her brown eyes and dark lustrous hair are feminine attributes of the kind that most appealed to him and which he was eager to introduce into his painted and drawn compositions. Redolent of the artist's work in the period, and in this sense of characteristic produce of the nascent Aesthetic movement, is the model's trancelike expression, as if she is transported into another sphere by the sweet intoxication of her own music-making. With subtlety and poignancy the artist offers the image of a beautiful woman, but one who remains elusive in the privacy of her own dream existence. La Mandolinata takes its place with other works by Rossetti of the 1860s showing women making music and playing musical instruments, and into which are instilled metaphors of imaginative departure from the actualities of daily life into a parallel and eroticised state of mind. The series commences with The Blue Flower (Barber Institute, University of Birmingham), of 1865, for which the painter's mistress Fanny Cornforth was the model, and in which a Japanese koto is played. The aforementioned A Christmas Carol, incorporating further exotic motifs suggestive of a secluded and artificial existence and for which the model was Ellen Smith, followed in 1867, while in the early 1870s Rossetti painted The Bower Meadow (Manchester City Galleries), in which Marie Stillman and Alexa Wilding play a zither and a mandolin respectively, and Roman Widow (Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico), in which Alexa Wilding is seen to rest each of her hands on the string of two separate stringed instruments, in idle distraction and in expression of her grief. Rossetti was the exponent of a subject matter which regarded the motif of music-making as a means of glimpsing the inner soul of the female persona.
Although not referred to by its given title in Rossetti's correspondence, on two occasions in the summer and early autumn of 1869 he mentioned chalk drawings that he had recently worked on and which were in the process of being sold. The first of these letters, dated 27 August and written to Frederic James Shields from Penkill in Ayrshire, reported that 'At this moment I hear from London that Agnew has called & bought 2 chalk drawings I left to be shown to him for 80gns each. If he will go on, this will furnish some profitable pot-boiling; & I tell you, as you were the first to suggest a connection with him'. (William E. Fredeman, The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Cambridge, 2004, IV, p. 254). This was followed by an interesting account of Rossetti's drawing method and recommendations as how to achieve richer effect in chalk by careful selection of tinted paper and by building up the textures of the composition by applying layers of chalk of different colours over the sheet. Then on 7 September he wrote to Jane Morris in Germany, again from Penkill, telling her that 'Work has been going on in the regular pot-boiling line while I have been away [...] and Agnew has been buying the drawings I did just before I left'. (Fredeman, ibid., p. 269). By this period in the artist's career, elaborate chalk drawings, made in their own right rather than as preparatory studies and done to be framed and displayed, had become one of his staple forms of production, and an important source of income.
Agnew's stock books confirm that the two drawings which Rossetti wrote about in his letters to Shields and Jane Morris were Penelope (Lord Lloyd-Webber Collection) and the present La Mandolinata. The two drawings were in fact bought separately, with Penelope recorded as entering Agnew's stock on 1 September 1869, and La Mandolinata not until the following March. Rossetti's asking price of 80 guineas was paid for each, and both were bought for stock rather than on behalf of clients. Penelope was sold to James Leathart in December 1869, while La Mandolinata was sold to J. D. Birchall on 5 March 1872.
John Dearman Birchall came from a prominent and prosperous Quaker family in Leeds. He worked in the cloth industry as a young man but in 1868, aged forty, gave up his business interest and moved to Bowden Hall at Upton St Leonard's in Gloucestershire. He was a passionate collector of blue and white porcelain; in his own watercolour of the interior of the morning room at Bowden La Mandolinata may be seen hanging beside an ebonised and gilded side-board all the surfaces of which are crowded with pots, and with the side walls given over to book cases and recesses containing further pieces of china (figure 00). Birchall's drawing serves as a valuable record of how works of art disparate types were displayed together in the period and how consideration was given as to how all the decorative elements might be harmoniously combined. Birchall and Rossetti were in direct contact in this period, as is documented by various entries in the former's diary (MS in the collection of his descendant). A diary entry for 1868 records that Birchall 'Gave £15 to Rossetti for dwg' (the drawing purchased or commissioned on this occasion is not identified). A further entry describes a visit to Rossetti's Chelsea studio in 1871, although the purpose of this meeting is unknown.
In addition to being a talented artist in his own right, Birchall was a familiar figure on the contemporary art scene, attending dinners and private views at the Royal Academy, Dudley and Grosvenor Galleries, and commissioning designs for stained glass windows from Edward Burne-Jones and decorative designs from Walter Crane. Other painters and draughtsman who were friends of his and who he describes meeting in diary entries were John Everett Millais, Richard Doyle and Frank Dicksee. A further link between Birchall and Rossetti was the Aesthetic designer John Aldam Heaton, who had been a childhood friend of the former's in Leeds and who had been commissioned to paint the interiors at Bowden Hall. Rossetti had known Heaton at least since 1861, when he had stayed with him and his wife Ellen Mary to paint her portrait (Regina Cordium: Mrs Aldam Heaton, ex Forbes Magazine Collection, New York), and from this time forward Heaton became a correspondent of Rossetti's, and one with whom he engaged in business transactions to do with placing works of his with collectors. Whether the idea of acquiring a drawing by Rossetti to place in conjunction with the collection of ceramics at that time by devised by Heaton was Birchall's own or one recommended to him, it was most fortuitous. Rossetti was himself one of the pioneering enthusiasts for blue and white china and had amassed a rich collection of his own in the 1860s in his house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea.
The late 1860s, and specifically the year 1869 was not an easy time for Rossetti, with a variety of anxieties besetting him. His health was beginning to break down, with particular worries about his eyesight and he was suffering from chronic insomnia. In addition, he had financial problems, exacerbated by debts connected with outstanding commissions and monies previously received on account. Old friendships came under pressure, with a notable falling out with Frederick Sandys, and he was himself increasingly isolated, especially so during Jane Morris's long absence at Bad Ems in Germany, to which place she went in the latter part of 1869 for the sake of her health. Rossetti devoted much of his time to poetry, and particularly after the retrieval of the manuscript of his early poems from the coffin in which his wife Lizzie had been buried in 1862 he was occupied with the revision and preparation for publication of his verse. La Mandolinata - made as has been seen that same summer - may be regarded as especially interesting as coming from a period of turmoil and distress in Rossetti's artistic and personal life when he produced very few other works of art.
J. D. Birchall lent La Mandolinata to the memorial exhibition of Rossetti's works at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1883, presumably having been asked to do so by the artist's brother William Michael Rossetti. In 1889 it was included in the checklist published by W. M. Rossetti as an appendix to his Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer, and then ten years later it was likewise published by J. C. Marillier. Birchall died in 1897, by the drawing remained at Bowden Hall for another twenty-nine years, appearing in the various inventories of the house contents and finally being sold in 1926. in 1928 it appeared at Christie's in London, probably being bought on that occasion by the antiquarian booksellers Spencer and Co, and from whom ten years later it was purchased by the distinguished American academic Dr A. Joseph Armstrong (whose descendants own it to this day). The drawing therefore has an interesting provenance with only one brief period when its whereabouts are unknown.
Dr Armstrong (1912-1954) was professor of English literature at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. He was renowned as an authority on Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and was a keen collector of all material relating to the Brownings (his collection formed the basis of the Armstrong Browning Library Collection of Browningiana at Baylor University. He was presumably in search of Browning material when he visited Spencer's premises in 1938, on which occasion the opportunity occurred to purchase La Mandolinata. He may have felt less confident of judging the merits of a drawing by Rossetti than in his more familiar field of literary manuscripts, and therefore sought corroboration of the attribution. In 1963 Dr Armstrong's widow, Mary Maxwell Armstrong explained in a letter to Virginia Surtees how her husband had 'bought this painting [sic] many years ago from a London dealer, and how to 'allay our fears as to its authenticity [the dealer Spencer] permitted my husband to take the picture in a taxi to the home of two nieces of Rossetti, then living in London. Dr Armstrong did so, [and] found the two ageing nieces who welcomed him warmly'. In her book Pre-Raphaelite Twilight - The Story of Charles Augustus Howell (1954) Helen Rossetti Angeli, herself one of the two nieces visited by Armstrong, described how 'some examples of the kind [i.e. spurious drawings purported to be by Rossetti] were offered for sale to an American - no connoisseur of painting - by a reputable bookshop and art dealer in 1938. Of his lot one alone appeared to be a genuine with a traceable history - a crayon drawing very desirable to possess'. This was La Mandolinata, and thus the attribution to Rossetti was endorsed and the purchase of the drawing carried forward.
Although recorded in the early Rossetti literature, La Mandolinata has remained very little known since the time of its acquisition by Dr Armstrong, and in that time has never been shown in an exhibition of Rossetti's works.
We are grateful to Venetia Harlow of Agnew's for her assistance tracing provenance for this lot.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
[Millais' the Fringe of the Moor ]