Thursday, September 15, 2011
Phoebe Anna Traquair - The Bonskeid cabinet
THE BONSKEID CABINET, DECORATED WITH PANELS DEPICTING SCENES FROM
EDMUND SPENSER'S FAIREE QUEENE, BOOK I 'THE LEGEND OF THE KNIGHT OF THE
RED CROSS, OR HOLINESS'
oak cabinet, comprising a carved scroll pediment above a central recess containing three arched niches and with four ring-turned columns flanked by a pair of panels on sliding doors. The breakfront base with a central hinged panel door enclosing a pair of hinged pigeon holes before open horizontal shelving, above three graduated drawers with carved scallop handles and cast foliate escutheons. These are flanked by a pair of arched doors with rose and oak leaf carved spandrels above turned pillars with foliate capitals each enclosing two fixed shelves and two pull-out shelves. The patent lever locks are stamped G. Harley & Co W. Hampton. The moulded base on shaped bracket supports with recessed trefoil medallions.
The panels comprise:
1. The Red-Cross Knight, Una with her Lamb and the Dwarf, canto I, verses 1 to 6 (top left),
13.75 by 44 cm., 53 3/4 by 17 3/4 in.
2. They Meet the Sorcerer, Archimago, who Points to a Chapel Beside his Hermitage, canto I, verses 29 and 34 (top centre, left), 20.5 by 16.75 cm., 8 by 6 5/8 in., ogivate top
3. Archimago, by Deceit, Separates the Red-Cross Knight and Una, canto II, verse 9 (top centre, centre), 20.5 by 16.75 cm., 8 by 6 5/8 in., ogivate top
4. Una, Still Seeking the Red-Cross Knight, is Worshipped by a Group of Fauns and
Satyres, canto VI, verse 30 (top centre, right), 20.5 by 16.75 cm., 8 by 6 5/8 in., ogivate top
5. The Procession of Lucifera and her Councillors, canto IV, verses 17 to 36 (top right),13.75 by 44 cm., 53 3/4 by 17 3/4 in.
6. The Red-Cross Knight Slays the Dragon on the Third Day of Combat, canto XI, verses 54 and 55 (bottom left), 69.5 by 38 cm., 27 1/2 by 15 in., arched top
7. Una, Still Seeking the Red-Cross Knight, is Pitied by a Lion, canto III, verse 9 (bottom right), 69.5 by 38 cm., 27 1/2 by 15 in., arched top
8. The Betrothal of the Red-Cross Knight and Una, canto XII, verses 4 and 6 (bottom
centre), 32.5 by 52 cm., 12 3/4 by 20 1/2 in.
signed with monogram and dated 1893
all oil on panel
overall 157 by 188 by 69 cm., 62 by 74 by 27 in.
ESTIMATE 70,000-100,000 GBP
Commissioned by Margaret Barbour for her younger brother Dr Hugh Freeland Barbour of Bonskeid, Pitlochry and thence by descent to Professor R. Barbour;
Edinburgh, Shapes, 1 July 2000, lot 349;
Edinburgh, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1993, no. 34
Elizabeth Cumming, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1993, illus. p. 64
Traquair was commissioned to decorate a cabinet by Margaret Barbour in the early 1890s. A letter dated 16 May 1890 from Traquair to her friend Willie Moss mentions 'a cabinet keeping me busy just now. Seven panels in which I am trying to get in Spenser story of he Red Cross Knight' (she eventually painted eight panels rather than seven). On 9 January 1893 she mentioned that she had begun to paint panels for a second cabinet, but unfortunately did not describe these panels. In the catalogue for the Traquair exhibition in 1993, Elizabeth Cummings suggested that the present cabinet relates to the second commission, although the whereabouts of the first cabinet are not known. Traquair had known the Barbour family as early as 1889 when Robert William and Charlotte Rachel Barbour (brother and sister-in-law of Margaret and Hugh Barbour) joined her on a visit to Florence. Traquair had met the Barbours through her friendship with Dr Alexander Whyte who patronised her work.
The first of the two large arched panels on the doors of the cabinet, depicts the Red Cross Knight slaying the dragon.
Robert Barbour was the model for the armoured knight whilst the landscape background was painted in the Perthshire countryside close to the Barbour's home. The pose of the knight recalls the various versions of a celebrated composition by Edward Burne-Jones entitled St George Slaying the Dragon. The subjects of St George or the Red Cross Knight were particularly popular with nineteenth century artists as it symbolised heroism and gallantry.
The other arched panel depicts Una the virginal heroine of the Fairee Queen, accompanied by her devoted pet lamb and lion, paying in the garden of Bonskeid with the house in the background. The model for Una was Margaret Barbour.
The central panel depicts the marriage of the Red Cross Knight and Una accompanied by the knight's heralds and squire and Una's handmaidens. The body of the dragon is laid out in the foreground amongst the spring flowers of the meadow and above the happy group is a radiant rainbow, an element often found in Traquair's work. This panel is also reminiscent of Burne-Jones' series of paintings on the subject of St George.