Friday, June 1, 2012

John Melhuish Strudwick - Isabella

Price Realized £97,250 ($151,710) 

 signed 'JM Strudwick/14 Edith Villas/West Kensington/.W./London' (on the artist's label attached to the stretcher) and inscribed '"Isabella"/Piteous she looked on dead &/senseless things/Asking for her lost Basil amourously [sic]/-Keats.' (on a label attached to the stretcher) oil on board 12¼ x 9 1/8 in. (31.1 x 23.2 cm.) London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1886, no. 71 Exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886, this picture is a much reduced version of one that had itself been shown at the Grosvenor in 1879. The latter, formerly in the collection of the artist W. Graham Robertson, was sold in these Rooms on behalf of the De Morgan Foundation on 28 November 2001 (lot 2). The small version was noted in the catalogue entry but described as apparently lost. This was clearly not the case. The subject is taken from Keats's well known poem Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil, which in turn borrows its theme from Boccaccio's Decameron. Set in medieval Florence, the story tells how Isabella falls in love with Lorenzo, an employee in her brothers' business. Having hoped she would make a profitable marriage, the brothers are angry and murder Lorenzo, burying his body in the forest and telling Isabella that he has been sent away on urgent affairs. When Lorenzo's ghost appears to Isabella and reveals his true fate, she exhumes the body and cuts of his head, concealing it in a pot beneath a basil plant which she waters with her tears. Eventually the brothers discover and steal it, and Isabella dies of a broken heart. The story was popular with the Pre-Raphaelites and had already inspired major works by two members of the Brotherhood: Millais' Isabella (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1849, and Holman Hunt's Isabella and the Pot of Basil (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne), which made its first appearance at the King Street premises of the dealer Ernest Gambart in 1868. Strudwick would have known both these celebrated works, either 'in the flesh' or through engravings, but he chose to illustrate a different incident to either. In his picture, the brothers have just stolen the pot of basil. They are seen through the open window, making their escape in the Florentine countryside, while Isabella stands forlornly in her chamber, hand on palpitating heart as she contemplates her loss. To the right stands the elaborate wrought-iron stand on which the pot formerly reposed, while the floor is strewn with basil leaves, hinting that the theft has not been effected without a struggle. Although the composition remains basically the same in both versions, the colour schemes differ and there are many variations of detail. For example, two prominent features of the present version, the open book in front of the window and the pedestal supporting the wrought-iron stand, are absent in the earlier picture. The bench against which the heroine leans is also larger in the first version, and made of marble, embellished with reliefs, rather than carved wood, as in the second account. It is no surprise that both pictures were unveiled at the Grosvenor Gallery. Strudwick had been an assistant to Burne-Jones in the mid-1870s. He remained one of his closest followers, and was among the many adherents who joined him in showing at the Grosvenor, where their mentor was the star attraction from the moment the gallery opened its doors in 1877. Both versions of the picture won critical acclaim when they were exhibited. The Times observed of the artist's two contributions in 1886: 'Mr Strudwick, the ablest of the followers of Mr Burne-Jones, has made a considerable advance on any of his former works, both in "Circe and Scylla" and in the smaller and perhaps more desirable picture of "Isabella".' It is interesting that, of the two, the writer preferred Isabella, since Circe and Scylla had been reviewed at length by F.G. Stephens in the Athenaeum and is generally considered to be one of Strudwick's finest works. Now in the Holt Collection at Sudley, one of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, it was included in the Last Romantics exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery, London, in 1989, no. 45 (illustrated in catalogue).

Edward Coley Burne-Jones - Hero

Price Realized £385,250 ($600,990) oil on canvas 29 x 31 1/8 in. (73.7 x 79 cm.) 

 In Greek mythology Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite at Sestos, on the shores of the Hellespont. Her lover, Leander, lived at Abydos, a town on the opposite, Asian, side, and at night would swim across the water to join her, guided by a beacon which she lit. One stormy night he was drowned, and Hero, in despair, threw herself into the sea. The story is told by the Greek poet Musaeus and by Ovid in his Heroides, a source which often provided Burne-Jones with subjects. The picture shows Hero lighting her beacon with dead leaves, the dark blue background suggesting the depths of night. It has an impeccable Burne-Jones provenance, having been bought from the artist by William Graham and descended in Graham's family to the present day. A wealthy Scottish merchant and sometime Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Graham was Burne-Jones's most loyal and perceptive patron. Unlike his other chief patron, the Liverpool shipowner F.R. Leyland, who was only interested in major set-piece works which he saw as components of a sumptuous decorative ensemble, Graham liked pictures for their own sake and was as attracted to minor works in which he saw some special quality as he was to the great machines. He once made the touching gesture of kissing a passage in a painting by Burne-Jones which he found particularly to his liking. He responded equally emotionally to the early Italian pictures that he also collected avidly, and to which Burne-Jones's work represented a modern equivalent. Our picture is highly characteristic of Graham's taste, being a little unconventional, perhaps not completely finished, but full of poetry and feeling. It seems to have appealed to his widow, too, since it was not included in the four-day sale of his pictures that took place at Christie's in April 1886, nine months after his death, aged sixty-eight, the previous July. Retaining the picture for herself, Mrs Graham lent it to Burne-Jones's memorial exhibition at the New Gallery in the winter of 1898-9, together with the so-called 'small' Briar Rose paintings (Museo de Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico), which had also been omitted from the sale. While the Briar Rose pictures appear in Oliver Garnett's valuable publication 'The Letters and Collection of William Graham - Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphael Collector', Walpole Society, vol. 62, 2000, pp. 145-343, Hero does not. This, however, is hardly surprising since the picture is not nearly so well known, having not been seen in public since 1899, or even, to the best of our knowledge, reproduced. In fact it is something of a rediscovery, and as such makes a valuable contribution to Burne-Jones scholarship. Burne-Jones repeated the figure in a painting entitled The Marsh Marigold, but here she is shown in broad daylight, wearing a yellow dress and picking flowers in a spacious meadow. The picture belonged to the connoisseur Alexander Ionides, and formed part of the great Aesthetic interior he created at 1 Holland Park (see Lewis F. Day, 'A Kensington Interior', Art Journal, 1893, p. 140, where it is just visible hanging in the drawing room). In 1971 it was in the exhibition Drawings, Studies and Paintings by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, mounted jointly by the Piccadilly Gallery and Hartnoll & Eyre. In the catalogue (no. 10, illustrated) it is plausibly dated to the late 1860s, with a suggestion that the landscape might have been added in the 1880s. Hero lighting her beacon was the subject of another painting by Burne-Jones, a roundel (diam. 54.5 cm.) with a completely different composition (Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, New Brunswick). It appears in the artist's autograph work-list (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) as being in progress in 1875-6, and bears the date 1877 on the back. Our picture is not dated, nor does it feature in the work-list, which is only a very partial record; but it seems to date from 1875 and thus be more or less contemporary with the painting at New Brunswick. This is the date given for it in the New Gallery exhibition catalogue, and De Lisle accepts it in her early monograph. Burne-Jones also treated the subject in terms of two designs for painted tiles, once again in different compositions. The designs were made c. 1868 for the marchand amateur Murray Marks; he intended to have the tiles manufactured in Holland (hence Burne-Jones's choice of medium for the drawings, blue wash), although they were never actually executed (see Aymer Vallance, 'The Decorative Work of Sir Edward Burne-Jones', Easter Art Annual, 1900, p. 11). The designs were sold at Sotheby's Belgravia on 14 February 1978 (lot 45, illustrated in catalogue). 

Gathering Almond Blossoms - J. W. Waterhouse 1916

The Letter - William Morris & Co.

Desdemona - Frederic Leighton 1888

Talk by Dinah Roe at Highgate Cemetery

Dinah Roe is giving a talk on the Rossetti family at the Chapel at Highgate Cemetery in London on 14th June 2012. Highgate is where Christina, William, their parents and Lizzie Siddal are buried – she’ll also be talking quite a bit about their Polidori aunts, who are buried in a separate grave at Highgate.

The talk will be given in the newly-restored Cemetery Chapel on 14th June at 7pm. Tickets are £7 each (£5 for students) including refreshments and nibbles, and all proceeds go to the Cemetery. Bookings in advance by email at 
Here is a link to the event: