Sunday, June 27, 2010

Walter Crane - The Viking's Bride frieze

This is the study for the panel The Viking's Bride from the frieze decoration The Skeleton in Armour inscribed with stanza's from Longfellow's poem in imitation runic script around the edges.
Watercolour heightened with bodycolour and gold paint
22 x 183.5 cm
It is about half of the size of the finished frieze
The frieze was made for the American Catherine Lorillard Wolfe in 1883 to decorate the dining room of her house Vinland at Newport, Rhode Island. Both William Morris and Burne-Jones were also consulted about the decoration of this house.
This was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery, london in 1883

study for the panel The Viking's Bride, from the frieze decoration The Skeleton in Armour
inscribed with stanzas from Longfellow's poem in imitation runic script around the edges of the composition
watercolour heightened with bodycolour and gold paint
22 by 183.5 cm., 8 3/4 by 72 1/4 in.

The present watercolour is an approximately half-scale preparatory sketch for part of the scheme of oil-painted friezes that Walter Crane made for the American heiress and art patron Catherine Lorillard Wolfe in 1883. The scheme was made to decorate the dining room of the house called Vinland at Newport, Rhode Island, which Mrs Wolfe had recently had built in a Scandinavian style by the architects Peabody and Sterns. In addition to Crane's involvement, both Edward Burne-
Jones and William Morris were also consulted about the decoration of the house. The former made designs for stained glass showing the Norse discovery of America (now in the Delaware Art Museum), while the latter provided hangings and wall-papers through Morris & Co. In addition Crane was to design stained glass for the windows of the library at Vinland.

Crane's completed cycle of friezes illustrated Henry Longfellow's 1842 ballad 'The Skeleton in Armour'' the dramatic action of which was set around a circular tower at Newport which was believed to have been built by Viking explorers. Inscribed around the edge of each panel - and likewise seen in the present preparatory sketch - were stanzas from the poem, lettered in a style which imitates Scandinavian runic script. The verses from which the subject of the present compartment come are as follows:

Scarce had I put to sea,
Bearing the Maid with me, -
Fairest of all was she
Among the Norseman! -
When on the white-sea strand,
Waving his armed hand,
Saw we old Hildebrand,
With twenty horsemen.

Then launched they to the blast,
Bent like a reed each mast,
Yet we were gaining fast,
When the wind failed us;
And with a sudden flaw
Came round the gusty Skaw,
So that our foes we saw
Laugh as he hailed us.

And as to catch the gale
Round veered the flapping sail,
Death! was the helmsman's hail,
Death without quarter!
Mid-ships with iron-keel
Struck we her ribs of steel;
Down her black hulk did reel
Through the black water.

As with his wings aslant,
Sails the black cormorant,
Seeking some rocky haunt,
With his pray laden:
So toward the open main,
Beating the sea again,
Through the wild hurricane,
Bore I the maiden.

Three weeks we westward bore,
And when the storm was o'er,
Cloud-like we saw the shore
Stretching to leeward;
There for my lady's bower
Built I the lofty tower,
Which, to this very hour,
Stands looking seaward.

Crane received the commission for the decoration while staying in Rome during the winter of 1882, through the recommendation of the Revd Dr Nevin, vicar of the American church in Rome. To work on the final canvases (which are between 71 and 84 cms high and between 209 and 730 cms wide) Crane took a studio in the Via Sistina. Parts of the scheme were sent directly to Newport from Rome early in the spring of 1883, while other parts appear to have remained unfinished at the time of the artist's return to England from Rome in June 1883 and were finished in London. The complete cycle was in place at Vinland before the end of 1883.

Two related subjects by Crane, the first almost certainly identical with the present work The Viking's Bride, the second entitled The Viking's Wooing, were shown in the watercolour gallery of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883. Other sketches and designs relating to the project are in the collection of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

The finished scheme of painted friezes, devolved upon Salve Regina College, Newport, in 1955 when the house Vinland was given to that school by Mrs William A.M. Burden. Salve Regina College sold the Crane friezes at Christie's New York, 28 October 1987, lot 238.

The project was an important one for Crane, allowing him to conceive and execute a figurative design on the epic scale to which he believed his art was ideally suited. Oil paintings of the period, such as The Roll of Fate (untraced) and The Bridge of Life (private collection), show the allegorical and deliberately edifying tendency of his painted compositions in the 1880s.

London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1883, no. 305

P.G. Konody, The Art of Walter Crane, London, 1902


mo said...

Dear Hermes,

Where are the friezes now? Check out this post for more on Vinland...

best, mo

Hermes said...

Thanks, brilliant post you directed me too. Really enjoyed it. The friezes were sold in 1978 but don't seem to have re-surfaced publicily.

Unknown said...

Hello Hermes and mo a, the Museum of Art in Rouen (France, Normandy) has acquired these friezes and they are being restored :)