Saturday, July 31, 2010

John Melhuish Strudwick - The Annunciation

70,000—100,000 GBP
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 84,000 GBP

56 by 41 cm., 22 by 16 in.

signed and dated l.l.: JMS/ 1876

oil on canvas

Of all the followers of Pre-Raphaelitism who originated as acolytes of Burne-Jones, and who carried the Romantic impulse in English painting into the twentieth century, John Melhuish Strudwick was the most devoted to the vision of a strange and magical dream-world. His paintings have a wistful and poetic quality that beguiles, compelling the viewer to search for a closer knowledge of a sphere of existence which, despite being so clearly observed, derives entirely from the painter’s imagination.

The present painting of The Annunciation represents Strudwick’s distinctive style in its first florescence, when his colours were brighter and compositions less shadowed than at a later stage. The reds and blues of the draperies, the turquoise of the pavement and the lapis lazuli blue of the right-hand column, and the freshness of the landscape, with its drifts of almond blossom, seen through the arcade placed across the width of the composition, are all characteristic of the painter’s early career. As George Bernard Shaw wrote in his important 1891 article on Strudwick’s art, ‘in colour these pictures are rich, but quietly pitched and exceedingly harmonious. They are full of subdued but glowing light; and there are no murky shadows or masses of treacly brown and black anywhere’.

Strudwick’s representation of the biblical subject follows the text in the gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 26-38, where Gabriel appears to Mary in the house of her father in Nazareth. Gabriel speaks the words ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women’. In showing the Virgin fallen to her knees and limply extending her hands towards the angel, Strudwick seems to have been seeking to convey the account given by Luke of how, ‘when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be’. The painter departs from iconographic convention in various respects, for example in preferring not to show Mary interrupted in her reading from the book of Isaiah (in which the Prophet foretold the Virgin birth). Likewise, the dove that is usually shown as a symbol of the descent of the Holy Spirit from God to the Virgin has not been included. Lastly, Strudwick has chosen not to give Mary a halo, as she would have had according to traditional iconography.

Strudwick painted a number of subjects with Christian themes. One of his earliest known works was a painting of The Good Samaritan, of 1871. Later he painted subjects such as The Ten Virgins, of 1884, two versions of St Cecilia, of 1882 and 1896, and another entitled An Angel, of 1895. It is not known whether Strudwick was a man of religious faith, although he was presumably encouraged to follow Anglican observations at St Saviour’s Grammar School, where he was educated. His early interest in the Annunciation as a subject may indicate that he was devout at that period, while the reinvention of the theme in terms that depart from Catholic iconography is in keeping with attitudes of Protestant artists in the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic circles from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.


John Everett Millais - Swallow! Swallow!

estimate 800,000—1,200,000 GBP (not sold)

102 by 76 cm., 40 by 30 in
signed with monogram and dated 1864 l.r.; inscribed and signed on an old label attached to the reverse; Oh swallow flying from the golden woods/ Fly to her, and pipe and woo her and make her mine/ And tell her, tell her, that I follow thee. Tennyson/ John Everett Millais

oil on canvas, arched top
Bought from the artist by Thos Agnew & Sons for £800, 21 June 1864; sold by Agnew to Samuel Mendel, 22 June 1864;
Mendel sale, Christie’s, 24 April 1875, lot 417 (bought Agnew, 1000 guineas);
sold by Agnew to Sir John Kelk, 5 July 1876;
Kelk sale, Christie’s, 11 March 1899, lot 30 (bought Agnew, 720 guineas, on behalf of Mrs Alice Stibbard);
by family descent to the present owner

London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1865, no 391 (without title in the catalogue, but with the quotation from Tennyson);
London, Grosvenor Gallery, The Millais Exhibition, 1886, no 122;
Royal Academy, Millais Memorial Exhibition, 1898, no 36.

Art Journal, 1865, p. 167;
Athenaeum, 1865, p. 592;
M.H. Spielmann, Millais and His Works, London, 1898, pp. 90, 110, 170, 184;
John Guille Millais, Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, two volumes, London, 1899, II, p. 472;
G.H. Fleming, That Ne’er Shall Meet Again – Rossetti, Millais, Hunt, London, 1971, p. 226

John Everett Millais’s Swallow! Swallow! is a remarkable and beautiful painting, made during a fascinating transitional period in the artist’s career when he found himself poised between the formative experience of Pre-Raphaelitism and the new artistic principles associated with Aestheticism.

Millais had a particular feeling for literature, and the works of Shakespeare, Keats and Tennyson provided narratives for numerous paintings and drawings. In the mid-1850s he made a series of designs for the so-called Moxon Tennyson, an illustrated edition of Tennyson’s poetry to which various members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their associates contributed. This was a vital formative experience and one that taught him how to look for ways of expressing human predicaments in terms of mood, and to choose telling motifs which would indicate the state of mind of his protagonists. One of Millais’s greatest early paintings, and a work that represents the fulfilment of Pre-Raphaelitism in its primary phase, is Mariana (Makins collection, fig.1), of 1851. The subject, from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, in its treatment of weary waiting on the part of one who is forced to be apart from her lover, anticipates the theme of Swallow! Swallow!.

Swallow! Swallow! takes its subject from Tennyson’s poem ‘The Princess’. Published in 1847, and containing memorable passages of lyric poetry gathered together into a medley, the verse tells the story of the betrothal of Princess Ida. Tennyson’s princess has modern ideas and sympathies, embracing causes such as the rights of women, universal education, and at the same time abjuring the institution of marriage. The opening of part IV of the poem describes a meeting between Ida and her suitor, along with his two companions. Set within the dialogue between them, which reveals the divergence of their views of how society should be ordered, are various poetic interpolations. One is the verse which opens with the line ‘Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean’. Then comes the inset poem that purports to be recalled from memory and is spoken in the first person by one of the male figures present, and which opening with the lines:

O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying South,
Fly to her, and fall upon her gilded eaves,
And tell her, tell her, what I tell to thee.

The lovesick narrator wishes that he could fly to the object of his adoration – ‘if I could follow, and light / upon her lattice, I would pipe and trill, / and cheep and twitter twenty million loves.’ The poem concludes with the verse quoted with the title of the painting:

O swallow, flying from the golden woods,
Fly to her, and pipe and woo her, and make her mine,
And tell her, tell her, that I follow thee.

The painting shows the woman who is the object of the narrator’s love. Although she seems unaware of the bird as it rests momentarily outside the window of her room, it is clear that she reciprocates the loving message that it brings. She gazes despondently and distractedly into an unseen space; while in her trembling right hand she loosely holds a white rose – which may be intended as a metaphor of her purity and innocence.

The painting had a particular personal significance for Millais. Eleven years earlier, in the course of the visit to Scotland that he made in 1853 with John Ruskin (and which led to his portrait of Ruskin standing on the bank of the Glenfinlas river), Millais had fallen in love with Ruskin’s wife Effie. In due course Effie left Ruskin to return to her parental home in Perthshire. Millais and Effie was forced to endure a period of agonising separation, lasting nearly two years, before she could be divorced from Ruskin. Finally, on 3 July 1855, she and Millais were married.

That these events had left an indelible mark on Millais is demonstrated by the fact that even in the mid-1860s he continued to treat themes to do with the trauma of separation. For example, his historical subject, The Romans leaving Britain (Sotheby’s, London, 14 June 2001, lot 38), exhibited with Swallow! Swallow! at the Royal Academy in 1865, shows the forced parting of a Roman legionnaire from his British wife. Likewise, Swallow! Swallow!, in which a girl incarcerated in her parental home, longs for news from the one who loves her and who she loves in return, clearly represents a memory of the distressing time when he and Effie could only communicate by subterfuge and never saw one another. Swallow! Swallow! reveals Millais longing to escape into a realm of imagination and other-worldliness, steeping himself in literary imaginings, but also tells much about an emotional travail which he had endured and which remained with him in his thoughts.

The tender quality of the painting is in addition a reflection of the warm affection that Millais felt for his sister-in-law Alice Gray – who served as the model for the figure. For a few years after their marriage in 1855 Millais and Effie lived principally in Perthshire, and it was during this period that Millais also formed a close bond with other members of Effie’s family. Alice, who was Effie’s younger sister, was born in 1845, and was therefore about nineteen when Swallow! Swallow! was painted. A beautiful girl, with large eyes of a dark blue, she had previously sat for a variety of Millais’s most distinguished works, including Autumn Leaves (Manchester City Art Gallery, fig.2), as the girl on the left side of the composition who holds the basket into which leaves are being placed, Pot Pourri (Sotheby’s, London, 5 November 1997, lot 193), as the girl who leans back in momentary interruption of her task of placing rose petals in a bowl, and Apple Blossoms (National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside; Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, fig.3), as the girl on the right side, who lies on her back and places a piece of grass between her lips. Alice was later to model for the figure of Celia in Rosalind in the Forest (National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) in 1868. Among the portraits that Millais made of her are a drawing of 1853 (fig.4 and reproduced in Sir William James’s The Order of Release, 1947, facing p.146), and a beautiful oil of 1857 (private collection). Millais painted a further oil portrait of her in 1878, after her marriage to George Stibbard (collection of a descendant of the sitter).

As Millais had been one of the three principal members of the artistic movement known as Pre-Raphaelitism, in which – along with William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti – he had attempted to lead the reform of English painting in favour of emotionally sincere and personal subjects, treated with intense colour and carefully observed natural detail, in the later 1850s and 1860s he remained a progressive and challenging artist. This was a period of extraordinary inventiveness and aesthetic sophistication, when painters and writers explored issues of how works of art might be understood – whether in a literal and documentary way or, as the artists of the Aesthetic movement preferred, subliminally and by subtle inflection of mood.

Thus Millais was one of the first of his generation to attempt to transcend pictorial narrative in favour of abstract and symbolical subjects. Works such as Autumn Leaves, in which the spectator is invited to meditate on the transience of human existence, are among his masterpieces. Swallow! Swallow!, notwithstanding its literary source, likewise explores a human drama in psychological terms. The sympathy that the painting expresses for the situation of one who is lovelorn, and who longs for contact with the person who adores her, is understood directly and through physiognomic expression and bodily gesture rather than as a dutiful retelling of a familiar legend, transposed to another medium.

Qualities of vibrant colour and painterly richness were identified when Swallow! Swallow! was first seen at the Royal Academy in 1865. The Art Journal’s verdict was that ‘the results are got by mastery, not minuteness’, dwelling also on the careful manipulation of tints: ‘The effect chiefly depends on a concord of colour, wherein blue pays a principal part, and then purple and black come in to complete the harmony’ (Art Journal, 1865, p.167). In 1886 Swallow! Swallow! appeared at the winter exhibition devoted to Millais’s work at the Grosvenor Gallery – an event that endorsed the painter’s position as one of the most admired and professionally successful artists of his generation. Finally, it was shown at the 1898 memorial exhibition of Millais’s paintings at the Royal Academy after his death in 1896. In 1899 the painting was bought by Mrs Stibbard, who as Alice Gray had been the model for the figure, and since then it has remained in the possession of her descendants.

A small watercolour version of the subject was in the collection of Robert Cecil (fig.5). This is reproduced in John Guille Millais, Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, two volumes, London, 1899, I, p.369.

We are grateful to Dr Malcolm Warner for preparing this catalogue note.


Marie Spartali Stillman - A Fisherman in an Italian Landscape

pencil, watercolour and bodycolour
9 1/4 x 20"

dating from about 1877

Edward Burne-Jones - Garden Court

oil on canvas
Bristol Museum

Buscott Park

Edward Burne-Jones - Study for the Garden Court

Edward Burne-Jones - Study for the Garden Court

William Burges - Chest

Nelson Ethelred Dawson - Pendant

Friday, July 30, 2010

An original William Morris carpet in a Massachusetts home

William Morris's lost garden of open-air 'rooms' is unearthed at the Red House

The outline of a complex sub-divided garden that could rewrite horticultural history has been uncovered at the Red House, former home of the philosopher, poet and artist William Morris. Semi-enclosed, room-like spaces inspired by Medieval paintings and Victorian notions of privacy are among the features being pieced together by the National Trust from the underlying plan of its existing garden.

The outline of a complex sub-divided garden that could rewrite horticultural history has been uncovered at the Red House, former home of the philosopher, poet and artist William Morris. Semi-enclosed, room-like spaces inspired by Medieval paintings and Victorian notions of privacy are among the features being pieced together by the National Trust from the underlying plan of its existing garden.

Garden of earthly delights

William Holman Hunt Online Featured Artist (Lady Lever Gallery)

Edward Burne-Jones - Study for the Garden Court

Edward Burne-Jones - Study for the Garden Court

William Morris - The Lapse of the Year

William Morris - Drawing room at Hammersmith House in 1896

includes Morris' woven 'Bird' tapestry and pottery by William de Morgan. The furniture is to designs by Philip Webb

Alexander Fisher - The Wagner Girdle


William de Morgan - Group of tile designs

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Edward Frederick Brewtnall - The Three Ravens

signed and dated l.r.: E. F. BREWTNALL/ 1885; inscribed with the title and the artist's address on a label attached to the backboard

watercolour heightened with bodycolour
39 by 24 in.

Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 36,000 GBP

Edward Frederick Brewtnall's watercolours are fascinating examples of the endurance of Pre-Raphaelitism in the later nineteenth century. His wonderful attention to detail and to the truthful depiction of nature is evident in the present picture in which the gnarled trunk of the tree is depicted with great precision. Brewtnall was particularly interested in folk tales and ballads as stimulus for his highly romantic watercolours. Pictures inspired by fairy tales include a charming Little Red Riding Hood dated 1895 which was in the private collection of Lord Leverhulme (Sotheby's, 26-28 June 2001, lot 406) and The Frog Princess of 1880 (3 November 1993, lot 224). Brewtnall exhibited at various galleries, including the Royal Academy where he showed Cinderella in 1880 and "Where are you Going to. My Pretty Maid?" in 1881 and in 1883 he exhibited A Fairy Tale - And then the Fairy Godmother Waved her Wand at the Grosvenor Gallery.

The subject of the present watercolour comes from the English folk poem ‘The Three Ravens’. This was first recorded in Ravenscroft’s Melismata in 1611, and was later reprinted in Ritson’s Ancient English Songs. The Scottish version of the tale – ‘The Twa Corbies’ – appeared in Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802). Francis James Child included ‘The Three Ravens’ in his English and Scottish Ballads, published in 1861, and it was presumably from this source that Brewtnall (along with a number of other English painters of the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s) was familiar with the legend. Child’s version of the poem is as follows:

There were three ravens sat on a tree,
Downe, a downe, hay downe, hay downe,
There were three ravens sat on a tree,
With a downe,
There were three ravens sat on a tree,
They were as blacke as they might be,
With a downe, derrie, derrie, derrie, downe, downe.

The one of them said to his mate,
‘Where shall we our breakfast take?’-

‘Downe in yonder greene field,
There lies a knight slain under his shield.

‘His hounds they lie downe at his feete,
So well they their master keepe.

‘His haukes they flie so eagerly,
There’s no fowle dare him com nie.’

Downe there comes a fallow doe,
As great with yong as she might goe.

She lift up his bloudy hed,
And kist his wounds that were so red.

She got him up upon her backe,
And carried him to earthen lake.

She buried him before the prime,
She was dead herselfe ere even-song time.

God send every gentleman,
Such haukes, such houndes, and such a leman.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Elizabeth Siddal reclining on a bank holding a Parasol

pen and brown ink, brown wash
4 1/4 x 3 3/4"

A rare sketch of Lizzie out of doors.

William de Morgan - Earthenware Bottle

c. 1900

William de Morgan - Antelope with Fruit Tree dish


Edward Burne-Jones - Study for the Garden Court

bodycolour and chalk

Edward Burne-Jones - Study for the Garden Court

bodycolour and chalk

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Edward Burne-Jones - The Prince entering the Briar Wood

oil on canvas
Houghton Hall

Edward Burne-Jones - The Doom Fulfilled

oil on canvas

c. 1885
study for Andromeda

Edward Burne-Jones - Justice stained glass

Halsey Ricardo

The gallery overlooking the entrance hall at 8 Addison Road, Holland Park designed by Halsey Ricardo in 1907 for Ernest Debenham

Saturday, July 24, 2010