The Song of Phemius and the Sorrow of Penelope signed with initials and dated 'T.R.S.1897' (lower right) oil on canvas 35 x 72½ in. (88.8 x 184.2 cm.)
The present work is one of a series inspired by Homer's Odyssey. In 1897, the year the picture was executed, Spence exhibited The Temptation of Odysseus by Circe at the Royal Academy (no. 604).
The scene depicted here represents an incident before Odysseus's return when Penelope his wife believed him dead and was surrounded by suitors. She repeatedly put them off by saying she had first to finish weaving a winding sheet for her father-in-law Laertes, but at night she secretly undid her day's work. Here, Phemius is prevailed upon to entertain the suitors and is singing of Odysseus's return from Troy, and of the disasters that Pallas Athene made his army suffer. Standing behind Phemius, Penelope pleads with the minstrel to sing something more cheerful:
O Phemius... I bid thee cease, For the heart that is dear in my breast doth it ever waste and wear, Since I, and I above all, a ceaseless sorrow bear For so dear a head sore longing, remembering still the man Whose fame was abroad in Hellas, and through mid Argos ran.
(The Odyssey, Book I, translated by William Morris).
Thomas Ralph Spence was born in Yorkshire to a family of builders and stone masons. After an apprenticeship with a firm of architects in Newcastle he moved to London, where he became famous as a painter and architect. He exhibited at the Royal Academy throughout the 1890s and in 1910 the Fine Art Society held an exhibition of his oil sketches of Italy, Greece and Spain. His architectural work is exemplified by Jesmond Church in Newcastle, and his interior decoration can be seen at All Saint's Church in Ennismore Gardens, and in the Hall of St. Paul's School, Hammersmith.
"A stately girl winding round her head the figured cloth of her turban, while a little girl in blue dress holds for her the looking-glass".
Athenaeum, 1880 Vol I, p. 572
"The ingenuous looks of the child, and the refined colour of her draperies are of first-rate quality, and distinguished by delicate finish. The principal figure is at once graceful and stately, and, according to the mood adopted by the painter, is admirable throughout, because it perfectly fulfils its intended purpose. The accessories, rich in black and gold, sumptuous colouring, and rich illumination are in perfect keeping with the motive of the picture."
This is the oil study for the picture exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880, No. 256The group also appears in the fresco 'The Arts of Industry as Applied to Peace', executed 1883-6, for which the oil cartoon was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1873The model for the young girl was Isabell Helena Pullar, Dorothy Dene's youngest sister.
There is another sketch in the Victoria and Albert Museum
This is a delightful informal portrait of the Royal Family on holiday at Balmoral (acquired in 1848). It shows an 'expedition' up Lochnagar (4000 ft) that lies to the south of Balmoral and which Queen Victoria called "the jewel of all the mountains here."The mountain is still in the distance here. Prince Alfred precedes the Queen and Princess Alice is shown just behind her Father, the Prince Consort.
[The Castle of Ischia (Castello D'Ischia) from the Mole]
commissioned by G. Knott
56 x 91"
exhibited at the RA 1841
seems to have been painted (or sketched) on his journey to Naples in 1838 probably on Christmas Eve when there was a violent storm. It was a big success at the RA and Goodall made a fine engraving of it in 1844 for the Art Union.
56 x 91" commissioned by G. Knott and in his collection to 1845 exhibited RA 1841