Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oswald von Glehn - Boreas and Orithyia

[Boreas and Orithyia]

signed with monogram l.r.

oil on canvas
25 by 63 in
b. 1858

15,000—20,000 GBP
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 43,200 GBP

Royal Academy, 1879, no. 151;

Von Glehn’s painting depicts the beautiful nymph Orithyia picking flowers on the edge of a cliff beside the ocean unaware that she is soon to be swept aloft by Boreas the god of the north wind, son of the goddess of dawn Aurora. According to Pausanius the myth of Orithyia’s abduction was apparently based upon real events, when Boreas the son of the King of Thrace abducted Orithyia the daughter of King Erectheus of Athens. The tale was told by Ovid in Metamorphoses (Book VI, lines 681-721) and was often depicted on Attic kraters and amphora of the 5th century BC but it was in Baroque art that the story of Boreas and Orithyia found its greatest expression. Paintings by Annibale Carracci (Palazzo Farnese, Rome), Rubens (Gemaldegalerie, Vienna) and Francesco Solimena (Galleria Spada, Rome) are a few of the many seventeenth century depictions of the legend. Orithyia was associated with the fertility goddess Flora and in Botticelli’s Primavera (Ufizzi, Florence) the artist painted Boreas abduction of Orithyia and her transformation into Flora. Perhaps the most famous painting of the nineteenth century to depict Boreas and Orithyia (in her second incarnation) is Waterhouse’s Flora and the Zephyrs (private collection), although Evelyn de Morgan and Sir William Blake Richmond also painted the subject.

Oswald was the elder brother of Wilfred von Glehn, born in Germany but trained in London under Legros (probably at the Slade School of Art). He exhibited only two pictures at the Royal Academy, the present picture and another classical myth Oenone in 1880. When Boreas and Orithyia was shown at the Academy in 1879 it was accompanied by the following quotation from Plato’s Phaedrus; ‘Phaedrus. Tel me, Socrates, do you believe this tale to be true? Socrates. It would not be strange if I believed it, as the clever men do. I might then show my cleverness by saying that a gust of Boreas blew her down from the rocks above while she was at play, and that having been killed in that manner she was reported to have been carried off by Boreas’ (Henry Blackbuurn, Academy Notes, 1879, p. 21).

The critic for the Art Journal found von Glehn’s picture ‘a very beautiful version of the myth’ (Art Journal, 1879, p. 128) whilst The Times’ correspondent felt it was extremely well drawn and displayed an influence of Venetian art, making it ‘a creditable piece of a young man’s work of a kind which… our exhibition shows hardly anything.’ (The Times, 6 June 1879, p. 4)

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