Monday, August 23, 2010

Philip Hermogenes Calderon - The Moonlight Serenade

Price Realized £13,743

signed and dated 'PH CALDERON - 1872.' (lower right) and signed and inscribed '4/PHILIP.H.CALDERON./9 MARLBOROUGH PLACE/ST. JOHN'S WOOD' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
16 5/8 x 34½ in. (42.2 x 87.7 cm.)

London, Royal Academy, 1873, no. 181.

Calderon describes the work in his unpublished manuscript, 'Painted with Roberson's medium - long, narrow picture - on the right a window with railings, candle light inside, and a frightened woman eagerly looking out - under window a smashed mandoline - in the centre - infuriated husband or brother, sword in hand, running at full speed after the musical but cowardly lover, who is clean around the corner, on the left, flying for his life - down a moonlit street.' The painting was well-received by the critics when exhibited at the RA in 1873. The Art Journal commented 'Wherein the serenader has taken to flight leaving his guitar and one of his shoes, being pursued, sword in hand, by the father, lover or brother to whom he was been paying delicate attention. The incidents are so well set forth that every point is intelligible'. It was also mentioned in 'Academy Rhymes', a regular feature in Punch,
As for his Victory and Serenade -
In neither is the point of the subject miss'd:
The story's clear, characters well portrayed
What's CALDERON, if not a dramatist?
'Victory!' was also exhibited at the RA in 1873 (no. 215) and depicts a castle with the enemy fleeing and a crowd of women and children cheering after a battle.

Born in Poitiers, France, Calderon was largely educated by his father until his entry into J.M. Leigh's Art School, London in 1850. In 1851, he moved to Paris to study under the French Academic painter, Picot. This is pronounced in the markedly French flavour of this painting. In 1866 Calderon exhibited Her most High, Noble and Puissant Grace at the Paris International Exhibition where it won a gold medal, the only medal that year awarded to an English artist. The same year he was made a Royal Academician and a year later he was appointed Keeper of the Royal Academy. He was a member of the St John's Wood Clique Art which met every Saturday to draw a given subject which was submitted for a routine examination by other members of the group.

Calderon's most famous work Broken Vows also concerns the theme of blighted affections but neither have the sentimentality frequently seen in Victorian paintings of this subject. There is an almost farcical nature to this dramatic incident in Calderon's use of props: the broken mandolin, the hastily discarded shoe and the candlelit window, items not unfamiliar to the commedia dell'arte. The consciously theatrical situation shows his affinity with the pantomine duels of Pierrot and Harlequin that were enjoying great popularity in France at the time. In 1857, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Thomas Couture had both painted duel scenes. Calderon's painting owes more to these French academic painters and the contemporary French theatre than to his English counterparts who were producing comparatively humourless interpretations of such an episode.

The figure of the pursuer is reminiscent of the leading figure in the work by William Rimmer (American, 1816-1879) entitled Flight and Pursuit also painted in 1872 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). It has been suggested by Ellwood C. Parry (The University of Iowa, 1977) that both Rimmer and Calderon could have taken for inspiration Jean Léon Gérôme's The Pasha's Runners in which two men run from a gateway in Cairo, their shadows cast beneath them as they sprint to the left.

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