Friday, December 30, 2011

Charles Edward Perugini - The Ramparts, Walmer Castle; Portraits of the Countess Granville, and the Ladies Victoria and Mary Leveson-Gower

Price Realized

signed with monogram and dated '1891' (lower left)
oil on canvas
48¾ x 72½ in. (124 x 184 cm.)

Commissioned by the second Earl Granville, and thence by descent

London, Royal Academy, 1891, no. 423

Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1891, this attractive triple portrait shows the second wife and two daughters of one of the great Whig magnates of the Victorian age. Granville George Leveson-Gower, second Earl Granville (1815-1891), entered Parliament in 1837, moving to the Lords, where he headed the Liberal party for many years, on his father's death in 1846. During a long political career serving four prime ministers - Palmerston, Lord John Russell, Lord Aberdeen and Gladstone, he held numerous high offices of state and was associated with some of the most important events and significant issues of the day. As colonial and foreign secretary, posts he held for long periods between 1868 and 1886, he was beset by imperialist crises in India and South Africa, Canada and New Zealand. He also had to cope with the Franco-Prussian War and the ambitions of Bismarck, the aftermath of the great Eastern Question of the 1870s, and the occupation of Egypt that ended so tragically with the death of Gordon at Khartoum in January 1885. His urbane, cosmopolitan outlook was an undoubted asset to his party, while his London house in Carlton House Terrace gave it a social centre in much the same way that Holland House, Kensington, had done earlier in the century.

Lord Granville's first wife died without issue in 1860. On 26 September 1865, he married Castalia Rosalind (1847-1938), youngest daughter of Walter Frederick Campbell of Islay, Scotland, and a full thirty-two years younger than her husband. It is she who appears on the left in the picture, now forty-four and looking remarkably youthful for her age. Their marriage was to be blessed with five children: Victoria and Sophia, who always seems to have been known as Mary, are the two girls depicted here. Victoria is seated beside her mother, holding a fan behind her head and an open book, from which she has perhaps been reading aloud, on her lap. Her younger sister approaches with a spray of dog-roses. Victoria was now twenty-four and would remain a spinster for some time, marrying Harold John Hastings Russell, a barrister, in 1896. Sophia married Hugh Morrison of Fonthill House, Tisbury, in Wiltshire. For many years he was prominent in local affairs, serving as High Sheriff of the county, a J.P., and Tory member of Parliament for the Salisbury division from 1918. Both sisters produced children, and both outlived their spouses.

The ladies are seen on the Kent coast, looking out over the English Channel. Lord John Russell had made Earl Granville Lord Warden of the Ports in 1865, thus enabling his family to use Walmer Castle as a country retreat. Servants have brought out a wicker sofa, furnished with cushions, together with a side-table, books and newspapers, a footstool for Lady Granville and even a carpet, but to the left looms a large cannon as a reminder of the Castle's original purpose. The juxtaposition of this potent symbol of aggression, cast in uncompromising bronze, and the display of femininity represented by the three aristocratic women, fashionably dressed and indulged with every luxury, does much to give the picture its piquancy and edge.

The artist Charles Edward Perugini was aged 52 at the time of the picture's exhibition in 1891 and was at the height of his career, this the picture being one of his most ambitious. He had lavished his utmost skill on depicting the dresses, particularly Lady Granville's grey silk gown, and had devised an enchanting colour scheme in which pearly, iridescent tones are set off by bold touches of lacquer-like red, distributed across the canvas from the table in the left foreground to the geraniums in the right middle-distance. In the past Perugini's speciality had been idealised genre subjects, but these were beginning to go out of fashion and it is hard to resist a suspicion that with The Ramparts, Walmer Castle he was making a bid for greater recognition as a painter of society portraits.

Perugini had been born in Naples, the son of a singing-master, but had grown up in England since the age of eight. By 1853 he was in Rome, where he met the young Frederic Leighton, the future president of the Royal Academy and undisputed head of the late Victorian art establishment. Perugini became one of Leighton's many protégés, continuing to receive his financial support well into the late 1870s possibly as payment for studio assistance. Certainly Perugini's style as an artist was greatly influenced by Leighton's, and he explored a similar range of subject-matter, operating, as it were, on the borders between modern life and an idealism in the classical-cum-Aesthetic taste. His Girl Reading, shown at the R.A. in 1878, is a perfect example. Like Leighton, moreover, he was loyal first and foremost to the Academy, where he showed almost every year from 1863 to 1915.

In 1874 Perugini married Kate Collins, the younger daughter of Charles Dickens and widow of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Charles Allston Collins. (She was hence the sister-in-law of another novelist, Wilkie Collins). She herself was a talented artist, although she is probably best known to posterity as the model for the distraught young woman in Millais' popular painting The Black Brunswicker of 1860. Perugini too was intimate with the great ex-Pre-Raphaelite.

Perugini's portrait of the Granvilles vividly reflects these artistic allegiances. Its high degree of finish and polished surfaces are eminently Leightonesque, while the subject evokes comparison with Millais' Hearts are Trumps, his portrait of the three Armstrong sisters shown at the Royal Academy in 1872, which in turn owes a debt to Reynolds's Ladies Waldegrave. Similarly, if a little more subtly, Perugini's portrait seems to echo Three Ladies adorning a Term of Hymen, Sir Joshua's portrait of the three Montgomery sisters that had been in the National Gallery in London since 1837. The mingling of standing and seated figures in Perugini's design, their conversational interaction, and the part played by flowers (the bouquet in the Countess's lap, the garlands held by Sophia) in linking them together, all suggest that the artist had found inspiration in this monumental work.

Only a few portraits Royal Academy were noticed by the critics. F.G. Stephens, the veteran critic on the Athenaeum thought the picture 'pretty and excessively polished, somewhat flat and hard, yet bright, studious, and pure. The ladies are marvellously attired, and beautiful according to the standard of the Book of Beauty'. Stephens felt it was 'Mr Perugini's best work', exhibited to date. The masterpiece to which the artist had so clearly aspired had been achieved.

We are grateful to Lucinda Hawksley for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

Leighton House interior

William Powell Frith - The Derby Day: the 'first study' for the celebrated painting

Price Realized

oil on canvas
15½ x 35 7/8 in. (39.4 x 91.1 cm.)

Bought from the artist by Ernest Gambart, 1857

It is not every day that sees the discovery of a highly finished oil sketch for one of the most famous and popular images in British art. That, however, is an accurate description of our painting: a long-lost preliminary version of W.P. Frith's Derby Day (fig.1), the artist's undisputed masterpiece and arguably the definitive example of Victorian modern-life genre. On one level the sketch can be seen as an independent production, existing on its own pictorial terms. But it is also a fascinating document, offering a unique insight into the creative process behind the iconic work.

In his Autobiography and Reminiscences (1887) Firth devotes a whole chapter to the development and reception of The Derby Day, lingering over the sucess of the picture in the complacent knowledge that it marked the zenith of his career and an adoring public would expect him to do it justice. It was not his first triumph; after all, by 1858, when the picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy, he had already been an academician for five years. He had made his name as a specialist in historical genre, illustrating the works of Goldsmith, Smollett, Molière and others. A scene from Goldsmith's 'Deserted Village', exhibited at the RA in 1845, secured him associate membership that year, and in 1847 he had great sucess with An English Merrymaking a Hundred Years Ago, inspired by a passage in Milton's 'L'Allegro'. Sold in these Rooms on 16 December 2009 (lot 34), the picture was not only popular with critics and public but won the more discerning approval of no less an authority than J.M.W. Turner. As it happened, it was Turner's place that Frith filled when he was elected a full academician in 1853, the great man having died two years earlier.

But it was only when Frith turned his attention to contemporary life that he became one of the most popular and succesful artists of the day. Hitherto, as he explains in his Autobiography, he had felt a 'fear of modern-life subjects' and taken 'refuge in byegone times'. His reluctance to leave his comfort zone is hardly surprising. Historical genre had vestigial links with the history painting that was still regarded as the highest form of artistic endeavour, and many artists whom he either admired or knew personally -- David Wilkie, C.R. Leslie, Daniel Maclise and A.L. Egg among them -- excelled in this field. But by the early 1850s Frith had overcome his fears. Indeed he was now 'weary of costume-painting', while 'the desire to represent everyday life' had taken 'an irresistible hold' upon him. The Pre-Raphaelites were yielding to similar pressures at precisely the same moment. The zeitgeist was busy.

For his first major essay in 'everyday life' Frith pitched on the subject of holidaymakers on the beach at Ramsgate, where he himself spent a summer holiday in 1851. Life at the Seaside, or Ramsgate Sands (Royal Collection), was shown at the RA three years later and more than justified his decision to change direction. Being on the hanging committee that year, he ensured that the picture had a good position on the 'line' that so obsessed artists of his generation; and the strategy paid off when it was noticed by the Queen and Prince Albert when they attended the private view and the Queen expressed a wish to buy it. It had already been sold for £1,000, but as the new owner was a dealer, the Royal acquisition was soon arranged.

Frith's cup of satisfaction was full, but he realised that he must follow up his sucess with something as good if not better. Derby Day was the result. The idea for the picture came to him when he and his friend Egg visited Epsom racecourse on Derby Day in May 1856. He was not interested in racing as such, but he realised that the picturesque crowd of race-goers gave him the opportunity he was looking for to depict 'character', portray 'the infinite variety' of contemporary society, and exploit what he believed to be his greatest asset as an artist, the ability to 'compose great numbers of figures into a more or less harmonious whole'. The subject took him two years to realise, and involved a further visit to Epsom in 1857, exhaustive preparatory studies and 'fifteen months' incessant labour' on the picture itself. The outcome was not only Frith's masterpiece but a public relations triumph.

Once again the canvas was sold long before it was completed. The buyer was Jacob Bell, a wealthy pharmacist best known to posterity for his close friendship with Landseer. A considerable patron, whose collection also included major works by Landseer and Rosa Bonheur's Horse Fair, Bell paid Frith £1,500 for the painting, and the artist charged the dealer Ernest Gambart the same amount for the copyright of the engraving. But the picture brought Frith far more than financial reward. When it appeared at the RA the Queen and Prince Albert once again voiced their approval (although this time there was no question of their buying it), and the crowd pressing to see it was so dense that a policeman had to stand guard beside it and a protective rail was installed. Even this was not the end of the story. When the exhibition closed the picture went to Paris to be engraved and then set off on an extensive foreign tour that included Europe, America and Australia. The final apotheosis came in 1859, when Jacob Bell died and left his pictures to the nation. Derby Day's claim to be Frith's masterpiece rests firmly on conceptual and aesthetic grounds; but its reputation undoubtedly depends partly on the fact that from that day to this it has been his most accessible production.

Frith gives a detailed account of how he prepared to paint the picture. Time did not 'allow of sketching' during his initial visit to the racecourse, but he made 'mental notes' and on 21 May 1856, now back in his London studio, he 'began a rough drawing', finishing it three days later. This drawing, executed in charcoal and designed to establish 'the general lines of the composition', was followed by 'numbers of studies from models for all the prominent figures'. Throughout his account, Frith stresses the exhaustiveness of his research and how every drawing was 'made from nature', clear evidence that he was intensely aware of competition from the newly emerged Pre-Raphaelites.
Having completed his preliminary studies, Frith went for his 'usual seaside holiday to Folkestone'. His thoughts, however, were still on his picture, and much of the holiday he spent 'very delightfully in preparing a small careful oil-sketch -- with colour and effect finally planned -- so that when I chose to begin the large picture, I found the "course clear" before me'. It was this 'small careful oil-sketch' that Frith showed to Jacob Bell, thus securing the commission for the finished work, a canvas originally intended to be 'five or six feet long' but eventually more than seven. 'Many weeks', Frith continues, 'were spent upon the large sketch, and a second one, now in the Bethnal Green Museum, was made; in which I tried a different arrangement of the principal group'. 'It will be evident', he adds, with that touch of smugness which is so characteristic, 'that if the larger work failed, it would not be for lack of preparation'.

Circumstantial though all this is, Frith's account is not as clear as it might be. We could hardly expect him to give measurements for his 'small' and 'large' oil sketches (though what a help it would have been if he had!), but he could perhaps have stated categorically that he embarked on the large one after Bell had placed his commission and given a clearer indication of its purpose. Nonetheless his meaning is not seriously in doubt. He evidently made two sketches, one 'small' and one 'large', plus a third in which he 'tried a different arrangement of the principal group'. It remains to identify these sketches with those that either exist or are recorded.

All the evidence suggests that our painting is the original 'small careful oil-sketch' that Frith made at Folkestone in the summer of 1856 and which inspired Bell to commission the full-scale picture. Its first owner was Ernest Gambart, the dealer who bought the copyright of the engraving of the finished work. The agreement between Frith and Gambart, dated 1 February 1857, specifically stated that as part of the deal the artist would throw in 'the small sketch not quite finished'; and when Gambart exhibited this at his French Gallery, Pall Mall, in the winter of 1858 he identified it as the 'first study'. In 1861 it appeared at Christie's and was described in the sale catalogue as 'the original of the celebrated work.'

Frith's account rather implies that the 'large sketch' came next, followed by what he calls the 'second one, now in the Bethnall Green Museum', in which he re-arranged his 'principal group'. But it seems more likely that the latter came first, establishing a different 'arrangement' of the foreground figures in preparation for the 'large sketch'. This would then have drawn on data provided by both the previous sketches, reaching a definitive composition that would receive its ultimate treatment in the finished work.

Whatever the exact sequence of events, the canvas in which Frith worked out his 'different arrangement' is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum (fig. 2). Similar in scale to our sketch but showing only the central part of the composition, it can be identified through its exhibition history with the painting Frith describes as being in the Bethnal Green Museum; while the arrangement of the figures is both significantly different from that in our sketch and close to that found in the final work. The V&A sketch is discussed in Ronald Parkinson's fine catalogue of the museum's British paintings from the 1820-60 period. The only slight problem, as Parkinson observes, is that it is dated 1858, whereas according to Frith's account it was painted, like the other two sketches, in 1856. The most likely explanation is that he retouched it in 1858, probably to turn it into a marketable commodity, and dated it accordingly. After all, as we have seen, our sketch was 'not quite finished' when Gambart bought it in February 1857, even though it seems to have been substantially complete in 1856.

As for the 'large sketch', the last of the three preliminary versions according to this analysis, it would appear to be a canvas, now missing, that belonged to another leading Victorian art dealer, Thomas Agnew, and was included in a ten-day sale of his stock held by Christie's in Manchester in October-November 1861. As we saw, our sketch also passed through the saleroom that year, and the Agnew picture was described, like ours, as 'the original of the celebrated work'. But we need not read too much into this, or see it as a culpable example of auctioneer's hyperbole. The cataloguer of the Agnew sketch was probably quite unaware of the Gambart 'first study', nor was his claim totally untrue. What is far more significant is that the Agnew picture measured 33 by 53 inches and was thus considerably larger than our painting. It was not nearly as large as the final work (40 x 88 in.), but it may well, as Frith puts it, have taken 'many weeks' to complete, unlike the 'small, careful oil sketch', executed (bar some finishing touches) in the course of a summer holiday.

In a sense the identity of the 'large sketch' is irrelevant to our enquiry. All we really need to know is that our painting is the 'small' one, and of this there seems little doubt. The picture itself offers persuasive arguments. For instance, marks along the lower edge of the canvas indicate that at one time it was squared for transfer, presumably either to the V & A painting or the 'large sketch'. Certain details, moreover, are rather feebly realised, as if the artist was still relying on the 'mental notes' he had made during his first visit to Epsom. The grandstand in the middle distance is an obvious example. Later this detail would come into sharper focus as Frith worked from a photograph made for him by Robert Howlett.

But the most compelling internal evidence is provided by the figures in the centre-right foreground. This is obviously the 'principal group' that dissatisfied Frith and caused him to work out an alternative solution in the V & A painting. And the inference is no less obvious: our sketch came first and can therefore only be the one that Frith made at Folkestone.

In many ways it is remarkable how close the sketch is to the final work. The general composition, many of the picturesque incidents, and the majority of the dramatis personae are already present. But there are also some fascinating differences. In the finished picture the sky becomes less threatening and the marquees on the left are less prominent, allowing for a more spacious view of the racecourse. The figures also vary in many respects. In the sketch, for example, Frith has not yet introduced the imperious young woman in a riding habit who stands with her back to us in the lower left corner of the painting, closing the composition and compelling us to follow the direction of her gaze. Or take the 'flying' acrobat who moves from the middle distance on the left in the sketch to a similar position on the right in the painting. In every case the alteration is made in the interest of pictorial logic, heightening the drama of the story Frith is telling and enabling us to 'read' his meaning more clearly.

But it was the figures in the centre-right foreground, his 'principal group', that bothered him most, so much so that he re-worked them in another sketch. In his Autobiography Frith wrote at some length about the acrobats from 'the Drury Lane pantomime' who posed for the father and son who are performing for the race-going crowd, the father holding out his arms in encouragement, the boy failing to respond, so riveted is he by the lavish picnic that a footman is unpacking beside him. In our sketch the pair are divided by a well-dressed man and his wife or daughter, seen from behind on the near side of the group.

The effect of this couple is to break the tension that exists between the two acrobats, and Frith's object in the V & A sketch is to restore this, thereby giving the incident the dramatic force that enables it to become the linchpin of the whole composition. As an essential first step, the two standing figures are eliminated. Frith, however, clearly felt their lack and therefore introduced two new elements: a fashionable young couple on the far side of the acrobats and a group of scruffy gypsy children sprawling on the grass in the immediate foreground. Unlike the two figures they replace, these children, being seated and smaller in any case, do not interrupt our view of the acrobats or sever the psychological bond between them. On the contrary, by watching the performers themselves, they focus attention on their plight.

The solution Frith evolved in the V & A sketch was itself to be modified in the final work, and in some respects he reverted to his original conception. In the V & A sketch the older acrobat has a more frontal pose than in either our sketch or the finished picture. The artist evidently decided that, after all, it suited the composition better to have him turned further to the right. But it was the position of the boy that exercised him most. In our sketch he faces the spectator while turning to look at the tantalising hamper. The V & A sketch shows him with his back to us; but in the final work he faces us again, presumably because Frith realised that this was essential if the pathos of the tired and hungry child was to be adequately represented. There could not be a better illustration of how hard Frith worked to hone his narrative skills, or how richly he deserved his reputation as the pre-eminent pictorial story-teller of the High Victorian age.

We are grateful to Dr Mary Cowling for help with this catalogue entry.

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Industrial Arts Applied to Peace #2

Monday, December 26, 2011

Marcus Stone - The End of the Story

Henry Herbert La Thangue - Back from the Common, Heyshott, West Sussex

Price Realized

signed 'H.H. LA THANGUE.' (lower left), signed again and inscribed 'Back from the Common/H.H. La Thangue' (on a label attached to the stretcher)
oil on canvas
26¾ x 30 in. (68 x 76.5 cm.)

Henry Herbert La Thangue trained at South Kensington, Lambeth and Dulwich College where he met the artist, Stanhope Forbes, a fellow pupil, and a friend who would have a lasting influence on his work. On winning the Royal Academy Schools Gold Medal and Travelling Scholarship in 1879, La Thangue went to Paris to study under Jean-Leon Gérôme at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. His friendship with Stanhope Forbes resulted in a painting trip together to Brittany in 1881 and here they both became committed to the ideals of plein-air painting, inspired by the great exponent of naturalism, Jules Bastien-Lepage.

On his return from travelling in Europe with Stanhope Forbes, La Thangue first went to Norfolk, but finally settled in Runcton, near Bosham on the West Sussex coast. Here he concentrated on faithfully recording the life of the Sussex farm labourer in a series of paintings throughout the 1890s. In the most successful of these compositions he often concentrated on a lone girl or boy absorbed by a task, and surrounded by docile, farm animals. These works were always painted entirely outdoors in accordance with the principles of his artistic beliefs.

In 1896 La Thangue's painting Man with a Scythe was bought for the Chantrey Bequest thereby securing his reputation as one of the leading exponents of British impressionism and the 'square brush' technique.

Stanhope Alexander Forbes - A fishergirl, Newlyn

Price Realized

signed and dated 'Stanhope Forbes./1894' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 x 18 in. (63.5 x 46 cm.)

Stanhope Alexander Forbes was born in Dublin, the son of a railway manager and a French mother. He studied at Lambeth School of Art; the Royal Academy Schools between 1874-78; then for two years in Paris under Leon Bonnat. He was certainly influenced by the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage and painted in Brittany with H.H. La Thangue in the early 1880s, however, it was not until 1884 that he settled in Cornwall and became a leading member of the 'Newlyn School'. In January of that year, he wrote in a letter that Newlyn was 'a sort of English Concarneau', referring to the character of the place and to the artists that were already there. Walter Langley and Thomas Cooper Gotch he knew by reputation; Leghe Suthers had returned with him from Brittany in the previous year and Ralph Todd, who he had met in Quimperlé.

Forbes began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1878, and was created an Associate in 1892. His election was greeted by one writer as proof of the liberality of the Academy, for it had taken in 'the youthful leader of so audacious a school as the Newlyn school of painting' and when in the same year, he exhibited Forging the Anchor (1892; Ipswich Borough Council) at the Academy, it received far wider press coverage than any other Newlyn painting.

Dating from 1894, the present composition epitomises Forbes' subject matter and technique of this period. The artist, who championed plein-air painting wrote a few years later: 'To plant one's easel down in the full view of all, and work away in the midst of a large congregation needs a good deal of courage; but it takes even more to boldly ask some perfect stranger to pose for one under such very trying conditions. But our principles demanded it, and convinced of their virtue, I strove always to be consistent to them' (see an address by S.A. Forbes, A.R.A.: Cornwall from a painter's point of view, Falmouth, 1901, p. 8). He had written some years before that 'the great drawback to this place [Newlyn] is the girls will not pose in the streets. You know I like to paint almost always on the spot. There is only one I found who does not mind, a great big rather handsome woman. But all the pretty little ones are too shy' (see a letter from the artist, dated 10 February 1884, cited in C. Fox and F. Greenacre, Artists of the Newlyn School 1880-1900, Catalogue for the exhibition at the Newlyn Orion Galleries, 1979, p. 64).

Forbes was upset that fashion had reached his picturesque fisher folk. As early as 1884 he remarked that the girls were quite pretty despite their rather ugly English costume adding that 'fringes ruined many a pretty face: 'All very well in a stylish London beauty, but appalling with these surroundings of sea, boats, fish, etc.'. Inevitably, Forbes was drawing comparisons between the Newlyners' dress and the distinctive Breton costumes that he had painted for three summers. Four years later, there was a small measure of change in his attitude when he could admire the women's 'charming instinct of dress' and their 'neat blouses and cotton aprons of every day wear' (see S.A. Forbes, A Newlyn Retrospect, The Cornish Magazine, I, 1898, p. 86).

In his talk on The Treatment of Modern Life in Art, probably written in 1892 or 1894 Forbes argued that it is interpretation that will elevate any subjects into works of art: 'For a beauty lies as much in the light, the atmosphere which surrounds all things, as in their actual form and fashion. There is nothing which cannot be transformed by the effect under which it is seen [...] that which might seem awkward and rough, suited as it is to the conditions of its life, and in harmony with its surroundings, may be most beautiful [...] The hard lines which care and toil have left upon them, the awkwardness induced by the want of culture, the many signs of which tell of the hardships of poverty, all these are there and should be faithfully recorded; for without them the study is half told and its value lost. Seen and understood in manner, many things are to be found full of meaning'.

Norman Garstin, a fellow Newlyn resident artist summed up Forbes' approach to painting and his influence: '... the Newlyn artists came to be a name, and the technique was copied and caricatured, and finally abandoned, and other methods rose and fell and reactions had their invariable rhythmic ebb and flow ... but these sterling qualities that have gone to the making of A Fish sale on a Cornish Beach [1885; Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery], The Village Philharmonic [1888; Corporation of Birmingham], The Health of the Bride [1889; Tate Gallery, London], The Forging of the Anchor [1892; Ipswich Borough Council], etc. these remain; to wit, keen observation, and vehement concentration, an artistic conscience always making for truth, an unerring eye, and a powerful grasp of the essentials; these remain, and leave their mark year by year on the art of England and the world' (see C. Fox and F. Greenacre, op. cit., pp. 53-68).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Frank Cadogan Cowper - Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth

Price Realized

signed and dated 'F C COWPER/1917' (lower left)
oil on canvas
40 x 29 7/8 in. (102 x 76 cm.)

London, Royal Academy, 1917, no. 46.

Frank Cadogan Cowper was born at Wicken in Northamptonshire, where his maternal grandfather was rector. He studied art at the St John's Wood Art School and then spent five years in the Royal Academy Schools (1897 -1902) before entering the Cotswold studio of Edwin Austin Abbey. After six months working with this American muralist, who, like his friend John Singer Sargent, had taken up residence in England, Cowper completed his artistic education by studying for a while in Italy.

Although he exhibited widely, supporting the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Institute of Painters in Oil Colours, as well as sending to the Paris Salon, Cowper's first loyalty remained to the RA, where he showed regularly from 1899 until his death nearly sixty years later. He became an Associate in 1907 and a full academician in 1934. Throughout his life he painted subject pictures, although as the taste for these declined in the early years of the twentieth century he turned increasingly to portraits, specialising in glamorous and slightly fey likenesses of young women.

Cowper's early work is strongly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, but by about 1906 he was adopting a more Renaissance idiom, often with an emphasis on rich brocades to create a decorative effect. His RA diploma picture, Vanity, exhibited in 1907, is particularly significant since it borrows motifs from Giulio Romano's portrait of Isabella d'Este at Hampton Court, a picture which had inspired the young Burne-Jones half a century earlier. In 1908-10 he contributed to the murals illustrating Tudor history which a group of artists, supervised by his former master, Abbey, painted for the Commons' East Corridor in the Houses of Parliament.

Cowper spent the early part of his life in London, occupying studios in St John's Wood, Kensington and Chelsea. Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth was painted at 2 Edwardes Square Studios, a southerly outpost of the artists' colony in Holland Park that had sprung up in the later nineteenth century under the leadership of the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Frederic Leighton.

At the end of the Second World War, Cowper moved to Gloucestershire, settling at Fairford, not far from where he had served his apprenticeship with Abbey. He is often seen as the last exponent of the Pre-Raphaelite tradition. As such, he was patronised by Evelyn Waugh, a pioneer of the Victorian revival, and included in The Last Romantics, the 1989 exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery that celebrated the survival of Pre-Raphaelite values into the age of Modernism. In fact he was responsible for one of the most astonishing examples in the show, The Three Queens find Lancelot sleeping, exhibited at the RA as late as 1954.

Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth had appeared at the RA in 1917, when the artist was forty. It was one of four pictures he submitted that year, the others being portraits. The First World War still had a year to run, and the picture may make oblique reference to the crisis. The themes of motherhood, fecundity and regeneration, not to mention the mood of calm serenity, all seem to hold promise of the renewal that will, hopefully, come with the return of peace.

At the same time the picture must have struck an incongruous note among the many RA exhibits referring directly to the war in a more realistic idiom. The following year Cowper was to move even further away from current events in The Blue Bird, his chief RA exhibit of 1918. Sold in these Rooms on 15 June 2011, the picture seems to be frankly escapist, illustrating a fairytale by Madame d'Aulnoy.

The two pictures have significant points in common. The model seems to be the same, and in each case she wears a white coif and sits before a brocaded hanging. This is set immediately behind her in The Blue Bird, precluding any hint of distance, but in Our Lady is pushed back, allowing vistas to open up on either side.

Like so many of Cadogan Cowper's pictures, Our Lady is full of references to art history. Perhaps the most obvious is the canopied hanging, clearly imitating the so-called 'cloths of honour' that so often hang behind the Virgin and Child in Renaissance paintings. Cowper's letters suggest that he was particularly aware of Flemish prototypes for this motif, and he may well have seen the exhibition of Flemish art held at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London in May 1906, which contained relevant works by Jan Van Eyck, Hans Memling, and others. Meanwhile numerous Italian examples were available to him in the National Gallery. In fact there were nearly twenty by 1917. Some of the most notable, such as Bellini's Virgin and Child and Mantegna's Virgin and Child with SS Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist, had been in the collection since they were acquired by Sir Charles Eastlake in 1855.

There are also quotations from the early Pre-Raphaelite paintings that Cowper admired. The sheeps' heads looking over the wattle fence have clearly been 'lifted' from those in Millais's masterpiece The Carpenter's Shop. The foliage that frames the patches of sky seems a deliberate echo of the vine in Rossetti's Girlhood of the Virgin; and the form of the baby, together with the way he is 'presented' rather than being embraced or fondled, recalls the new-born child in Madox Brown's unsettling picture Take your Son, Sir. It is true that none of these works had yet entered the Tate Gallery, where they all hang today, but a dedicated Pre-Raphaelite follower such as Cowper would undoubtedly have seen either the originals or reproductions. After all, Burne Jones's Sidonia von Bork was not in the Tate when he painted the picture that so obviously pays it homage, Vanity.

Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth was not Cowper's first attempt at this type of composition. A simpler version in watercolour, entitled The Morning of the Nativity (private collection), had been exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society in 1908. It was included in The Last Romantics (no. 160), and is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue. Other variants, whether paintings or preliminary studies, are either known or recorded.

By 1917 art critics were no longer writing the long reviews of Royal Academy exhibitions that had been the norm in the Victorian heyday, and the sort of archaising picture that Cowper was painting tended to be dismissed in a sentence or two if mentioned at all. But Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth did receive attention in at least one review, that in the Times. The writer described it as a 'ritual picture', and compared it with others by John Lavery and Robert Anning Bell that, in his view, belonged to the same genre. He felt that both the Cadogan Cowper and the Lavery, called The Madonna of the Lakes, were essentially tableaux vivants; but whereas in the Lavery 'the mixture of ritual and realism' was 'utterly unreal', Cowper's less realistic approach made for a more homogeneous effect. Even here, however, there was some discrepancy between the lifelike fruits, which would 'make by themselves a very good dessert piece', and the 'less real' figures, who 'seem a mere pretext for [the fruits'] display'.

The frame is original, but was almost certainly not made for the picture. Cowper was in the habit of buying picturesque old frames and painting pictures to fit them.

We are grateful to Hettie Ward and Scott Thomas Buckle for their help with this catalogue entry.

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Sluggard

Price Realized

signed 'Fred Leighton', inscribed 'FOUNDED BY J. W. SINGER & SONS,/FROME SOMERSET.' and with title to the front
bronze with a brown patina
20 3/8 in. (51.7 cm.) high

Probably inspired by his model Angelo Colorossi, seen stretching after a sitting, The Sluggard, or An Athlete Awakening from Sleep, the work's original title, was almost certainly conceived as a pendant to An Athlete Strangling a Python (1877). The full scale work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1886 and was awarded a medal of honour when it was shown at the Paris Exposition Universelle three years later. Acquired from Leighton's studio sale in 1896 by Henry
Tate, the full size bronze is now in the Tate Gallery. Benedict Read suggests the subject can be seen 'as a symbol of the art of sculpture, liberated by Leighton, flexing itself for renewed activity after a long time in the shackles of convention.'

Charles Edward Halle - Luna

Price Realized

signed 'C.E.Hallé' (lower left)
oil on canvas
27 x 20 in. (68.5 x 51 cm.)

Hallé was born in Paris, the son of (Sir) Charles Hallé, the pianist and conductor, and came to England at the time of the revolution of 1848. Much of his young adulthood was spent in Italy, but back in London he established himself as a portrait painter while also attempting imaginative and literary themes. In 1877 he and Joseph Comyns Carr assisted Sir Coutts Lindsay in founding the Grosvenor Gallery to show the work of the more advanced artists of the day: the venue immediately became the flagship of the Aesthetic Movement. When, in 1887, disputes arose over the running of the Grosvenor, Hallé and Carr withdrew and, with the support of Burne-Jones and other luminaries, opened the New Gallery in Regent Street the following year. Hallé continued to paint, exhibiting regularly at both the Grosvenor and New Galleries, but he is remembered chiefly for the part he played in these ventures. The present picture has not been identified, nor is it clear whether it is essentially a portrait or an imaginative conception. It is, however, highly characteristic of Hallé, with its echoes of Venetian painting and Burne-Jones and its general mood of 'aestheticism', created not least by the fan, one of the primary motifs (like the peacock feather and the sunflower) of the Aesthetic Movement.

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Interior of St Mark's Basilica, Venice

Price Realized

oil on canvas, laid down on board
12 x 19 in. (30.5 x 48.3 cm.)

Leighton was raised in various European cities by parents who preferred to reside on the Continent than live in England. Although the family had sampled Rome and Florence, the artist's first prolonged stay in Venice came in 1864, after he had established himself in London. The architectural complexity of the Basilica of St Mark's, recently described by Ruskin as 'the most beautiful building in the world', impressed him greatly. Leighton relished describing the fall of light and shade on its jewel like surfaces and developed his pre-occupation with depicting the receding arch (later explored in his studies of Moorish buildings in Granada and Algiers). The sketch, and another study, was used for an uncompleted painting entitled The Mosaicists, (untraced) and Widow's Prayer, the artist's Royal Academy exhibit of 1865 (Cecil French Bequest, London, Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham; on loan to Leighton House, Kensington). An early owner was the distinguished architect, Alfred Waterhouse, R.A.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

George Frampton - The Lady of the Lake 1895

Long-lost Victorian painting by William Powell Frith nets $782,680 at Christie's auction

LONDON (AP).- A long-lost Victorian painting by William Powell Frith sold for 505,250 pounds ($782,680) at a London auction, Christie's auction house said Thursday.

"The Derby Day" is an early version of one of the era's most famous pictures — Frith's teeming, picaresque image of the crowds at an 1850s horse race, from a rich family in their carriage to gamblers, acrobats and prostitutes.

The finished painting hangs in the Tate Britain gallery in London. The 15-by-35 inch (39 centimeter by 91 centimeter) oil-on-canvas sketch sold by Christie's is Frith's first complete version of the scene.

Christie's said the sale — to an anonymous bidder over the phone — set a world record price for Frith at auction.

The painting had been expected to fetch between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds, Christie's added.

The piece had been hanging in a modest New England beach house for decades before a friend of the owner suggested it might be worth something.

Peter Brown, Christie's director of Victorian pictures, had said before the sale that the vendor, who is in his 60s and wished to remain anonymous, believes his parents bought the painting some time before World War II, when Victorian art was often dismissed as garish and sentimental.

Since the 1970s, critical opinion has changed, and works by the best Victorian artists are coveted by collectors.

Frith, one of the era's most successful painters, specialized in busy scenes of daily life, and his subjects ranged from beachgoers to railway stations to royal weddings.

"The Derby Day" was so popular when first exhibited in 1858 that a special rail was installed at the Royal Academy in London to hold back the crowds.

Albert Joseph Moore - The Dreamers