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Victorian & Edwardian Art

by Sotheby's

July 13, 2010

London, United Kingdom

Arthur Hughes (1832-1915) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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Description: ARTHUR HUGHES 1832 - 1915 THE FONT - THEN BY A SUNBEAM I WILL CLIMB TO THEE signed and dated twice l.l.: ARTHUR HUGHES/ 1863 / ARTHUR HUGHES - 1863 oil on canvas, arched top 107 by 92cm., 42 by 36¼in.

Notes: The setting is that of a Medieval English church, through the doorway of which can be glimpsed a yew tree bathed in sunshine. On the threshold of the open church door sits a robin listening to the singing of a hymn by the pious congregation. They read from their song-books and do not notice the bird or the three small village girls bedecked in bonnets decorated with wild daisies, who are playing beside the carved stone font. They are making the rainbow light flooding through the stained glass windows dance along their white arms and the floor of the church and only one person notices them, an aged fellow who reflects on his lost youth as he looks down on the children playing.

Hughes's best known paintings of the 1850s, April Love (Tate) and The Long Engagement (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) were accompanied by lines of poetry when they were first exhibited, quotations being made from Tennyson's The Miller's Daughter and Chaucer's Triolus and Cresyde respectively. In both paintings the poetry serves to support the painting's moods rather than to serve as narrative text. The same is true of the present painting, which takes its text from George Herbert's poem Mattens, the final verse of which is as follows;

'Teach me they love to know;
That this new light, which now I see,
May both the work and workman show;
Then by a sunne-beam I shall climb to thee.'

The Font was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1864. The commentator for Art Journal regarded the three works that Hughes exhibited that year as proof that he would continue to paint in a distinctive and characteristic way despite the apparent demise of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, with which Hughes had previously been closely associated. The critic found Hughes's works exhibited there; 'each and all poetic and refined in conception, and singularly sensitive to delicate and harmonious modulations of colour.' (Art Journal, 1864, p.161)

The Font was seen by Lewis Carroll on the 2 April 1864; he noted in his diary; 'Called on Mr Arthur Hughes and saw two pictures nearly ready for the Royal Academy... a scene in church – a hymn being sung.' (Roger Lancelyn Green (ed.), The Diaries of Lewis Carroll, 1953, p.212). At this time Hughes titled the picture Light from on High.

The painting was commissioned by the wine merchant John Hamilton Trist (1811-1891) of Vernon Terrace in Brighton who paid £200, a large sum which prompted Hughes to take his first trip abroad – to Antwerp, Cologne, Coblenz, Nurenberg, Munich, Innsbruck, Verona and Padua. Trist became Hughes's most consistent patron following their meeting in 1862 – his purchases from Hughes included Home from Sea (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), The King's Orchard (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and Silver and Gold (collection of Lord Lloyd Webber) another allegory of youth and age.

Provenance: Bought from the artist by John Hamilton Trist in 1863; his sale Christie's, 9 April 1892, no.76 (unsold);
Herbert Hardwick Trist, probably gifted by him to his father-in-law William Gardiner Rigden by 1905; thence by descent to Miss G. Fownes-Rigden; her sale Sotheby's, 10 June 1964, lot 138, as At Church bought 'Dent';
M. Newman Gallery, London, by 1965;
Mr Kraus by 1970 and thence to his widow by whom offered Sotheby's, 8 June 1993, lot 8 (unsold);
Bought from Mrs Kraus by Alan B. Gateley in January 1994 and thence by descent

Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1864, no.384;
London, St. Jude's Whitechapel, 1905, no. 317;
London, M. Newman Gallery, 19th Century Life, March 1965, no. 23

Literature: The Times, 30 April 1864, p.14;
Athenaeum, 7 May 1864, p.651;
Art Journal, 1864, p.161;
Francis Turner Palgrave, Essays on Art, 1866, pp.63-4;
Ernest Chesneau, La Peinture Anglaise, 1882, p.201;
Cosmo Monkhouse, 'A Pre-Raphaelite Collection', in Magazine of Art, November 1882, p.70;
Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works, 1884, p.371;
Ernest Chesneau, 'Peintures Anglais Contemporains', in L'Art, 1894, p.399;
Leonard Roberts, Arthur Hughes, His Life and Works, 1997, cat. no. 60, illus, p.82, colour pl. 44 and on the back of the dust-jacket

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