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Lot 91: Arthur Hughes (British 1832-1915)

19th Century Paintings

by Bonhams

June 28, 2005

London, United Kingdom

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Description: Forget me not
signed 'Arthur Hughes' (lower right), inscribed on a label on the reverse
oil on canvas
108 x 64 cm. (42 1/2 x 25 1/4 in.)

Mrs Harriet Margaret Louisa Bolus; thence to her niece Mrs D.J.Paitaki.
Paitaki sale, Christie's, 12 June 1992, sold for £11,000.
Phillips, 3 April, 2001, lot 40.

Royal Academy, 1902, no 373;
Autumn Exhibition, Worcester, 1902;
Museum of richmond, Old Town Hall, 10 Nov 1998-13 March 1999

Arthur Hughes to Agnes Hale-White, 24 Feb, 1902.

I am doing a picture rather of the old 'Good Night' kind: a young girl on her knees looking up at a window; last evening light; cap on floor with wreathed wild flowers; little bed behind with lute laid on it; little head drapery with angels with gold nimbuses; [sic] old blue cloak embroidered with flowers, etc. Shall quote 'Ere I let fall the windows of my eyes'; forget-me-nots in her hand. (MS: Tate Gallery) qu. Leonard Roberts, Arthur Hughes: His Life and Works, A.C.C., 1997, p.235.

Stephen Wildman, Arthur Hughes, Museum of Richmond, 1998, p.6

The 'Good Night' which Hughes mentions is a painting of his daughter, Amy, exhibited at the R.A. in 1866. Although the figure in this case is standing, the paintings are similar in type and the same embroidered cloak is worn in both (See L. Roberts, A. Hughes: His Life and Work, 1997, Cat. no. 71.2).

In the bedroom of an ancient country house, a beautiful young woman kneels in a prayerful attitude beside a large brass-studded leather trunk, her arms resting on it as, lost in thoughts of her absent love, she gazes towards the light that filters through the casement window. Only two small panes are visible but these are sufficient to suggest that it is a frosty moonlit night. Inside, all is dark and shrouded. Her narrow bed stands against the wall, its frame adorned with Gothic finials. The padded headboard is embroidered with a pair of angels and the words Deus Magnificat, pointing to the pious nature of the household of which she is a member. The lute and bow traditionally signify the pleasures and happiness of love-making. Lying silent on the bed, they echo her lonely state and an emotional life as yet unfulfilled.

The girl has gathered flowers while walking: the forget-me-nots which give the painting its title; the ox-eye daisies and red poppies. Ox-eye daisies signify patience and the poppies consolation, so that despite the present separation from her loved one, the omens are good.

The picture centres on the feelings of the girl so clearly revealed in her earnest face and pleading eyes, and Hughes has created the perfect ambience for her. The room resonates with warm, sonorous colours: the dark crimson of the trunk and bed cover; the pale brown panelling and floor; the red and gold figures of the angels; all serve to enhance the luminous figure of the girl in her diaphanous gown and blue satin cloak. In the letter quoted above, Hughes' own itemising of the accessories underlines the importance he attached to them, and the results are patent. The solid painting, the meticulous attention to detail, and the lighting effects make this one of Hughes's most successful single figure compositions.

The picture has been described as echoing Hughes' Pre-Raphaelite past (Stephen Wildman, Arthur Hughes, Museum of Richmond, 1998, p.6), and although the lighting and colour are more brilliant, in subject, composition and mood it is indeed reminiscent of examples like Millais' Mariana (1851, Tate Gallery). Hughes was only eighteen years old when he discovered the Pre-Raphaelites, and in the 1850s he made a major contribution to the movement in the form of works such as April Love and The Eve of St Agnes (both 1856, Tate Gallery) in which he combined realism and poetry in equal measure. His later work diversified to include illustration, landscape, and portraiture - some of the most successful of which were painted in the 'aesthetic' vein - as well as the figurative subject pictures which remained his chief ambition. Hughes outlived most of the artists of his generation, exhibiting regularly at the R.A. and elsewhere until the year of his death in 1915.

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