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Lot 7: John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)
IMPORTANT BRITISH & IRISH ART
November 28, 2001
London, United Kingdom
Description: Patience on a Monument smiling at Grief oil on panel 49 7/8 x 431/2 in. (126.5 x 110.5 cm.) PROVENANCE Joseph Dixon; (+) Christie's, London, 18 March 1911, lot 35, (105 gns to Stirling). Mrs A.M.W. Stirling. LITERATURE Athenaeum, no. 2950, 10 May 1884, p. 604. Academy, no. 627, 10 May 1884, p. 337. A.M.W. Stirling, A Painter of Dreams, and other Biographical Studies, London, 1916, illustrated facing p. 336. EXHIBITION London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1884, no. 211. Birmingham, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, Special Collection of Works by the late R. Spencer Stanhope, Autumn exhibition, 1909, no. 52, lent by Joseph Dixon. Burne-Jones and his Followers, exh. circulated in Japan by the Tokyo Shimbun, 1987, no. 32. NOTES The painting is not an illustration to Twelth Night as such, but an allegorical conception suggested by the well-known lines in Act II, Scene 4, in which Viola, disguised as a page, confesses her love for Orsino, Duke of Illyria. Orsino himself is suffering unrequited love for Olivia, and has asked his clown, Feste, to sing him the song 'Come away, come away, death'. When this is finished, he turns to his page, and they argue about whether a woman is capable of feeling the pangs of love with the same intensity as a man. Orsino denies it, but Viola, speaking of course of herself, claims otherwise: Viola Ay, but I know,- Duke What dost thou know? Viola Too well what love women to men may owe: In faith, they are as true of heart as we. My father had a daughter lov'd a man,' As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship. Duke And what's her history? Viola A blank, my lord. She never told her love, But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud, Feed on her damask cheek: she pin'd in thought, And with a green and yellow melancholy, She sat like Patience on a monument, Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed? The same scene had inspired the masterpiece of the short-lived early Pre-Raphaelite painter Walter Howell Deverell (fig. 1). This painting, exhibited at the National Institution in 1850, had, however, been a more literal account of the subject, showing the Duke listening to Feste's song while Viola, in her page's costume, looks at him with love. Deverell himself had been the model for Orsino, D.G. Rossetti for Feste, and Elizabeth Siddal, making her first appearance in a Pre-Raphaelite picture, for Viola. Other artists had also illustrated the play, contributing to the long tradition of Shakespearian subjects which is such a feature of British art in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. John Hoppner, for instance, had painted the actress Mrs Jordan as Viola, almost certainly showing her declaiming the speech in which she refers obliquely to her love for Orsino (Kenwood), and Daniel Maclise's well-known painting of Malvolio appearing cross-gartered before Olivia and Maria on the garden (Tate Gallery) had been shown at the Royal Academy in 1840. Stanhope's picture was his only contribution to the Grosvenor Gallery in 1884. The exhibition that year was dominated by Burne-Jones's King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid (Tate Gallery), which was universally hailed as the artist's masterpiece to date. Poor Stanhope, in contrast, found his picture panned by the critics. Even F.G. Stephens, who was usually sympathetic to his work (see lots 3 and 6), was unhappy on this occasion. He had been criticising Walter Crane's Bridge of Life, another masterpiece, which was sold in these Rooms in March 1990. We have never seen a picture of Mr Crane's which must have cost him more trouble and brought him less reward', he wrote, before continuing: 'We might say the same of Mr Spencer Stanhope's Patience on a Monument smiling at Grief, which, although beautiful in its way, and made delightful by the delicacy, taste, and care expended on the limbs of two somewhat tame symbolic female figures, whose expressions are weak, not to say lachrymose is as devoid of energy as it well can be. While we accept its conventionalities, we must object to their lack of spontaneity. Worse, however, appeared the same day in the Academy, which thought the picture an eccentric example of the pseudo-quattrocentist school, in which the extraordinary angularity of the forms and draperies is not redeemed by real intensity of feeling or insight. (The artist's) interpretation of the well-known lines has at any rate the merit of novelty, if it cannot be otherwise commended. The melancholy lady (or Patience?) sits on a mortuary monument in an Italian garden decorated with statues of dubious shape, smiling sadly on an embodied figure of Grief lying prone at her feet. Surely here is a strange confusion of the poet's meaning? These strictures are undeserved. The design is unusually strong for Stanhope, and, far from lacking 'intensity of feeling', the figure of Grief conveys a real sense of desolation. In fact it is not impossible that the picture actually commemorates some bereavement. The background may record a scene in the extensive grounds of the Villa Nuti, or some other Italian garden known to Stanhope. The conception of the drapery is very Botticellian, and even the way the two figures relate to one another has something of the swaying movement so typical of the Renaissance master. The Annunciation in the Uffizi (fig. 2), a picture that Stanhope would undoubtedly have known, makes a good comparison.