Description: Saint Cecilia signed with monogram (lower left) oil on canvas 30 3/4 x 36 in. (78.1 x 91.4 cm.)
Artist or Maker: Sidney Harold Meteyard, R.B.S.A. (1868-1947)
Notes: Meteyard was a leading member of the Birmingham Group, the circle of young artists who emerged in the 1880s as a distinct local offshoot of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Like so many of the Group, he studied under Edward Taylor at the Municipal School of Art. He also contributed to the murals which they painted in Birmingham Town Hall (circa 1890) and to two of their schemes of illustration, A Book of Pictured Carols (1893) and The Quest (1894-6). In 1886 he joined the staff of the School of Art, where he was responsible for teaching enamelling, gesso-work, leatherwork and other crafts. He himself, in addition to painting pictures, was a prolific designer of stained glass, carried out altarpieces at Bordesley (1916) and Southport (1921), illuminated rolls of honour, made enamel plaques (often in collaboration with his wife and former pupil, Kate Eadie), and independantly illustrated two more books, Longfellow's Golden Legend (1910) and May Byron's A Day with John Milton (1913). He exhibited with the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (Associate 1902, Member 1909, later Secretary), as well as supporting the Royal Academy (1900-1918), the New Gallery, the Liverpool autumn exhibitions and the Paris Salon. All too little is known of the man himself. He continued to teach at the School of Art until 1933, and, unlike other members of the Group, the Paynes, the Geres and the Gaskins, who departed at various dates to colonise the Cotswolds, he never left the Birmingham area. He died at Alcester on Good Friday 1947.
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Although the Group were powerfully influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in general, they owed a special debt to Burne-Jones, a native of Birmingham who accepted the presidency of the R.B.S.A. in 1885 and took a keen interest both in the running of the Art School and the development of the new City Art Gallery. None felt Burne-Jones's influence more than Meteyard. He probably encountered him personally when Burne-Jones visited the Art School to give informal lessons, and he was certainly deeply impressed by the great set-pieces of the master's art to be seen in Birmingham, the four enormous windows erected in the Cathedral 1885-97, and the equally gigantic watercolour The Star of Bethlehem, commissioned by the Corporation for the Art Gallery and completed in 1891. The cerebral, formalised style of these late works is consistently echoed by Meteyard, lending itself to his stained glass, enamels and other decorative productions, but also finding reflection in his easel paintings.
These were never numerous; no more than fifteen were exhibited at the R.A. over a period of eighteen years, and only a handful are known today. The most accessible is Hope comforting Love in Bondage (Birmingham Art Gallery), which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1901, although two fine examples from private collections, St George and the Dragon (1904) and 'I am Half-Sick of Shadows' (1913), an illustration to Tennyson's 'Lady of Shalott', were included in the Last Romantics exhibition at the Barbican in 1989. Only two oil paintings by Meteyard, the St George already mentioned and Love in Idleness (1908), have been handled by Christie's in recent years.
The date of the present picture has not been firmly established. It was not exhibited at the Royal Academy, nor apparently at the New Gallery or the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. However, the predominantly green, blue and purple colour scheme is reminiscent of 'I am Half-Sick of Shadows', so the work may date from about the same period, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. Meteyard would then have been in his forties.
There is another link with 'I am Half-sick of Shadows' in that the picture has Tennysonian associations, treating the well-known story of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, which Tennyson evokes in his poem 'The Palace of Art'. This is hardly, however, of great significance since the theme has been attempted by artists ever since the Renaissance. Indeed it was closely associated with the academic convention, examples by Raphael, Domenichino and Reynolds all springing to mind. Nor, for all their reaction against this convention, had it been spurned by the Pre-Raphaelites. Rather the contrary; Rossetti had provided a characteristically quirky interpretation in an illustration to 'The Palace of Art' in the famous Moxon Tennyson of 1857 (fig. 1). The subject was often treated by Burne-Jones in terms of stained glass, and he developed at least one of these designs as an easel picture. J. W. Waterhouse's lush and eclectic account, famous for the record price it fetched when sold in these Rooms in June 2000 (fig. 2), was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895, and there are versions by J. M. Strudwick, E. R. Frampton, and other exponents of the late Pre-Raphaelite tradition.
Meteyard's painting, which fits so neatly into this context, adheres to the conventional iconography of the subject in showing St Cecilia playing an organ under angelic inspiration. Even Tennyson had placed the saint 'near gilded organ-pipes', while 'an angel looked at her'. It is quite likely that Kate Eadie, Meteyard's wife and artistic collaborator, was the model for both figures.
A watercolour by Meteyard, one of his twenty-five illustrations to Longfellow's Golden Legend, appears in our 'British Art on Paper' sale on 18 November, lot 146.
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