Description: An Idyll
signed with initials and dated 1881 (lower right)
oil on canvas
19 5/8 x 24 5/8 in. (49.8 x 62.5 cm.)
Artist or Maker: Thomas Matthews Rooke, R.W.S. (1842-1942)
Provenance: with Mrs Charlotte Frank, from whom acquired by the present vendor in the 1960s.
Notes: The Property of The Lord Glenconner
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This fascinating picture, unseen at auction for more than forty years, is an early work by the artist, and reveals the considerable influence of Burne-Jones and his circle. Born in Marylebone, the son of a Jermyn Street tailor, Rooke trained at the South Kensington and Royal Academy Schools. In 1869 he applied to work for Morris & Co., and this led to his appointment as Burne-Jones's studio assistant, a post he retained until Burne-Jones's death in 1898. In the 1890s he kept a remarkable record of conversations in Burne-Jones's studio; passages are quoted in Lady Burne-Jones's Memorials, and a selection was published as Burne-Jones Talking in 1981.
The studio was a sophisticated milieu and Rooke mixed with some of the most influential figures in the post Pre-Raphaelite tradition: Spencer Stanhope, J. M. Strudwick (who was also an assistant), as well as Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Millais, and Ruskin. He adopted the manner of all these masters, and visual quotations abound in the present picture. The mother reading to her two daughters beside a lily pool recalls the figures in Burne-Jones's The Mirror of Venus, a subject he worked on in various versions throughout his career. And the stone statue, of Diana the huntress(?), is reminiscent of those depicted in Spencer Stanhope's Patience on a Monument smiling at Grief. The model for the mother is Rooke's wife, dressed in the 'Aesthetic' costume of the day. Born Leonora Jones in the Channel Islands, her strongly modelled features are instantly recognisable, and for a time she acted as governess to Burne-Jones's daughter Margaret.
The symbolism of the picture is unclear, but the composition anticipates and is very similar to The Dancing Girls, Rooke's picture of 1882, which is now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. It does not appear to have been exhibited, either at the Royal Academy or the Grosvenor Gallery, and may have been painted for his own enjoyment.
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