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Lot 47: Arthur Hughes (1830-1915)

Victorian & British Impressionist Pictures Including Drawings and Watercolours

by Christie's

December 15, 2010

London, United Kingdom

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Description: Arthur Hughes (1830-1915)
The Home Quartette: Mrs Vernon Lushington and Children
signed and dated 'ARTHUR HUGHES 1883' (lower left) and with inscription '4/The home quartet/Mrs Vernon Lushington and/Children/Arthur Hughes/Wandle Bank/Wallington/Surrey' (on a label attached to the reverse). Further inscribed 'Arthur Hughes/43 Bedford Square' (on a label attached to the reverse)
oil on canvas
39 x 51 in. (99.1 x 129.5 cm.)

Notes: From the Collection of Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi


Although never a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hughes was closely associated with the movement almost from the outset, encountering the Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ in 1850, when he was a Royal Academy student, and meeting all the leading Pre-Raphaelite Brothers during the next two years. In the 1850s he produced some of the most celebrated and best-loved Pre-Raphaelite images, including The Long Engagement (Birmingham Art Gallery), April Love (Tate Britain) and Home from Sea (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), exploring themes of star-crossed love and passionate regret to which he would often return. His later work is a little more conventional, but he remained faithful to Pre-Raphaelite principles until his death in 1915 at the age of eighty-five.

Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1883, The Home Quartette shows Mrs Vernon Lushington and her three daughters - from left to right, Margaret, Katherine and Susan. Their music-making takes place in a ground-floor room at 'Pyports', their house at Cobham in Surrey, with a view across the countryside to Chatley Heath visible through the window.

Vernon Lushington (1832-1912) plays a minor but important role in Pre-Raphaelite annals. Most famously, it was in his rooms in Doctors Commons, in January 1856, that the young Burne-Jones met his hero, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, an encounter fraught with significance for the later evolution of the movement.

Lushington was then a young lawyer, waiting to be called to the bar the following year and satisfying his youthful idealism by teaching at the Working Men's College. Rossetti also taught there, which was how the famous meeting came about.

Law and zeal for reform ran in the Lushington family. Vernon's father, Stephen Lushington (1782-1873), was a county court judge and MP who championed such causes as the abolition of slavery, Catholic emancipation, and the civil rights of Jews and dissenters. He was also involved in two celebrated divorce cases, acting on behalf of Lady Byron and Queen Caroline. Vernon's legal career reached its peak in the 1860s, when he was deputy Judge-Advocate-General, although he served as a county court judge for Surrey and Berkshire until 1900.

By the 1870s Vernon's idealism had taken the form of playing a leading role in the positivist movement, a form of humanism based on the teaching of Auguste Comte, that many Victorians embraced in their search for a more meaningful alternative to orthodox Christianity. He and his family were at the heart of the intellectual establishment of the day. Their friends included Carlyle, Darwin, Ruskin, George Eliot, Mrs Gaskell, Matthew Arnold, Browning, Tennyson, Leslie Stephen and Thomas Hardy, several of whom were among their neighbours in Surrey.

Lushington also maintained his links with the Pre-Raphaelites. He wrote for the short-lived Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, and had portraits of his father and wife painted respectively by Holman Hunt (1862-3, National Portrait Gallery) and Rossetti (1865, Tate Britain). But it was Hughes, his exact contemporary, that he most consistently patronised, not only commissioning our group portrait but a likeness of himself (1885-6, unlocated) and acquiring a number of other works over the years. The family's patronage of Hughes also continued into the next generation.

Mrs Lushington, the pianist in the picture, had been born Jane Mowatt, the daughter of Francis Mowatt, MP. Married in 1865, she died aged fifty in 1884, only a year after the picture was painted. Of the three daughters, Katherine (in the centre) was to marry the newspaper proprietor Leopold Maxse and knew Virginia Woolf. In fact she was a model for Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, while her engagement to Maxse features in another of her friend's novels, To the Lighthouse . Margaret (the cellist) married Stephen Massingberd and lived at Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire, now a National Trust property, where the studies of the girls that Hughes made for the picture are displayed (illustrated in Roberts and Wildman, op. cit., p. 196). The youngest daughter, Susan, never married and outlived all her family, dying in 1953.

As the picture shows so vividly, music was at the heart of the Lushington family's life. Vernon and Jane had met at a performance of Fidelio, a circumstance to which Hughes delicately refers by introducing a copy of Beethoven's score into the picture's foreground. Arthur Sullivan played the organ at the couple's wedding, and other leading musicians, including Joseph Joachim, Ferenc Korbay and Arnold Dolmetsch, were among their friends. Moreover, Jane Lushington and her daughters were all talented performers themselves. Their composer friends wrote pieces especially for them, and the girls were tutored by Hubert Parry. Ralph Vaughan Williams was a connection by marriage, and would later help Susan to arrange musical events, work for which she became well known and was awarded the MBE.

According to Lushington family papers, Hughes began the picture in October 1882, and continued to work on it during several visits to 'Pyports' that autumn, As it progressed it became a major statement of Aesthetic values, not only in terms of the references to music (that totally abstract, narrative-free art form to the 'condition' of which, according to Walter Pater, all others should 'constantly aspire') but of the colour scheme and style of the sitters' dresses. Mrs Lushington wears her 'gold coloured silk', and the girls are all arrayed in their 'evening gowns' of dull green velvet with orange sashes. The overall effect is of a symphony in blue, green and brown, the 'greenery, yallery, Grosvenor Gallery' tones at which W. S. Gilbert had poked fun in his comic opera Patience as recently as 1881.

The picture was well received when it appeared at the Royal Academy. F. G. Stephens, writing in the Athenaeum, described it as 'pure, beautiful and brilliant', replete with 'healthy sentiment', while for the Art Journal it showed that Hughes was a better artist than Millais. The picture hung in Gallery II, where its companions included Leighton's decorative frieze The Dance (Leighton House), Frith's masterpiece The Private View (private collection), and James Guthrie's much-reproduced To Pastures New (Aberdeen Art Gallery).

We are very grateful to David Taylor for help with this catalogue entry.

Provenance: Commissioned by Vernon Lushington in 1882.
by descent to his daughter Susan Lushington. by descent in 1953 to her nephew, Godfrey L. Norris. by descent to his widow; Sotheby's, London, 15 March 1983, lot 53 (£21,000)
with The Fine Art Society, London, March 1974, no. 10360, where purchased by the present owner.

Exhibited: London, Royal Academy, 1883, no.170.
Whitechapel, St Jude's School House, Fine Art Exhibition, 1887, no.95.

Literature: Manuscripts Letter from William Bell Scott to James Leathart, 31 December 1882 (Leathart Papers, University of British Columbia, Vancouver). Letter from Ford Madox Brown to Harry Quilter, 1886 (published in Harry Quilter, Preferences in Art, Life and Literature, London, 1892, p. 72).
Printed sources Henry Blackburn (ed.), Academy Notes 1883, London, 1883, p. 20, illustrated
Athenaeum, no. 2874, 25 November 1882, p.706.
Magazine of Art, vol. 6, December 1883, p. ix.
Athenaeum, no. 2897, 5 May 1883, p.575. Athenaeum, no. 2898, 12 May 1883, p.607.
Art Journal, 1883, p.217.
David Taylor, People of Cobham: The Pyports Connection, Buckingham, 1985, pp.67,70 (illustrated), 71.
Leonard Roberts and Stephen Wildman, Arthur Hughes: His Life and Work, Woodbridge, 1997, pp.195-6., no.185, and colour plate 82 (as 'unlocated').
David Taylor, Cobham: A History, Chichester, 2003, p. 98, illustrated, fig. 109.

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