Frederick Sandys (1829 - 1904)



May 5, 2011
New York, NY, US

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Description: ANTHONY FREDERICK AUGUSTUS SANDYS BRITISH 1832-1904 LOVE'S SHADOW oil on panel 16 by 12 3/4 in. 40.6 by 32.5 cm
Exhibited: Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art; Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art; Kobe, Daimaru Museum; Ibaraki, Tsukuba Museum of Art, The Victorian Imagination, January 2 - July 20, 1998, no. 25
Provo, Utah, Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Masterworks of Victorian Art from the Collection of John H. Schaeffer, February 15 - August 16, 2008
Springville Museum of Art, Utah, The John H. Schaeffer collection of Victorian and Edwardian Art, August 26, 2009 - February 28, 2010
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Victorian Visions, Nineteenth-Century Art from the John Schaeffer Collection, Sydney, May 20 - August 29, 2010, no. 9

Literature: Betty Elzea, Frederick Sandys, 1829-1904: a catalogue raisonné, Woodbridge, 2001, p. 189, illustrated p. 55
Richard Beresford, Victorian Visions, Nineteenth-Century Art from the John Schaeffer Collection, exh. cat. Sydney, 2010, p. 50, illustrated, pp. 11 and 51

Provenance: Sale: Sotheby's, Belgravia, June 6, 1976, lot 161, illustrated
Collection of Dan Klein, 1982
Sale: Christie's London, March 18, 1984, lot 157, illustrated
The Forbes Collection (and sold: Christie's London, February 20, 2003, session II, lot 91, illustrated)
Acquired from the above

Notes: Many historical and mythological women have leant themselves as subjects and provided a marvelous channel for Sandys' uncanny ability to manifest tension and drama in a static picture. The present lot, Love's Shadow, is a tremendously powerful image and an illustration of some of the cultural infatuations that were espoused by the Victorian era and, as the extremely captivating quality of this painting illustrates, persist through the present day.

Sandys was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood after the appearance of his satirical print The Nightmare, based on Millais' A Dream of the Past: Sir Isumbras at the Ford in 1857. He soon developed a friendship and shared a house with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, until their friendship crumbled in 1869 when Rossetti accused Sandys of plagiarism for his rendering of Mary Magdalene, done some ten years earlier. Whether or not it was Sandys' intention to copy, Rosetti's influence is still evident on his output.

Nonetheless, Sandys' powerful and sensual images of female beauty and his iconic renderings of alluring and mysterious women are uniquely his own. A review in The Artist magazine in 1896 describes him as "A classicist by nature and temperament, yet steeped in the same romantic mysticism that inspired the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he is stronger than any of them in the presentment of a dramatic crisis." (Esther Wood, 1896, as quoted in The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts, Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910, Paris and New York, 1997, p. 139)

His paintings Morgan le Fay (1862-63) and Medea (1868) are among his most dramatic and best known. They depict women as they are overwhelmed and possessed by rage and at the precise moment of transformation from seductress to sorceress. Likewise, in Cassandra (1898), the subject is shown in the instant that her consciousness has been ripped from her, forcefully thrusting her hair, jaw and eyes forward as if to catch it and escape from being catapulted into madness. These images of a figure enraptured, consumed by a raw and divine power, are undeniably magnetic; however, they would have been even more so at the time of their conception. At this time, women were constantly threatened with being branded as hysterical or mad as they were believed to be highly susceptible to mental illness. Consequently, there was an enormous amount of pressure to maintain composure and sobriety, ultimately at the expense of self expression. This is the dark context in which the genius of Love's Shadow, an intimate and quiet study by comparison, comes to light.

In Love's Shadow, Sandys has crept up on his subject and manifested a voyeuristic experience for the viewer. This beautiful woman, opulently adorned with jewels to clearly signify her status, is caught in a moment of transgression. Her implied loveliness and that of the object of her intent gaze have been stripped to reveal its shadow. Her expression has snapped out of place and been replaced with a scowl and she unknowingly strips the stems of their flowers with her teeth. Sandys' selection of flowers is not arbitrary. In a preparatory drawing (fig. 1), Sandys has her eating honeysuckle, a Victorian symbol for the bond of love which would have been immediately understood by audiences at the time. However, in this finished rendering, Sandys has been careful to have her biting blue violets, a symbol of love and watchfulness, and possibly heliotrope, for devotion. Later, in more than a dozen renderings of the iconic Proud Maisie, which are based on this work, she bites her hair in a gentle allusion to the ouroboros (the snake that bites its tail), a symbol of self reflection and cyclicality.

Rossetti once pronounced Sandys as "the greatest living draftsman," and the artist's skill is evident here, as is his sensitivity to his subject. The model is an actress, Mary Emma Jones, who would later become Sandys' wife and Rossetti's model.

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