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23.5 by 14 cm., 9 ¼ by 5 ½ in.
signed with initials c.r.: JWW; signed and inscribed with the title on an old label on the reverse: Offerings/ J.W.Waterhouse
oil on canvas
Mr Rex Brown of Coombe Dower, Croham Road, Croydon, given to his friends Mr & Mrs Frederick Lionel Quinby M.V.O. around 1940 and thence by descent to the present owner who was given the picture as a wedding gift in 1974
London, Dudley Gallery, Winter Exhibition, 1879, no. 443, priced £25
Anthony Hobson, The Art and Life of J W Waterhouse RA 1849-1917, 1980, cat no. 40, p. 181
Reproduced here for the first time and not exhibited publicly since the Dudley Gallery Winter Exhibition of 1879 Offerings is a fascinating rediscovery. A seminal work in Waterhouse's oeuvre it marks a transition away from the continental Salon style of his early works such as The Tambourine Girl (Townley Hall Museum, Burnley), his first Royal Academy exhibit Sleep and His Half Brother Death (Sotheby's New York, 11 December 2003, lot 71) and The Remorse of Nero after the Death of his Mother (private collection) exhibited in 1878 at the Dudley Gallery, Piccadilly. The paintings of the early 1870s had been influenced by the exhibits of the French academic painters particularly the grand classicism of Jean Leon Gerome. Offerings was the first of a series of pictures in which the influence of Lawrence Alma-Tadema replaced that of Gerome, a series of small paintings of everyday Roman life which includes Dolce Far Niente (Kirkaldy Museum and Art Gallery) and A Grecian Flower Market (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) of 1880 and A Flower Market, Old Rome of 1886 (private collection). Waterhouse was still a student at the Royal Academy Schools when he painted Offerings a small panel of a young Pompeian or Roman girl dreaming of her beloved at a shrine devoted to Venus. Tadema was a regular visiting tutor at the Schools from 1877 onwards and clearly had a great influence upon the talented young student. Like Tadema, Waterhouse had been drawn to Pompeii and much influenced by his first visit there in 1876 when he made detailed watercolour studies of the frescoes and architecture. Waterhouse's visit to Pompeii was to have a significant effect upon the series of small paintings depicting domestic classical subjects which were painted with a realism which echoes the work of the painters William Logsdail and Henry Woods with whom Waterhouse became associated around this time. Woods and Logsdail painted Venetian subjects of street vendors and hawkers and the only difference between Offerings and Logsdail and Woods contemporary work was the period in which they are set. Like Woods, Logsdail and Tadema, Waterhouse painted romantic pictures which, although they were set in an ancient or foreign setting, could be understood by the nineteenth century audience. Unfortunately his interest in these domestic subjects was soon lost and he began to paint much grander subject paintings from classical mythology, history and literature, including Diogenes of 1882 (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney), St Eulalia of 1885 (Tate Britain) and the famous Mariamne of 1887 (private collection).
In the 1870s Waterhouse chose to exhibit his pictures at the Dudley Gallery housed in the flamboyant Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly. The Dudley Gallery was renowned as the predecessor of the Grosvenor Gallery, extolling the Aesthetic ideals of artists like Simeon Solomon, Walter Crane, Henry Holiday and Burne-Jones.
The double handled iron bowl in Offerings was a prop from Waterhouse's studio and appeared in several other pictures including Dolce Far Niente, Diogenes and A Flower Market, Old Rome which also includes a shrine containing the same bronze figure of Venus and possibly the same Italian model.
The composition of Offerings was reinterpreted over a decade later in Waterhouse's Flora (Sotheby's New York, 20 April 2005, lot 96) and the subject of a young girl making flower offerings at a roadside shrine was depicted in at least two versions of Arranging Flowers c.1890 and a medieval variant The Shrine of 1895 (private collection). The subject of devotional sacrifice was also pictured in The Household Gods of 1880 (Christie's, 4 November 1994, lot 100) which was part of the famous collection of Sir John Aird, and presumably also Sweet Offerings exhibited at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition in 1882 (present whereabouts unknown). Offerings was the first of Waterhouse's paintings of a subject which was to preoccupy him for many years.