Born in Liverpool, Deare apprenticed with Thomas Carter (d. 1795) and trained at the Royal Academy from 1777, where he displayed a keen interest in anatomy and attended dissections. The sculptor became the youngest artist to win the Academy’s Gold Medal with his relief depicting The Angels Surprising Satan at the Ear of Eve, inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost. His talent was such that the Academy chose to send two sculptors to Rome with a pension in 1785, having initially awarded the opportunity solely to Charles Rossi (1762-1836), before also selecting Deare for the honour. In Rome Deare established himself at the head of one of the two opposing factions of the English community, those with Italophile sympathies, in contrast to those with a more anglocentric outlook, of which the Irish sculptor Christopher Hewetson was a leading proponent. Deare’s obsession with antiquity was such that he is said to have endured an exhausting and risky journey to the Alban Hills to secretly obtain a cast of a side curl from the Mondragone Head of Antinous (now in the Louvre, inv. no. Ma1205). Unlike may of his contemporaries, Deare refused to engage in the procurement, restoration and copying of antiquities for Grand Tourists, regarding the trade with disdain. This naturally restricted his patronage, but nevertheless, through his reputation as a great talent, Deare attracted a significant number of major patrons, including Henry Blundell; Frederick Augustus Hervey, Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry; the designer Thomas Hope; and Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex. Reliefs form the large portion of his limited oeuvre (only 48 models are listed by Fogelman, Fusco and Stock, op. cit.), with his first major work being The Judgement of Jupiter, of which the marble version is now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (inv. no. M.79.37). His works, the majority of which unsurprisingly represent classical subjects, combine a keen appreciation for pose and the purity of the human form with virtuosity in the carving of decorative detail, exemplified by the Marine Venus, of which the prime marble version is in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. no. 98.SA.4). The rarity of Deare’s works is underscored by the fact that he was not represented in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum until 2011 when the museum acquired the sculptor’s Caesar Invading Britain (inv. no. A.10:1, 2-2011), which had been commissioned John Penn of Stoke (1760-1834), whose bust he executed in 1791-3 (now Eton College). Deare died in 1798, reputedly having caught a chill from sleeping on a block of marble in the pursuit of sculptural inspiration.
Edward and Eleanor is one of Deare’s most significant works, with the model (probably the plaster) having been presented as the sculptor’s first exhibition piece at the Royal Academy in 1788 (his first submission, the Judgement of Jupiter, in 1787, was rejected due to its overly large size). The subject is taken from English legend and concerns the young Edward, Prince of Wales (1239-1307; the future Edward I), who embarked on the Ninth Crusade between 1270 and 1274. At Acre, in 1272, an attempt was made on Edward’s life when a Muslim assassin tried to stab the prince with a poisoned dagger. According to legend, Edward’s young bride Eleanor of Castille heroically sucked the poison from the wound and saved his life. Whilst the assassination attempt is recorded, the role of Eleanor is thought to be apocryphal, and Edward’s life was in fact saved by an English doctor who, rather more prosaically, cut away the infected flesh.
In his rendering of the subject, Deare has transported the medieval legend to ancient Greece, with Edward being presented as a classical prince, with idealised muscular body and fillet running through his hair which terminates in ringlets. Eleanor is presented as the archetypal demure Grecian maiden, wearing a headdress, her body concealed by drapes. The only pictorial reference to the medieval legend is the shield leaning against the daybed, emblazoned with the Lion(s) of England. The scene is indebted to the Enlightenment tradition of English history painting, with Edward’s languid pose and outstretched arm clasped tenderly by his companion’s hands being reminiscent of Benjamin West’s 1770 painting The Death of General Wolfe. The composition appears to be ultimately inspired by Angelica Kauffman’s painting The gentle Eleanor sucking the venom out of the wound which Edward I, her royal consort, received with a poisoned dagger from an assassin in Palestine, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1776 and subsequently distributed in an engraving by WW Ryland in 1780. The figure of Eleanor is essentially the same as Kauffman’s heroine, though in reverse, and the scene is likewise centered upon a daybed. Kauffman’s Edward is nonetheless a more dynamic figure with intense facial expression, and the scene is filled with attendants and decorative detail. In the present arrangement, Deare has made the interaction between Edward and Eleanor the focus of the scene, creating a cleaner, bolder, composition, in which Edward’s idealised nude torso is juxtaposed next to Eleanor’s elaborate drapery and the detail of the daybed and attributes. Interestingly, Kauffman's composition is itself derived from a lost painting by Gavin Hamilton, Andromache bewailing the death of Hector (1758) (Avery, op. cit., p. 53). The choice of subject, however, may ultimately have occurred to Deare when James Thompson's play Edward and Eleanor was first performed in London in 1775; the play continued to be popular until the close of the century.
Deare’s Eleanor is particularly close to a pen and ink Study of a Woman, who appears to clasp an infant, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (inv. no. E.260-1968), which Avery has attributed to the sculptor (op. cit., p. 54). Fogelman, Fusco and Stock suggest that the single mourning figure in the background is both a nod to Pliny’s belief that veiled figures symbolise indescribable grief, whilst being inspired by figures from Donatello’s Entombment relief in St Peter’s, bearing testament to Deare’s interest in Renaissance, as well as antique, sculptural sources. The mourner is, however, very close to Angelica Kauffman's Telemachus from Telemachus learning of the Death of Ulysses (sold Christie's London, 23 March 1979, lot 101) who is likewise hunched over with drapes to the face (Avery, op. cit.). This parallel is particularly convincing given the closeness of the overall composition to Kauffman's Edward and Eleanor, which underscores his admiration for the painter. In addition it should be noted that, in focusing on the loving couple seated on a daybed in a classical setting, the hero half naked, the heroine draped, Deare’s Edward and Eleanor fits into the late Rococo zeitgeist, paralleled remarkably closely in Jacques Louis David’s The Loves of Paris and Helen, painted in the same year that Deare’s plaster was exhibited, in 1788 (David’s painting is now in the Louvre (inv. no. 3696)).
The original plaster of the Edward and Eleanor appears to have been commissioned by Henry Blundell for Ince Blundell Hall in Lancashire, where it remains to this day (Fogelman, op. cit., fig. 11). In his 1803 description of the collection at Ince, Blundell notes ‘This was modelled at Rome, by young Deare of Liverpool, and was his first exhibition piece at Somerset House in London. It represents the well known story of Eleanor sucking poison out of Edward’s arm, which he had received by a poison arrow’ (op. cit., p. 84, no. 236). Interestingly, the plaster is partially polychromed, which detracts somewhat from the formal purity of the composition, as witnessed in the present marble. A second plaster version of the model is housed in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and is signed: I: DEARE fect. Roma 1786, whilst a third forms an overdoor at Lyons Demesne, County Kildare, and a fourth can be seen at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire (Fogelman, op. cit., fig. 12).
The present, superbly carved, marble was identified by Fogelman, Fusco and Stock in their survey of Deare’s oeuvre in The Sculpture Journal (2000) as being that referred to in a letter written by Deare to his father in December 1789 which states that the sculptor would execute a marble version of the Edward and Eleanor for £100. The relief was probably commissioned by Patrick Lattin, an Irish Captain, for his Paris home, along with a bust of the society beauty Mme Martinville. The French provenance is potentially significant as it might explain the presence of the Roubiliac signature at the bottom right corner of the present relief. According Fogelman, Fusco and Stock, ‘The marble displays the full range of Deare’s virtuosity as a carver, from the precisely rendered, wrapped handle of Edward’s sword to the fluid anatomy of his muscular torso to the delicate forms of Eleanor’s toes peeking through her tight-fitting slippers. His mastery of relief, manifest in the varied depths of carving, is particularly underscored by the juxtaposition of concave and convex elements’ (op. cit., p. 93).
In an article published in The British Art Journal in 2002, however, Charles Avery argued that another relief in a private London collection, signed and dated I DEARE FACIEBAT ROMAE / 1790, should be considered the prime marble version. Although this marble was acquired by Sir Andrew Corbet Corbet from the sculptor in Rome in 1792, the inclusion of the 1790 date supports Avery's claim that this is the earlier of the two. Indeed, Deere wrote to his brother on 19 May 1792 detailing how he had 'sold a bassorelievo I had finished for £120 to Sir Corbet Corbet Bart' (as quoted in Avery, op. cit., p. 54). The notion that the present relief may be a second version is supported by the fact that, unlike in the stucco, the shield is emblazoned with a single Lion passant. This change may have been decided by the client, however, Patrick Lattin, who, as an Irishman, may have preferred fewer direct allusions to the English subject matter (Avery, op. cit., p. 52). The present relief is nevertheless likely to have been made circa 1789-1790 since the Lattin provenance is first raised in a letter understood to date to December 1789 (see Fogelman et al, op. cit., p.123, n. 106). If the present relief is indeed the one commissioned by Lattin it may still be the prime version given the existence of this letter. The Lattin provenance is given added credence by the possibility that the present relief was formerly in the collection of Henry Harrington of Grange, County Wicklow, close to Lattin's Irish estates, by 1832 (it would presumably have been transferred from Paris to Ireland during the Revolution).
Other marble versions may exist, since Deare’s postmortem inventory refers to ‘alcune bassirilievi’ (some bas-reliefs) including 'un re d'Inghilterra con sua Moglie' (a King of England and his wife) together with a 'replicato' (replica) (see Fogelman et al., op. cit., p. 93). Avery suggests that the present relief might be identified with one of these marbles since these were sold to the Irishman Robert Fagan, who could have returned them to the Emerald Isle. The route the present relief took to Ireland is, however, ultimately unknown, and it is equally likely that this is the marble commissioned by Lattin, who subsequently sent it to the safety of his home estates during the period of the Terror. It should also be noted that it is unknown whether Deare exhibited a plaster or a marble at the RA in 1788 and it should be considered a possibility that the present marble could have been the relief exhibited. Artists constantly reviewed works for such exhibitions and it is possible that the sculptor decided that removing the footstool and changing the emblem on the shield improved the design, as he was carving. Such a process would not mean changes to the master model (the plaster) from which subsequent versions were executed. Whatever the explanation for these changes, what is clear is that the present marble appears to be the most distinct of the group and is possibly unique.
The sale of the present relief represents a unique and rare opportunity to acquire one of Deare’s seminal marbles in a very good state of conservation and evidencing the excellent quality of carving for which the sculptor is so celebrated. It comes from the collection of the art historians and Italophiles, the late Hugh Honour and John Fleming. Together they wrote the famous A World History of Art, still one of the standard texts for any aspiring art historian. Honour was a leading authority on Antonio Canova and Neoclassicism. In Honour’s obituary for the Burlington Magazine, Nicholas Penny writes that Honour was able to ‘transform the reputation of one of the greatest of all European artists’ and brought his elegant and reliable knowledge to an increasingly wider audience throughout his life (op. cit.). Honour and Fleming's ownership of the present relief is ultimately a testament both to its quality and to its historical importance.
J. T. Smith: Nollekens and his Times, London, 1828, pp. 302–32; P. Fogelman, P. Fusco and S. Stock, ‘John Deare (1759–1798): A British Neoclassical Sculptor in Rome’, The Sculpture Journal, iv, 2000, pp. 85–127; Stevens, Timothy. “Deare, John (1759–1798).” Timothy Stevens, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: OUP, May 2006. 14 May 2017
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