Lot 9
  • 9

John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope
  • Flora (The Birth of Venus)
  • oil on panel
  • 128.5 by 52.5cm., 50¾ by 20¾in.


Joseph Dixon of 1 St John's Gardens, Ladbroke Grove, London;
Sold by Dixon's executors, Christie's, 18 March 1911, lot 36, as The Birth of Venus (bought 36gns 'Thorne');
Mrs Charlotte Frank, London;
Sebastian de Ferranti, by whom sold Christie's, 7 June 1996, lot 576


Probably, London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1885, no.130 as The Birth of Venus;
Nottingham, Djangoly Art Gallery, University of Nottingham, Heaven on Earth, 1994, no.62 as Flora


STRUCTURE The picture is in good condition and ready to hang. It has been cradled at the reverse. UNDER ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT There are areas of retouching to small vertical cracks in the top of the picture and a larger crack between the figure's feet. There is also another smaller repaired crack to the left of her feet. FRAME This picture is contained in a carved gilt frame (probably the original). The frame requires restoration.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This beautiful painting of an ivory-skinned nude has become known as Flora, presumably based upon the proliferation of flowers in the painting. However, rather than depicting the Roman Goddess of Flowers, the picture appears to show Venus, Goddess of Love. In 1911 it was sold as The Birth of Venus and all of the symbolism in the picture points towards this being the correct title. One of her bare feet rests on a bank of anemones, the flowers that sprang from the blood of Venus’ lover Adonis when he was fatally gored by a boar. Behind her are trees full of rose blooms, the symbol of Venus and through the boughs can be glimpsed the sea from the foam of which Venus was born. The winged children that have been identified as wind-gods might just as easily be Putti, symbolic of love.

A watercolour replica of this picture (sold in these rooms, 1 July 2004, lot 277) has also become known as Flora although it was sold in 1911 as The Birth of Venus. However this was probably based on the identification of the oil painting. To confuse matters further, Spencer-Stanhope painted another picture entitled Venus Rising from the Sea (sold in these rooms, 12 June 2003, lot 34) which replicates the pose of the nude girl in the present painting but has a different background of ocean caves and a pod of dolphins.

If the picture does depict Venus, the shells on the rocks in the foreground link the picture with Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (Uffizi Gallery, Florence). Spencer-Stanhope clearly based his ideal of a long-limbed pale female beauty on that of Botticelli and his art was heavily influenced by the sixteenth century painter whose work was comparatively overlooked in the nineteenth century.

John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope was born of aristocratic parentage, his maternal grandfather being the agricultural reformist Thomas Coke, the Earl of Leicester, known as ‘Coke of Norfolk’. Educated at Rugby and Christchurch Oxford, Stanhope was primed for a life perceived to be better suited to his birth than that of an artist. However, the young man rejected his parents’ protests and after an introduction by his tutor at Oxford, became the pupil of George Frederick Watts, accompanying him on his travels to Italy in 1853 and to Greece in 1856-7. However, Watts was a dull tutor who believed that his pupil should study nothing but nature – and the Elgin Marbles – and Stanhope fell under the spell of the more charismatic members of Watts’ circle, Burne-Jones and Rossetti, with whom he collaborated on the ill-fated but seminal project to decorate the Oxford Union in 1857. Although four years younger than Stanhope, Burne-Jones’ critical encouragement influenced the development of the young artist’s style based upon his close study of Italian painting. Stanhope was quickly accepted amongst the circle, who regarded him as a great talent. After a period of ill-health, which often troubled the fragile artist, Stanhope settled at the idyllic Villa Nutti in the small town of Bellosguardo outside Florence, where he remained for the rest of his life. The villa became a sanctuary for many artists within Stanhope’s circle, who enjoyed the beautiful Florentine countryside and the opportunity to imbibe the local air, wine and Florentine heritage. One of the regular visitors was Stanhope’s niece Evelyn de Morgan (nee Pickering) whose similar approach to painting owed much to her uncle’s enthusiasm for Renaissance painters. The spirit of Italy is embodied in almost every work by Stanhope in his maturity. After 1870, Stanhope worked largely in tempera and founded the Society of Painters in Tempera in 1901. His approach to tempera painting, oil painting and fresco work, was universally regarded to be a serious attempt to produce contemporary work in the mode of the Italian Masters.

This picture and Andromeda (lot 11) were both owned by Joseph Dixon whose collection included a watercolour version of The Salutation of Beatrice by Rossetti, The Gentle Music of a Bygone Day, Acrasia and A Love Story by Strudwick, The Death of Chatterton and The Stonebreaker by Henry Wallis and pictures by Thomas Rooke. Dixon owned at least eight pictures by Spencer-Stanhope, including The Mill, The Vision of Ezekiel, Love and the Casting Net and Patience on a Monument Smiling at Grief. When his collection was sold in 1911 this picture was said to have been exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1885 as The Birth of Venus.