Lot 10
  • 10

Albert Joseph Moore A.R.W.S.

600,000 - 800,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Albert Joseph Moore A.R.W.S.
  • Topaz
  • signed with anthemion (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 36 by 17 1/8 in.
  • 91.4 by 43.5 cm


Humphrey Roberts, Esq. (by 1887 and until at least 1897)
Possibly, H.R.H. The Princess Royal ([possibly then Princess Louise (1867-1931) or Princess Mary (1897-1965)], according to the Durlacher Brothers exhibition catalogue)
Durlacher Brothers, New York (1964)
Lillian Bostwick Phipps (and sold, her estate sale, Sotheby's, New York, May 24, 1988, lot 94, illustrated)
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale) 
Thence by descent


London, Grosvenor Gallery, Summer Exhibition, 1879, no. 172
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1879, no. 400
Manchester, Royal Jubilee Exhibition, 1887, no. 162 (as The Sisters, lent by Humphrey Roberts, Esq.)
London, Grafton Galleries, Exhibition of Pictures by the Late Mr. Albert Moore, 1894, no. 154
London, Guildhall, Loan Collection of Pictures by Painters of the British School who have flourished during Her Majesty's Reign, 1897, no. 93 (lent by Humphrey Roberts, Esq.)
New York, Durlacher Brothers, Painters of the Beautiful, 1964, no. 13


"The Poetic Phase in Modern British Art," The New Quarterly Magazine, vol. II, July and October 1879, p. 158
Charles Pascoe, "The Grosvenor Gallery Summer Exhibition," The Art Journal, vol. 5, 1879, p. 224
Alfred Lys Baldry, Albert Moore: His Life and Work, London, 1894, pp. 20, 48-9, 54, 104
Art Journal, 1894, pp. 88-9, illustrated
F.G. Stephens, "Mr Humphrey Roberts's Collection.  Modern English Oil Pictures," Magazine of Art, 1896, p. 44-7, illustrated (as Turquoise)
Robyn Asleson, Albert Moore, London, 2000, pp. 137, 150, 163, 195, illustrated p. 153, pl. 147


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work has been restored and could be hung in its current condition. The canvas is lined with wax as an adhesive. The cracking is slightly raised, but this is not disturbing. The paint layer is cleaned, retouched and varnished. Retouches can be seen under ultraviolet light in three or four tiny cracks in the face of the figure on the right and in one half inch by half inch loss below the knee on the figure on the left.
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.

Catalogue Note

Albert Moore’s uncompromising pursuit of beauty for its own sake established him as one of the most progressive artists in late nineteenth century England. His paintings embody the idealistic philosophy of the Aesthetic Movement and in many respects anticipate the abstract formal concerns of twentieth century Modernism. Topaz has a significant place in Moore’s career as the painting he chose to represent him at the inaugural exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1879. Initiated as a rival to the prestigious but more traditional Royal Academy, the Grosvenor became the venue of choice for avant-garde artists and their patrons, and from the outset Moore was one of its star attractions.

Working against the grain of popular Victorian taste—which favored art that told a story or evinced a moral—Moore focused on the purely visual properties of his pictures, with the exclusive aim of creating supremely beautiful arrangements of line and color. As a means of frustrating attempts to impose extraneous historical or literary meaning onto his work, Moore adopted titles that reference seemingly trivial accessory objects within his paintings, such as flowers or fruit. The title “Topaz” is typical in being both a red herring and the essential key to the picture’s color scheme, which is Moore’s real subject. The single amber-colored topaz bead at the center of the necklace worn by the figure on the right provides the keynote of Moore’s palette, balanced by the gray-green and pearly-white hues found in other beads. The warm salmon-colored turbans and rug introduce contrasting color accents.

Moore underscored his abstract intentions in Topaz, as in other paintings, by treating the figures as formal design elements, rather than psychologically and physically individualized human beings. The nearly identical female figures are based on Moore’s careful studies of life models, which he gradually transformed to match an ideal of human beauty that he derived from Greek sculpture. The embroidered silk fabric in the background of Topaz appears in several other paintings by Moore, including the iconic Dreamers of 1882 (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). The flat, decorative backdrop emphasizes the picture’s status as a two-dimensional design, rather than a simulacrum of reality. The filigree pattern of the backdrop also provides a lively counterpoint to the slow, rhythmic swags of the figures’ drapery.

Moore devoted two years to rehearsing and refining every detail of Topaz in order to hone the painting to a state of gemlike perfection. Through numerous figure and drapery studies, he painstakingly developed the composition and experimented with alternative color schemes. He subsequently reworked several of these preliminary studies as finished paintings; examples include Forget-Me-Nots (1881, Private Collection) and Companions (1883, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts).

Emulating the design principles he discerned in nature and the finest examples of art (chiefly, Greek sculpture and Japanese prints), Moore formulated a unique composition process in which the placement of every element—from the slightest stroke of color to the myriad folds of drapery—was determined in advance through the creation of an underlying grid of intersecting lines and curves. Even the placement of his characteristic anthemion signature (visible in the lower right corner of Topaz) was analyzed as an integral element of the composition. Through these exhaustive preparations, Moore ensured that the final canvas was carried out with absolute certainty. The ease and spontaneity of his brushwork enhances the picture’s sparkling appeal.

Topaz was among the most frequently exhibited of Moore’s paintings and critics recognized it as one of the artist’s finest works. Exhibition reviews dwelled on the exquisite delicacy of the color scheme, which (it was often said) lay beyond the capacity of words to describe. Such comments bear out Moore’s belief that a visual work of art, by definition, should appeal directly to the eye and had no business with words. This radical notion constituted a challenge to the narrative traditions of British art and compelled a more sophisticated mode of art criticism.

Although Albert Moore’s paintings were widely admired for their sheer beauty, the experimental aesthetic theories that underlay them were perceived by only a select few of his contemporaries. For them, Moore’s work was a revelation. After seeing Topaz on display at the Walker Art Gallery in September 1879, the artist William Gawin Herdman declared the painting “one of the most singular and novel pictures of modern times” (William Gawin Herdman, “Walker Art Gallery,” Liverpool Mercury, September 23, 1879, p. 8).