Lot 9
  • 9

Evelyn Pickering de Morgan

300,000 - 500,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Evelyn Pickering de Morgan
  • Clytie
  • signed EP and dated 1886-7 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 41 3/4 by 17 1/2 in.
  • 106 by 44.5 cm


The Rev. George Tugwell (acquired from the artist, 1907)
Mrs. George Tugwell (by descent from the above, her husband)
Miss Maud Armstrong (by descent from the above, her aunt, circa 1950s) 
C. F. Armstrong, Esq., O.B.E. (and sold, his sale, Sotheby's, Belgravia, June 20, 1972, lot 28)
The Pre-Raphaelite Trust Inc. (and sold, Christie's, London, October 25, 1991, lot 57, illustrated)


London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1887, no. 348
Wilmington, Delaware Art Museum, The Pre-Raphaelite Era: 1848-1914, April-June 1976, no. 6-16


Martin Harrison and Bill Waters, Burne-Jones, London, 1973, p. 181, illustrated fig. 272
Catherine Gordon, Evelyn de Morgan: Oil Paintings, London, 1996, pp. 18, 59, no. 30, illustrated pl. 20
Elise Lawton Smith, Evelyn Pickering De Morgan and the Allegorical Body, Madison, New Jersey, 2002, pp. 58, 72, 86-89, 100, 205, illustrated fig. 28


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work can be hung in its current condition. The canvas is lined with wax. The paint layer is stable. The very fine cracking is slightly raised throughout, but this can be easily corrected if the wax lining is reversed. The work is clean. There are no retouches in the sky except in the lower right. There are a few dots in the lower left in the sunflowers. In the figure, there are retouches in the hips, around the navel, in the illuminated side of the torso on the right of the picture, and in the left forearm. All these retouches are very small and address minute cracking.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Clytie is an icon among allegorical paintings by Evelyn Pickering de Morgan, the leading female Pre-Raphaelite and champion of the Aesthetic and Symbolist movements.  Trained under her uncle Roddam Spencer Stanhope and at the Slade School of Art, she spent winters in her mid-twenties in Florence, where she became familiar with and found inspiration in the works of Botticelli. She exhibited regularly at the Grosvenor Gallery in London from 1877 and eventually married the potter and novelist, William de Morgan, one of the leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement, in 1887, the same year that she completed the present work.

Producing over one hundred paintings as well as drawings and sculpture throughout her nearly fifty year career, de Morgan distinguished herself from her contemporaries through her focus on spiritualism and the female body, particularly the boundaries placed upon it by Victorian society.  The single nude female figure set against a landscape with a low horizon was a subject she revisited regularly, often drawing from well-known mythological and literary narratives that featured psychologically complex and strong characters.  The present work is no exception.

In this compelling painting, de Morgan interprets the story of the water nymph Clytie, the daughter of the King of Babylon.  As told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, Clytie falls in love with the sun god, Apollo, and when he abandons her for another, she strips herself and sits naked on the rocks in the sun, nourished only by her tears. Each day from dawn to dusk, she stares at the chariot of the sun, driven by her erstwhile lover, as he journeys through the sky.  On the ninth day, she is transformed into a sunflower (a popular emblem of the Aesthetic movement), which turns its head to look longingly at the sun. 

The theme of a woman transforming into a plant fascinated Victorian Artists of the nineteenth century. For example, Burne-Jones illustrated the story of Phyllis, who in anguish at her beloved Demaphoön’s disappearance kills herself but is turned into an almond tree out of pity by the gods, in his Tree of Forgiveness (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool, fig. 1), which was exhibited in 1882 at the Grosvenor Gallery.  When approaching the story of Clytie, many artists of the period portrayed the nymph firmly facing the sky, a reference to Apollo’s power over the devoted nymph and of her inability to determine her own actions. In Frederic Lord Leighton’s version of Clytie (1896, Leighton House Museum, fig. 2), which was his last painting and left unfinished in his studio, the nymph is portrayed kneeling with head flung back and arms outstretched to the sky.  In her rendition, however, de Morgan portrays Clytie mid-transformation as the sunflowers at her feet wrap around the legs of her lithe body. Turning peacefully downwards with eyes closed, she gently places her hands on the crown of her head to shield herself from Apollo’s powerful rays.  No longer is she defined solely by the actions of her lover.

De Morgan completed a pastel study of the present work in 1885, and Reverend George Tugwell purchased the arresting composition directly from the artist in 1907. On October 14, 1907, he wrote, “Your Clytie is hung in our morning room between the sliding door and the china cabinet, the best light we can find for it at present.  It looks remarkably well and is quite the light of the room and I am delighted with it... when I see you again I may…discourse on the possible removal of two leaves of the sunflower.”  The next day, the artist politely replied, “I am so glad you like Clytie and it is such a pleasure to me that she should have found a home in your beautiful Lee valley.  With regard to what you say about the leaves, I fear any alteration would be impossible, as the picture was painted in a peculiar method to obtain the brilliancy of the colour and varnished, so that any attempt to change now would damage the quality of the painting” (Catherine Gordon, Evelyn de Morgan: Oil Paintings, London, 1996, p. 18).