Lot 17
  • 17

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

Estimate
150,000 - 200,000 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
  • Pine Woods at Viareggio
  • titled and signed on the backboard; The Pine Woods/ of Viareggio/ R Spencer Stanhope
  • oil on canvas

Provenance

Joseph Dixon by 1909;
Christie's, London, 18 March 1911, lot 34;
A.B. Clifton;
Christie's, London, 6 July 1925, lot 48, bought by Mrs A.M. Stirling, the artist's sister;
The de Morgan Foundation, London, by whom sold Christie's, London, 28 November 2001, lot 5, where purchased by the present owner

Exhibited

London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1888, no.225;
London, Leighton House, Stanhope Exhibition, 1903, no.4;
Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, Special Collection of Works by the Late R. Spencer Stanhope, Autumn 1909, no.54, as Gathering Cones in the Wood of Viareggio

Literature

Athenaeum, no.3160, 19 May 1888, p.638;
Athenaeum, no.3945, 6 June 1903, p.729

Catalogue Note

Stanhope had a long relationship with Italy. He first visited in 1853 with his then teacher G.F. Watts, and over the next twenty years he frequently spent the winter in Italy due to chronic ill-health. In 1873, he bought a house just outside Florence called Villa Nuti where he moved permanently in 1880. The present picture depicts three local girls collecting cones and branches in the pine forests of Viareggio in Tuscany. The area is still known today for its peaceful forests, and Stanhope conjures before the viewer the very image of the sparsely arranged trees and its dense canopy. Stanhope has rendered the foliage on the forest floor with an acute level of realism: the tufts of dry grass, weeds, branches, and the spiked surface of the pine cones are all juxtaposed with the soft vulnerability of the girls’ bare feet.

Stanhope was a second generation Pre-Raphaelite, drawing inspiration particularly from Edward Burne-Jones, who, though two years Stanhope’s junior, proved to be the biggest influence on his work. The admiration was mutual, Burne-Jones writing that, “[Stanhope’s] colour is beyond anything the finest in Europe” (Burne-Jones quoted in John Christian ed., The Last Romantics, 1989, p.79); indeed, the reds, pinks and blues of the girls’ costumes assimilate seamlessly into the earthy palette of the forest whilst maintaining their richness. Having met Rossetti and Burne-Jones in 1857 he was among the painters chosen to help the artists paint the Debating Chamber at the Oxford Union. His favoured venues to exhibit his work were the Grosvenor Gallery, and the New Galleries, which were both known for their support of the Pre-Raphaelites. Although he did also display at the Royal Academy, these galleries were favoured by the artist because of their more unconventional leaning. Unlike many other Pre-Raphaelites, however, Stanhope did not need to paint for his living, having come from an aristocratic background.

The subject of Pine Woods at Viareggio is atypical of Stanhope’s oeuvre which was mostly classical and biblical in subject matter. Unlike his works depicting literature, allegory and religious subjects, this painting is a genre scene: it lacks a particular narrative, and instead examines three contadinas pausing for an exchange in the forest. However, the treatment of the subject matter is similar to his oeuvre; the hushed dialogue of three young women reminds us of the quiet sincerity of a biblical or allegorical exchange. The positioning of the girl on the far left is reminiscent of a classical caryatid, in the same vein in which his mythological muses are arranged.

His time in Italy is evident not only in the representation of observed local labour in the pine forest of Viareggio, but in his references to Italian Old Masters. Over a period of decades visiting Italy, Stanhope was frequently exposed to the works of Botticelli, whose influence is prevalent in this painting. There are striking similarities between Botticelli’s late 15th century Primavera and Stanhope’s Pine Woods at Viareggio: the division of the composition into forest floor and canopy with the protagonists staged across the horizon; the smattering of natural objects underfoot in the wooded area; and the triadic arrangement of the three girls which resonates with Botticelli’s grouping of the Three Graces. If Primavera depicts mythological figures in the spring, Stanhope’s Pine Woods at Viareggio is the contemporary Tuscan autumn descendent.

Stanhope wrote that, ‘all the great painters lived before Raphael’s time’ (A.M.W. Stirling, A Painter of Dreams and Other Biographical Studies, 1916, p. 325), a belief that is evidenced in the clear influence of Italian Old Master paintings in the small figures placed on the horizon. These vignettes hark back to medieval narrative sequences where one canvas told a story through the depiction of multiple smaller scenes. Though Stanhope’s painting is not narrative in nature, the inclusion of smaller figures carrying out nostalgic pastoral activities rhymes with our knowledge of pre-Renaissance panel paintings.
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