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PROPERTY OF A NOBLEMAN

John Flaxman (1755-1826) and Workshop
British, London, circa 1820-1825
MERCURY CONVEYING PANDORA TO EPIMETHEUS
JUMP TO LOT
34

PROPERTY OF A NOBLEMAN

John Flaxman (1755-1826) and Workshop
British, London, circa 1820-1825
MERCURY CONVEYING PANDORA TO EPIMETHEUS
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Treasures

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London

John Flaxman (1755-1826) and Workshop
British, London, circa 1820-1825
MERCURY CONVEYING PANDORA TO EPIMETHEUS

Provenance

Most probably commissioned by Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton (1773-1848) or his architect Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), circa 1820-1825;
by descent to William Bingham Baring, 2nd Baron Ashburton (1799-1864);
by descent to Francis Baring, 3rd Baron Ashburton (1800-1868);
by descent to Alexander Hugh Baring, 4th Baron Ashburton (1835-1889), The Grange Hampshire (installed in an alcove off the main hall above the entrance to the Morning Room, probably during alterations by John Cox between 1868-1870, recorded in photographs from 1963);
Francis Denzil Edward Baring, 5th Baron Ashburton (1866-1938), The Grange, Northington, Hampshire, from 1890 and until sold in 1934;
Charles Wallach (circa 1905-1964), The Grange, Northington, Hampshire;
reacquired by the Baring family, 1964

Literature

R. Osborne, The Grange Hampshire, Alresford, 2012, p. 246 (illustrated)

Catalogue Note

John Flaxman was one of the greatest British Neoclassical sculptors, establishing his reputation in Rome between 1787 and 1794, and practicing in London thereafter. Famed for his outline drawings illustrating the works of Homer, Aeschylus and Dante, Goethe referred to him as ‘the idol of the dilettanti’ (as quoted in Bindman, Grove, op. cit.). Flaxman’s collaborations with Wedgwood and Rundell, Bridge and Rundell are also significant, particularly as they underline his role in developing industrial design in Britain circa 1700. It is nonetheless as a sculptor that Flaxman is principally remembered, firstly for his series of innovative funerary monuments, which have been lauded as ‘his most important contribution to the Romantic Neoclassicism of late-eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century art’ (Webster, op. cit., p. 100), and include the Mansfield monument in Westminster Abbey (erected 1801). His mythological subjects, on the other hand, whilst fewer in number, are equally significant and include the Fury of Athemas (Ickworth, Suffolk), about which its patron, Lord Bristol, commented, ‘The Laocoon is the finest thing in the Pope’s Museum… but there is a work superior to that … Flaxman’s Athemas, Flaxman is the greatest artist that ever lived and I am possessed of the finest work ever done in sculpture’ (as quoted by Webster, op. cit., p. 100). Towards the end of his life, the sculptor completed what is arguably his most iconic work, St Michael overcoming Satan, the full size plaster of which is at University College London.

Mercury descending with Pandora is said to have been amongst Flaxman’s favourite works (Bindman, 1979, p. 108, no. 122). The original plaster, now at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1805 (no. 765). The relief illustrates an episode from Hesiod’s Works and Day’s when Zeus/ Jupiter sends Mercury to carry Pandora to Epimetheus as a gift, preceding the fateful moment when she opens the box that unleashes sickness, death and other evils to the world. Hesiod writes: ‘He bade Heaven’s messenger convey thro’ air / To Epimetheus hands.’ 

The model was successful and was translated into various materials; plaster versions can be found at University College London and also in the Royal Collection at Osborne House (inv. no. RCIN 41874). It was appropriated by Henry Weigall for his commemorative medal dedicated to Flaxman, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1846 (no. 1372); though here the subject has been changed to Mercury bringing Prosperpina from Hades (see Bindman, 1979, op. cit., p. 140).

According to David Bindman (Grove, op. cit.) and Mary Webster (op. cit. p. 101), after his return from Italy in 1794, Flaxman delegated most if not all of the carving of his marbles to his studio assistants, choosing to focus his attentions on line drawings and sketch models. For Flaxman, the model had primacy over the final execution. The extraordinary collection of plaster sketches at University College London are a testament to that. The present marble is no exception and is likely to have been commissioned by Alexander Baring (or possibly his father Sir Francis Baring) or his architect from Flaxman, whose studio would have executed the final marble relief.

The Baring family were important patrons of Flaxman. Alexander Baring’s father Sir Francis Baring, 1st Baronet (1740-1810) had commissioned a family funerary monument from Flaxman for Micheldever Church in 1809 in the form of a relief with a veiled woman seated in prayer underneath the words ‘Thy will be done’. The monument was later added to with two further reliefs. Significantly, Flaxman was close to Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), the architect commissioned by Alexander Baring to design a magnificent new dining room and conservatory for Grange Park between 1824 and 1825. Cockerell is recorded as having ordered a large relief for a mantlepiece from Grange Park (Bindman, 1979, op. cit., p. 33). Cockerell’s diaries (now in the British Architectural Library at RIBA, London) contain numerous references to Flaxman, including one from 3 March 1825:

Called on … Flaxman, found he had done little to Baring’s work - very feeble & slow. his lamp is expiring - little fruit can be expected from so old a stock however golden in his former productions - his religious learned & contemplative mind is too little of this world to feel powerfully the attractions of art & this will still diminish as he draws higher to the object of his thought. (as quoted in Bindman, 1979, op. cit., p. 33)

It seems probable, given that Cockerell was working with Flaxman on a commission for Grange Park in 1825, that the present relief would have been made around this time. Its absence from Cockerell’s diaries may be explained by the fact that the mantlepiece was a new model, whereas the present relief is carved after an earlier model and would have been executed by the sculptor’s studio under his direction. Furthermore, what is interesting is that, certainly by 1868 when Grange Park was again remodelled by another generation of Barings, the present relief had been combined with Thorvaldsen’s Night and Day, which share their characteristic ‘aerial’ dimension with the Mercury descending with Pandora (the figurative groups are suspended in air mid flight). It is interesting to muse whether, upon receiving Thorvaldsen’s reliefs, Baring or Cockerell asked Flaxman for a complementary relief to fit into a specific interior at Grange Park.

Period Flaxman marbles are rare on the market. The sale of the present relief, which is in excellent condition, represents a unique opportunity for collectors of Neoclassical sculpture.

RELATED LITERATURE
D. Bindman (ed.), John Flaxman, RA, exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1979; M. Webster, Flaxman as Sculptor, in D. Bindman (ed.), John Flaxman, RA, exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1979, pp. 100-101; D. Bindman, Flaxman, John. Grove Art Online.  Retrieved 26 May. 2019, from https://www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000028539

Treasures

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