Upcoming Auctions and Events

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A, R.W.S. (1830-1896)
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price plus buy… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF DENYS SUTTON Denys Sutton was a man of wide knowledge, and of many interests. The range of his taste was brilliantly expressed in the quarter century of his editorship of Apollo, during which he wrote so perceptively about generations of collectors. He also assumed a curatorial role in mounting various gallery exhibitions, including the seminal France in the Eighteenth Century, held to great acclaim at the Royal Academy in 1968. Of his personal role as a collector he was more reticent, and few will have realised how many remarkable works of art he acquired, a small portion of which now appear for sale at Christie's, all for the first time since he purchased them in the 1950s and 1960s. Several exemplary pieces from his Old Master paintings collection were offered in New York in January, including a passionate depiction of the penitent Mary Magdelene by Filippino Lippi. Works by Cozens and other British watercolourists will be offered in the British Art on Paper sale on 9 June, while paintings by Sickert, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant will appear in the 20th Century British Art sale on 10 June.
Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A, R.W.S. (1830-1896)

Study for The Bath of Psyche

Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A, R.W.S. (1830-1896)
Study for The Bath of Psyche
oil on canvas
10½ x 3½ in. (26.7 x 8.9 c.m.)
with The Maas Gallery, London, by 1962.
Denys Sutton, London, by 1968, and by descent to the present owner.
Richard and Leonée Ormond, Lord Leighton, Yale University Press and London, 1975, p. 170, no. 351.
London, The Maas Gallery, Pre-Raphaelites & Contemporaries, November 1962, no. 130.
Sheffield, Sheffield City Art Galleries, Victorian Painting, September-November 1968, no. 118.
Special Notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price plus buyer's premium.

Lot Essay

This important sketch is a study for Leighton's monumental Royal Academy exhibit of 1890 (no. 243): later purchased by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest for £1,000, it now hangs in the Tate. The finished picture was one of the highlights of the Leighton exhibition at the Royal Academy, 1996, no. 108, and later of Exposed: The Victorian Nude, an exhibition held at Tate Britain in 2001, and which subsequently travelled to Munich, Brooklyn, and Kobke (exh. cat. 36).

The design originated as a panel decoration for the hall of Alma-Tadema's house in Grove End Road, St John's Wood. (This picture, measuring 32 x 6½ in. was offered at Sotheby's, London, 5 June 1996, lot 121). Leighton then developed the composition, setting the figure almost in parentheses by framing it between the columns, equidistant between the foreground pool and distant curtains.

Leighton took the subject of The Bath of Psyche from the allegorical story told by Apuleius in his Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass. Psyche had found no husband because suitors were daunted by the perfection of her beauty. An oracle advised her parents to dress her for marriage and sacrifice her to a monster. This they did, but she was saved by Zephyrus who transported her to the golden palace of Cupid, the god of love. Each night she was prepared - by taking a bath - for a husband with whom she slept, but was not allowed to see. Eventually curiosity prevailed, and she awakened her lover, Cupid, by spilling hot oil from a lamp on him while gazing at him surreptitiously. Her paradise was then shattered, and she had to undergo a long journey before being reunited with her husband.

The tale of Cupid and Psyche was popular in the late 19th Century, being treated by William Morris in The Earthly Paradise and Walter Pater in Marius the Epicurean. Burne-Jones made a series of watercolours on the theme in the 1860s and subsequently collaborated with Walter Crane in decorating the dining room of George Howard's London house with a cycle of paintings illustrating the legend. Leighton would have been familiar with these works, and may have chosen the subject as an alternative to a depiction of Aphrodite. Leighton's Venus Disrobing had already been treated in 1867, and was the first classical large-scale nude to appear at public exhibition.

Leighton's depiction of Psyche is more erotically charged however, as she raises her arms to remove her shift and reveals an entirely naked body. The Ormonds have traced the pose to the Callipygian Venus, which Leighton would have seen in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, a statue which was viewed with increasing disfavour during the 19th Century on account of its supposed salaciousness. As with the Callipygian Venus, the figure of Psyche is absorbed in the pleasurable inspection of her own form: the way in which the figure is seen to occupy a secluded space, beside a smooth surface of water in which her reflection may be seen, heightens the sense of narcissism.

Whatever the speculation surrounding Leighton's friendship with his model, Dorothy Dene, the painting met with few moral objections when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy, although previous attitudes to the depiction of the nude had been severe. The critic of the Spectator praised 'the pretty, graceful lines, and the wonderful pure colour ... and the unfaltering hand that has drawn that body so simply and tenderly'.

More from Victorian & Traditionalist Pictures

View All
View All