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Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893)
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Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893)

Waiting to Cross

Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893)
Waiting to Cross
oil on canvas
26½ x 17¾ in. (67.3 x 45.1 cm.)
Probably bought from the Grosvenor Gallery by Sir Horace Davey, later Lord Davey; his executors' sale, Christie's, London, 20 April 1907, lot 78 (260 gns to Agnew's).
Mrs Robert Frank.
Sir David Piper by 1972.
Athenaeum, no. 3160, 19 May 1888, p. 638.
'The Grafton Gallery Collection', Art Journal, 1894, p. 89.
A.L. Baldry, Albert Moore: His Life and Works, 1894, pp. 20, 62-3, 82, 105, illustrated facing p.62.
R. Muther, The History of Modern Painting, vol. III, 1896, illustrated p. 133.
R. Sturgis, The Appreciation of Pictures: A Handbook, New York, 1905, pp. 203-5, illustrated pl. XLVI.
J. Maas, Victorian Painters, London, 1969, illustrated p. 187.
R. Asleson, Albert Moore, London, 2000, p. 188.
London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1888, no. 110.
London, St Jude's, Whitechapel, 1889, no. 159.
London, Grafton Galleries, Exhibition of Pictures by the late Mr Albert Moore, 1894, no. 187, lent by Lord Davey.
West Ham, Public Hall, Free Picture Exhibition, 1898.
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Il sacro e il profano nell'arte dei Simbolisti, 1969, no. 48.
Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, The Sacred and Profane in Symbolist Art, 1969, no. 39.
Newcastle upon Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, Albert Moore and his Contemporaries, 1972, no. 71.
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Lot Essay

One of Moore's most beautiful pictures, Waiting to Cross combines the exquisite sense of form and colour that is so characteristic of his style with a poetry and feeling for mood that are lacking in his more abstract compositions. The picture was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1888. It was his only exhibit that year and the last oil painting he showed at this venue, which he had supported on a regular basis since its opening in 1877.

Situated towards the north end of Bond Street, the Grosvenor had established itself from the outset as a bastion of Aesthetic values, and Moore's contributions had been almost as central to this image as those of Edward Burne-Jones, the acknowledged star of the Gallery, or of Moore's close friend James McNeill Whistler. By 1887, however, many of the artists had become disillusioned with the way the Gallery was being run, largely as a result of its financial insecurity following the separation of its proprietor, Sir Coutts Lindsay, from his Rothschild wife. Lindsay's two lieutenants, J. Comyns Carr and Charles Hallé, resigned, and that winter, at incredible speed, built the New Gallery in Regent Street to carry on the Grosvenor's traditions. Nearly all the Grosvenor's more advanced and significant artists, headed by Burne-Jones, supported this daring venture.

Characteristically, Moore did not follow the herd, or at least not at once. Waiting to Cross appeared at the Grosvenor the year the New Gallery opened, being one of the very few pictures to represent the old ethos on its sadly impoverished walls, and as late as 1890 he showed four drawings in one of its special pastel exhibitions. Nor was he ever as closely identified with the New Gallery as some of his peers, having a second string to his bow in the Royal Academy, an option denied themselves by Burne-Jones and his followers. He did, however, show one pastel drawing at the New Gallery in 1890, and returned in 1892 with A Revery, a handsome and strongly coloured work that was sold in these Rooms on 8 December 1998 (lot 9). Perhaps he would have become more closely associated with the Gallery if he had not died the following year.

Waiting to Cross was described by A.L. Baldry, Moore's pupil and biographer, as representing 'three girls, clasping one another's hands and with arms affectionately intertwined, standing looking over a placid stream... The picture is practically a painting of three backs, a study of folds of drapery and of beautifully painted coils of hair. In colour, it is the gentlest of gradations.' The drapery is a colour harmony of 'purplish grey', 'delicate rose pink' and 'yellow-green', while 'the landscape is in faint greys and blues. The leaves of the trees and of the foreground plants show the tender tints of early summer.'

Moore was never one to waste or under-exploit a good compositional idea; indeed much of his work consists of a series of inventive variations on formal or chromatic themes. Waiting to Cross is no exception. As Baldry observes, the picture is a sort of reverse view of A River Side (fig.2), a much larger work showing three life-size figures that Moore showed at the Royal Academy the same year. The main difference, apart from the fact that the figures here are seen from the river rather than the land, the water's edge just encroaching on the lower edge of the canvas, is that the central figure is a mature woman in A River Side and a child in Waiting to Cross, a change that dramatically alters the mood, endowing our picture with a greater feeling of innocence and vulnerability. Baldry also points out that the girl on the right in Waiting to Cross, glancing back to catch the eye of the spectator, was re-cast as the subject of an independent oil painting. Entitled A Visitor, this was exhibited posthumously at Lawrie's Gallery in 1894, and is now, like A River Side, missing.

Somewhere at the back of Moore's mind as he composed our picture must have lurked the concept of the three Graces, so popular is classical and Renaissance art. Although these figures are invariably shown nude, they stand in a group linked by an interplay of caressing arms such as we find in Waiting to Cross. Burne-Jones offers some interesting parallels. Not only did he introduce a traditional account of the Graces into his picture Venus Concordia, conceived in the early 1870s and never completed; he also painted a variant comparable to Moore's in his picture The Mill (Victoria & Albert Museum), exhibited at the Grosvenor in 1882. As in Waiting to Cross, the figures here are heavily draped and bear a relationship to standard images of the three Graces that is both distant and instantly recognisable.

There was another group of three female figures celebrated in antique and later western art, namely the goddesses Venus, Juno and Minerva taking part in the beauty contest, judged by the shepherd Paris, that resulted in the Trojan War. This too may have played a part in the conception of Waiting to Cross, to judge from a drawing by Moore of about the same date (illustrated in the catalogue of The Moore Family Pictures, an exhibition held at the York Art Gallery and at Julian Hartnoll's Gallery, London, in 1980, p.71, no.82; and when it was sold at Sotheby's, London, on 21 June 1989, lot 114). The drawing shows three female figures seen from behind, adults to either side, a younger girl in the middle, and they are addressed by a youth seated in a tree in the upper part of the tall composition. The subject has been variously identified, and it may not in fact, as some have suggested, be The Judgement of Paris. That girlish figure in the foreground group is admittedly worrying, hardly suggesting a goddess equal in rank to her companions. But whatever the case, Moore cannot have been unaware that his drawing evokes thoughts of the famous beauty contest, while the relationship between the groups of female figures in the drawing and Waiting to Cross is indisputable. Held hands, arms lovingly entwined round waists, a youthful figure between two more senior sisters: all are common to both works. The only significant difference is that the figure on the right in the drawing looks into the composition, not over her shoulder at us, as in the painting.

Ultimately the theme of the drawing is not that important. What is far more significant is that both painting and drawing are narrative in character. The narrative dimension may be more explicit in the drawing (whatever its subject) than in the painting, but both appear to 'tell a story' on some level.

Moore's early work was often concerned with story-telling. An outstanding example is Elijah's Sacrifice (Bury Art Gallery), an admittedly slightly unconventional treatment of a biblical subject dating from 1863. From the mid-1860s, however, he adopted a more abstract approach, suppressing the narrative element to the point where his pictures, though their constituents were almost obsessively based on close scrutiny of nature, became essentially carefully crafted harmonies of form and colour. As if to emphasise their sturdy independence of narrative of symbolical associations, they tended to be given such titles as Beads, Birds, Jasmine or A Workbasket, derived from a minor detail of the composition and being little more, as Baldry put it, than 'simple labels affixed for the convenience of cataloguers and hanging committees'. It was the Aesthetic approach at its purest and most uncompromising, revolutionary in an era when the supremacy of subject matter, whether elevated or trivial, was almost universally acknowledged.

Having experimented along these lines for the best part of two decades, Moore began to take a renewed interest in narrative in the 1880s. If his previous works, to quote Baldry again, had been 'deliberately inexpressive', eschewing 'anything so violent as passion or so human as emotion', now they were 'once more conscious and appreciative of the world around. They illustrated occurrences'. A key work here is A Summer Night (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), in progress from the mid-1880s and finally exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890. The title alone has narrative connotations. The semi-nude female figures betray a new sensuousness and corporeality. The background, which in earlier works had been treated as little more than a screen for the display of decorative patterns, is opened up to reveal a distant view across a stretch of water. And the scene is, of all things, bathed in moonlight, the most emotionally charged form of natural lighting, fraught with every kind of romantic association.

Moore's development continued along these lines. Indeed, although his art remained supremely decorative, his interest in symbolism markedly increased. This is evident in Lighting and Light (fig.3), a picture shown at the Royal Academy in 1892 and sold in these Rooms as part of the Forbes Collection on 19 February 2003 (lot 27). If the figures in A Summer Night are passive participants in the picture's atmospheric drama, here they are actively involved, showing what for Moore are almost violent reactions to a natural phenomenon which itself represents a dramatic escalation of emotional temperature when compared with the oppressive but tranquil mood of the earlier picture. However, it was in Moore's last canvas, The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons (fig. 4), that his feeling for symbolism reached its zenith. This ambitious allegory of human passions was painted in the most heroic circumstances and completed within a week of his death from cancer on 25 September 1893.

Moore's reversion to a more narrative mode has evoked mixed reations. Baldry regretted it bitterly, seeing it as a sad capitulation to convention after the great experiments in undiluted Aestheticism. Today we tend to regard it as an exciting development cruelly cut short by the artist's premature death at the age of fifty-one. Whatever the assessment, it seems undeniable that the change was closely associated with the onset of Moore's fatal illness, first diagnosed in 1883 and involving major operations in December 1890 and August 1892. Perhaps, too, we should not underestimate the general ascendancy of Symbolism at this period, or the tendency that many artists show at the end of their lives to revert to early conceptual preoccupations.

Waiting to Cross falls about midway in Moore's later Symbolist phase, and is typical of the way his art was moving. As always, he is intensely aware of formal values, relishing the abstract patterns of the draperies and creating the subtlest of colour harmonies. Baldry also makes an interesting point about the network of leaves. One of Moore's favourtite ruses in his more Aesthetic works was the inclusion of lace draperies to give a 'spotted' effect of great abstract value. The idea came to him, he used to say, by 'studying... the relief of the foliage of a tree against the sky. He found in the spotting of a white lace upon a dark backing a parallel to the patterning of flickering glints of daylight between overhead masses of leaves and interlacing branches'. Baldry observes that in Waiting to Cross he goes back, as it were, to this source of inspiration, letting the effect of leaves against the sky speak for itself as a powerful decorative device.

At the same time the picture has little of the timeless quality that characterses Moore's earlier manner. The title, as so often at this period, suggests a specific event, while the realism of the landscape and the sense of early summer do nothing to undermine this impression. Nor does the way the girl on the right turns her head towards the spectator, at once arresting our attention and hinting at the approach of another figure, perhaps a fourth passenger or the ferryman himself. Needless to say, none of this is narrative in a crude or literal sense; after all, it was the essence of Symbolism to deal in suggestions, ambiguities and implied, understated meanings. Yet these very subtleties engage us powerfully in the subject, firing the imagination and challenging us to speculate on what mysterious journey or rite of passage the three girls are embarking.

Strangely enough, the artist who comes to mind as we contimplate this image is, of all people, Watteau. No critic, so far as we know, has mentioned the Frenchman in the same breath as Moore, or indeed, generally speaking, would find any reason to do so, but the theme and romantic mood of our picture do evoke thoughts of his famous L'Embarquement pour Cythère. Watteau-like, too, is the way Moore exploits the emotional potential of the female back. 'Great artists', wrote Robert Hughes in reviewing the Watteau exhibition held at the National Gallery, Washington, in 1984, 'invent things that sound banal, Watteau invented the draped human back... In his hands the... back... of a young woman becomes as expressive as a face', the standing form, 'played on by light (and) divided into delicately articulated folds and crannies... betoken(ing) silence and concentration'. Moore, working some two centuries after Watteau's birth, was hardly such an innovator, but in Waiting to Cross he invests the backs of his three figures with something of the same poignancy and expressive force. 'Silence and concentration' are here too, as well as anticipation and a touching readiness to face a possibly hazardous future.

The painting has an interesting provenance. It was almost certainly bought direct from the Grosvenor Gallery by Sir Horace Davey (1833-1907), a distinguished lawyer and Liberal member of parliament who was created Baron Davey of Fernhurst on his appointment as Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1894. Davey was a discerning collector of modern British pictures, also owning works by Leighton, Rossetti, Burne-Jones and G.F. Watts, by whom he had six fine examples. Waiting to Cross was his only Moore. He lent it to the artist's memorial exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in 1894, and it appeared at his executors' sale at Christie's in April 1907, being bought by Agnew's for 260 guineas.

In more recent times, the picture was owned by Mrs Charlotte Frank, one of the most adventurous dealers of the postwar period. A pioneer of the Victorian rivival in the 1960s, she will always be associated particuarly with the work of John Martin. From her the picture was bought by the art-historian Sir David Piper (1918-1990), who was successively director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. As an author he is probably best known for The English Face (1957 and twice republished) and the 'Companion Guide' to London (1964).


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