Walter Crane, R.W.S. (1845-1915)
La Primavera
signed and dated 'Walter Crane 1883' (lower left)
oil on canvas
15 x 36 in. (38 x 91.5 cm.)
Alexander Ionides, Windycroft, High Wickham, Hastings.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 26 June 1987, lot 113.
with Roy Miles Fine Paintings, London, 1989.
London, Dudley Gallery, 1886.
London, Barbican Art Gallery, The Last Romantics: The Romantic Tradition in British Art: Burne-Jones to Stanley Spencer, 1989, no. 36.

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Lot Essay

This attractive picture was painted during Crane's stay in Rome in the spring of 1883 and exhibited at the Dudley Gallery three years later. Located in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly (on the south side of the street, almost opposite the Burlington Arcade), the Dudley had held its first exhibition in 1865 and was a precursor of the more famous Grosvenor Gallery in promoting artists representative of the Aesthetic movement. Crane had been an early supporter, belonging to a group of young artists who were inspired by Edward Burne-Jones, himself a Dudley exhibitor in the early 1870s and destined to be the star of the Grosvenor when it opened in 1877. This group, which also included Robert Bateman, Edward Clifford, Theodore Blake Wirgman and others, was dubbed by critics the 'poetry without grammar school', a sobriquet that acknowledged both the romantic intensity of their work and their disdain for academic values.

Crane had long been attracted to the theme of springtime in Italy. 'The beauty of the Italian spring was upon us...', he wrote of an earlier visit to Rome in 1872, part of an extended three-year honeymoon. 'I found a subject on the Pincio, a view of Rome, with almond trees in front and two figures gathering flowers on the sloping gardens, which I sent to the Dudley. Also "A Herald of Spring" - a figure in a pale green robe and pink scarf coming down a Roman street in the early morning with a basket of daffodils on her arm' (An Artist's Reminiscences, 1907, pp. 138-9. A Herald of Spring is now in the Birmingham Art Gallery). In fact Crane was obsessed with the theme of Spring wherever he encountered it. On a more generalised level it inspired a whole series of works in the 1870s - The Advent of Spring, Winter and Spring, The Earth and Spring, and others; while Sorrow and Spring dates from as late as 1901.

In terms of both subject matter and format, this picture is very much in the Etruscan style. When living in Italy ten years earlier Crane had been in touch with Giovanni Costa, the chief exponent of this idiom, as well as with three of his English followers: Frederic Leighton, Matthew Ridley Corbett, and George Howard, Earl of Carlisle. No doubt revisiting Rome in 1883 revived his openness to Etruscan influence, especially as he renewed acquaintance with both Costa and Corbett at this time. Indeed Crane and Corbett had studios close to one another in the Via Sistina.

The title of La Primavera echoes that of Botticelli's famous painting in the Uffizi, although this can hardly be more than coincidence. The picture belonged to Alexander Ionides, the younger brother of Constantine Ionides, whose collection still survives in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Alexander's London house, 1 Holland Park, had one of the most lavish and celebrated Aesthetic interiors of the day. Crane was also responsible for the gesso decoration in the dinging-room, a scheme with iconographical references to Aesop and Omar Khayyam, as well as for devising a 'temple-like' overmantel in the drawing room to hold his patron's choice collection of Tanagra statuettes.

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