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The Bath of Psyche

The Bath of Psyche
oil on canvas
32 x 6 1/2 in. (81.3 x 16.5 cm.)
Painted circa 1887.
The artist.
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., gifted by the above.
His sale; Hampton & Sons, London, 11 June 1913, lot 591.
Private collection, Paris.
By descent to their heirs, until at least 17 June 1992.
with Philip Hook Associates, London, 1993.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 5 June 1996, lot 121.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
F. G. Stephens, Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema, R.A.: A Sketch of his Life and Work, London, 1895, pp. 16, 20.
M. H. Spielmann, 'Laurence Alma-Tadema, R.A.: A Sketch,' The Magazine of Art, London, April 1897, vol. 20, p. 42, illustrated in an in situ photograph.
C. Monkhouse, British Contemporary Artists, London, 1899, p. 225.
R. de Cordova, 'The Panels in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Hall,' Strand Magazine, December 1902, vol. 24, pp. 617-618, illustrated.
P. C. Standing, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., London, 1905, p. 42.
E. Staley, Lord Leighton of Stretton, P.R.A., London, 1906, p. 140.
R. de Cordova, 'The Hall of Panels in the House of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, R.A.,' Scribner's Magazine, London, March 1911, vol. xlix, pp. 300-302, 309, illustrated, also illustrated twice in situ.
J. Harlaw, The Charm of Leighton, Edinburgh, 1912, p. 29.
Magazine of Art, vol. 20, 1929, p. 42.
R. Ash, Alma-Tadema: An illustrated life of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1836-1912, Boston, 1973, p. 18.
V. G. Swanson, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: The Painter of the Victorian Vision of the Ancient World, London, 1977, p. 24, as Psyche.
V. G. Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990, pp. 66, 67, 247, illustrated in an in situ photograph.
E. Becker, E. Prettejohn, et al., Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exh. cat., Amsterdam, 1996, pp. 54, 63, 250, fig. 52, illustrated.
C. Newall, Frederic Leighton: 1830-1896, exh. cat., London, 1996, p. 215, under no. 108.
R. G. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 2001, pp. 121-123, ill. 120, illustrated in an in situ photograph.
E. Prettejohn and P. Trippi, Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, exh. cat., New York, 2016, p. 151, no. 191, illustrated, p. 153, pl. 193, illustrated in an in situ photograph.
Leeuwarden, Fries Museum, Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, 1 October-7 February 2017; also Vienna, Belvedere, 24 February-18 June 2017; London, Leighton House Museum, 7 July-29 October 2017, no. 191, illustrated.

Brought to you by

Elizabeth Seigel
Elizabeth Seigel Vice President, Specialist, Head of Private and Iconic Collections

Lot Essay

When Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema bought Tissot’s former London residence at 17 Grove End Road, St John’s Wood in 1886, he set about transforming it from a relatively conventional artist’s studio into a classically inspired 'Palace of Art'. Central to his conception was an atrium in which the work of his contemporaries would be displayed (fig 1.). Eventually, 45 artists would donate a panel each measuring 32 inches high, and between 2 1/2 and 8 inches across. The Bath of Psyche is Leighton’s contribution.
An account exists of a dinner party at which Leighton, seated opposite Alma-Tadema, held up his narrow bladed desert knife and asked `My dear Tadema, what sort of subject do you expect me to paint on this?’. (Strand Magazine, December 1902, pp. 617-8). His solution, presented here, was ingenious. He took as his subject Psyche, disrobing for her bath. According to Apuleius in his Metamorphoses, Psyche 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 (the wind) who transported her to the golden palace of Cupid, 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 got the better of her, and she woke her lover, Cupid, by accidentally spilling hot oil from a lamp on him, while gazing at him surreptitiously. Her paradise was then shattered by decree of the gods, and she had to undergo a long journey before being reunited with him.
The tale of Cupid and Psyche had a firm hold on the late 19th century imagination, being treated by William Morris in The Earthly Paradise amongst others. Burne-Jones made a series of watercolors 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 the more frequently depicted legends relating to Venus, goddess of love, who was frequently depicted either nude or partially draped.
Attitudes to treatment of the nude were changing, and it was a subject that the artist felt the need to engage with periodically. Leighton’s first nude was a Venus executed in 1856, alongside its pendant, Pan. He did not exhibit these pictures in London, but rather in Manchester, and their critical reception was subdued. Moreover, when the pictures were sent to America they were not publicly exhibited, but 'locked in a cupboard'. It was a decade before he treated the nude again in Venus disrobing for the Bath, exhibited in 1867 (Private collection, fig. 3). The Art Journal declared the subject 'a little startling nowadays' but pronounced that it would ‘in times yet to come, hold a position in the annals of Art’. Much potential hostility had been deflected by the exhibition of Ingres’s La Source in the International Exhibition of 1862. This had demonstrated how the nude could be both classicizing and chaste. The contrast with Cabanal’s The Birth of Venus, shown at the Paris Salon of 1863, was marked.
Cabanal’s eroticized nude was thought to cater to the depravities of the Second Empire, a position the British art establishment deplored. Leighton’s curvaceous third nude Actaea, the Nymph of the Shore, of 1868 acknowledged developments on the continent, but her pose remained restrained rather than abandoned.
Leighton’s depiction of Psyche, a decade later, hints at a greater erotic charge however, as she raises her arms to remove her shift and reveal an entirely naked body. The pose has been traced to the Callipygian Venus which Leighton would have seen in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Leighton went on to develop the composition into one of his best-known full scale works. A larger version of the picture measuring 189.2 x 62.2 cm., now in Tate Britain, was presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest who purchased it for £1,000 following its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1890 (no. 243, fig. 2). That 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 traveled to Munich, Brooklyn and Kobke (exh. cat. no. 36). A sketch for that picture was sold at Christie’s, London, 16 June 2005, lot 1. By this stage, owing to Leighton’s towering position as President of the Royal Academy, almost no objection was raised to the depiction of the nude, helped by the fact that she was seen in profile, and partially draped.
Leighton’s awareness of the art of the Continent was formed at an early age. Although born in Scarborough his father, a doctor, chose to live abroad for reasons of economy. The family was peripatetic, and the young Leighton was in consequence exposed to the art of several different countries. Residing in Frankfurt in 1846-1848, and again between 1850 and 1852, Leighton studied at the Städelsches Kunstinstitute and became friends with the Nazarene painter Edward von Steinle. This early influence may account for the high degree of finish in his painting: brushwork can rarely be discerned. He then moved to Rome, from where he sent Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence to the Royal Academy. It was promptly bought by Queen Victoria in a move that secured the artist’s reputation. The picture remains in the Royal Collection and is currently on loan to the National Gallery, London. The next four years were spent in Paris, and again in Rome, and it was not until 1859 that the artist settled in London. Frequent trips abroad, and extended painting expeditions were nevertheless undertaken annually. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1864, and in 1866 built a house in Holland Park Road, to which he later added the famous Arab Hall. Embellished with Iznik tiles, and with a golden dome and internal fountain, it still provides a transformative, sensory experience for visitors stepping in off a London street. Alma-Tadema’s house rivalled Leighton House in its opulence, and arguably surpassed it.
Leighton was elected a full Academician in 1868, and embarked on a series of large, processional pictures notably The Daphnephoria (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) and Captive Andromache (Manchester City Art Galleries). He also attempted sculpture. His Athlete Wrestling with a Python broke the mold of static depiction, and propelled developments in the New English Sculpture movement. In 1878 he was elected President of the Royal Academy, a position he held until his death in 1896. He was the first British artist ever to be raised to the peerage.
In return for The Bath of Psyche, Alma-Tadema gave Leighton In the Corner of My Studio. It is a measure of the rigor with which the Getty collection has been assembled that the two works were united. Hung in the classically inspired Temple of Wings, they evoke the now dismantled studio house of Alma-Tadema, and the still extant Leighton House in Holland Park. In its current conception, the Temple of Wings was another Palace of Art, and a perfect homage to its 19th century antecedents.

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