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The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty
signed and dated 'HENRY M. RHEAM. 1899' (lower right)
gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper
29 7⁄8 x 48 in. (75.6 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 1899
W.H. Embleton, London.
Anon. sale, Christie's, London, 7 November 1997, lot 36.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
"Politics and People" in Evening Argus, 18 March 1899, p. 4.
E.W.R. "The Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours" in Western Daily Press, 20 March 1899, p. 3.
"Notes of the Day" in Bristol Times and Mirror, 20 March 1899, p. 5.
"Painters in Water Colours" in Morning Post, 20 March 1899, p. 3.
"The Royal Institute, Water Colour Exhibition" in Daily News, 20 March 1899, p. 8.
"Water Colours at the Royal Institute" in Standard, 20 March 1899, p. 4.
"The Institute of Painters in Water Colours" in Athenaeum, no. 3726, 25 March 1899, p. 377.
"Liverpool Autumn Exhibition, The Water Colours" in Liverpool Mercury, 25 September 1899, p. 10.
G. Bordignon, "La ninfa svelata (1485-1525)" in La Rivista de Engramma, no. 53, December 2006, p. 15 (illustrated).
London, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, 1899, no. 10.
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1899, no. 772.

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Lot Essay

Rheam was born into a Quaker family in Birkenhead, and in about 1890 he moved to Cornwall, settling first at Polperro and then at Newlyn. The move was probably encouraged by his cousin Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929), who lived in Falmouth but often visited Newlyn and was well known within the artistic community that had grown up there in the 1880s. The circumstances of Rheam's move to Newlyn were told by Stanhope Forbes, the founder of the Newlyn School: "The annual cricket match between the artists of St. Ives and Newlyn was one of the chief sporting events of the year, and about the time I speak of, St. Ives had acquired two notable batsmen and Newlyn seemed likely to endure defeat. But in a fortunate moment the situation was saved, for Harry Rheam, that notable cricketer, was imported at great expense from Polperro. He remained with us ever after and we had reason to remember gratefully the rivalry between the two colonies in the noble game" (C. Fox and F. Greenacre, eds., Artists of the Newlyn School 1880-1900, Newlyn, 1979, p. 235).
Rheam appears in one of Fred Hall's caricatures of the Newlyn artists, made in 1890, and indeed looks more like a cricketer than an artist.
Rheam exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1887 to 1919, and was a regular contributor to the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, where the present watercolour was shown.
Rheam's subject matter ranged from literary sources such as the present work, as well as Keats's La belle dame sans merci, and Quia Multum Amavit, a theme that had intrigued Burne-Jones, to the fishing and coastal scenes typical of the Newlyn School.
Alongside Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931), whose work is also included in the Collection of Jerry Moss, Rheam pursued a distinct path within the Newlyn School in exploring fantasy and symbolism in his work, as he does here.
The Sleeping Beauty became a popular subject among Victorian artists, with a number of artists depicting the concept in very different styles. Daniel Maclise’s 1840 rendering (now Hartlepool Art Gallery) is a historical costume painting in which the sleeping beauty in a medieval hall is surrounded by angels flying in through the window. Perhaps the earliest written version of the story was Charles Perrault’s 1697 The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, but it was translated from the French and re-written several times in the nineteenth century, bringing its narrative to the fore. The romantic imagery and symbolism of the story particularly appealed to the Pre-Raphaelites and their followers, and so in the latter part of the century it became a frequent subject and visual trope, perhaps reaching it’s zenith in Burne-Jones’s 1890 Briar Rose series, whose title was taken from the Brothers Grimm version of Perrault’s story.
This remarkably large and impressive watercolour is widely considered Rheam’s masterpiece and has held the world record price for a work by him for over twenty-five years.

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