James Ferrier Pryde (1866-1941)
Over a period of two decades Annie Pearson, later 1st Viscountess Cowdray, bought around twenty paintings from James Pryde. This patronage, which began in 1910, inspired the most productive period of Pryde's professional life. Lord and Lady Cowdray began collecting art to embellish their various houses in 1904. Their interests were very different: Lord Cowdray pursued historical portraits, by both British and Continental masters, while Lady Cowdray was exclusively concerned with the work of living British painters. She evidently enjoyed the personal contact achieved through calling on the artists in their own studios and visiting exhibitions and galleries such as The Chenil Gallery, The Goupil Gallery and Agnew's (C. Powell, Rascals and Ruins: The Romantic Vision of James Pryde, London, 2006, pp. 31-33). Lady Cowdray had commissioned Sir William Nicholson to paint her portrait in the first decade of the 20th century (see lot 252). Pryde's sister Mabel married William Nicholson in 1893, after the two had met while studying at the Bushey School of Art. Pryde and Nicholson formed the Beggarstaff Brothers partnership, which lasted until about 1900, developing woodcuts in particular in innovative poster design. It is probable that Nicholson introduced Pryde to Lady Cowdray. Their paths must have crossed during the International Society Exhibition of April to May 1910, which included her large-format portrait by William Nicholson as well as two works by Pryde (ibid, p. 34). At this point Pryde was a major figure on the London art scene. He undoubtedly had enormous charm and enjoyed the patronage of several aristocratic buyers. Within a year Lady Cowdray was in frequent correspondence with the artist and in 1912 she bought three paintings from Pryde's one-man exhibition at the Ballie Gallery. She also commissioned him to design an invitation card for a polo match at Cowdray House in Sussex (fig. 1) and in the summer the artist made his first visit to Dunecht House in Aberdeenshire. As a native artist, Pryde's work must have seemed appropriate embellishment for the Cowdray's Scottish home. A series of acquisitions and commissions for oil paintings followed which led to Pryde making several much enjoyed visits to Dunecht. Pryde's work originally hung in the great library which had been designed by George Edmund Street (most famous for his Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, London) in 1867. A vast iron-framed space, barrel-vaulted with roof lights and lined with two great galleries, it contains a spectacular chimneypiece in Italian marble. The walls were covered with specially woven blue-green silk which enhanced Pryde's artistic palette. His huge canvases were perfect decoration for the numerous bays that were separated by columns and overhung by an iron gallery. The culmination of the entire project came in the early 1920s when he created a massive mural for the lunette over the library doors. Known originally as The Goddess of Destruction, later The Madonna of the Ruins, this dramatically unites the themes of the paintings in the room below (ibid, p. 35). Pryde's last recorded visit to Dunecht took place in September 1926, some eight months before Lord Cowdray's death. With the library decoration complete, Lady Cowdray's patronage came to a close. Her sponsorship had induced several of Pryde's all-too-rare spells of sustained application and after its conclusion the artist produced little new work. The Cowdray's collection of works by Pryde illustrates the evolution of his technique into a style of ever-increasing grandeur. It includes many of the artist's masterpieces and has a diversity that demonstrates the depth of the artist's imagination and the range of his pictorial powers.
James Ferrier Pryde (1866-1941)

The Red Ruin

James Ferrier Pryde (1866-1941)
The Red Ruin
oil on canvas
60¾ x 55½ in. (154.4 x 141 cm.)
Painted in 1916.
Commissioned from the artist by Annie, later 1st Viscountess Cowdray, November 1916 and by descent at Dunecht House, Aberdeenshire.
D. Hudson, James Pryde 1866-1941, London, 1949, pp. 62, 64 and 93, pl. XXIX.
Exhibition catalogue, Rascals & Ruins: The Romantic Vision of James Pryde, London, The Fleming Collection, 2006, p. 76, no. 44, illustrated.
London, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Autumn Exhibition, October 1916, no. 5.
Brighton, Art Gallery, James Pryde: Memorial Exhibition, July - September 1949, no. 31: this exhibition travelled to London, Tate Gallery, September - October 1949.
Bradford, Bradford Art Gallery, Jubilee Exhibition, 1954, number untraced.
Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, Three Centuries of Scottish Painting, March - April 1969, no. 45.
London, The Fleming Collection, Rascals & Ruins: The Romantic Vision of James Pryde, September 2006, no. 44.

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Lot Essay

This moonlit scene is one of the best of Pryde's larger works. Painted in 1916, its subject matter is unequivocally linked to the First World War. The sinister red house front, the dark grey clouds above, and the plum-coloured patches - so suggestive of bloodstains - on the white wall to the right, all share in creating an atmosphere of apprehension and brooding unrest (D. Hudson, James Pryde 1866-1941, London, 1949, p. 62).

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