John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)
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John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)

The Temptation of Eve

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)
The Temptation of Eve
pencil and watercolour with gum arabic, heightened with bodycolour and gold, on paper wrapped around a wooden stretcher
23 x 11 in. (58.4 x 28 cm.)
Charles Alfred Swinburne (†); Christie’s, London, 2 July 1904, lot 47 (24 gns to Gooden & Fox). 
with Gooden & Fox, London.
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Lot Essay

Unlike the majority of the other artists in the Pre-Raphaelite circle, Stanhope came from an aristocratic background and as a man of private means did not have to paint for his living. He was certainly independent from the vagaries of the market place. As John Christian wrote 'what strikes us most is his unique contribution to the Aesthetic and Symbolist movements which evolved out of the Pre-Raphaelitism's second, Rossettian phase'. He initially trained under G. F. Watts and accompanied him to Italy in 1853. This visit had a profound effect on Stanhope, who apparently decided that ‘all the great painters lived before Raphael’s time’ (A.M.W. Stirling, A painter of dreams and other biographical studies, 1916, p. 325). Watts was not a charismatic teacher and Stanhope soon felt the sway of Rossetti and Burne-Jones. In 1857, he was invited by Rossetti to work on the Oxford Union murals alongside both Rossetti and Burne-Jones, both of whom deeply influenced his early style.

In 1860, Stanhope married and initially settled in Surrey, in a house designed for him by Philip Webb, who had previously built the Red House for William Morris. However, his chronic ill health (he suffered from severe asthma), meant that he moved several times and began to spend his winters in Italy. In 1873, he bought Villa Nuti, just outside Florence and from 1880, he settled there permanently, remaining there until his death twenty-eight years later.

Burne-Jones lamented the implications of this self-imposed exile: 'His absence from London', he told his assistant T.M. Rooke in 1896, 'has removed him...from his contemporaries and their criticism, and he's got to think more and more exclusively of old pictures to the extent that he'll almost found his own pictures on them and give up his own individuality' (Mary Lago (ed.), Burne-Jones Talking, London, 1981, p. 78). Yet Stanhope remains a fascinating phenomenon, a second-generation Pre-Raphaelite whose long residence in Florence and day-to-day exposure to the old masters profoundly influenced his later style and helped to give it its characteristic flavour.

Although Stanhope exhibited fourteen pictures at the Royal Academy, he never felt entirely comfortable there. He preferred less conventional venues such as the Dudley Gallery, which opened at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly in 1865 and he was invited to contribute to Sir Coutts Lindsay's Grosvenor Gallery in Bond Street from 1877, where he continued to exhibit until 1888. He then transferred to the New Gallery in Regent Street, exhibiting there until 1900.

There is a tempera on panel painting of the same subject in Manchester Art Gallery. In the Manchester version, Eve has long blonde hair and stands on a dense carpet of flowers, the serpent’s hair is dark and its coils blue and in the background there are glimpses of an Italianate architectural scene.

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