Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee, P.R.A. (British, 1853-1928)
Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee, P.R.A. (British, 1853-1928)
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Property from an Important Private Collection
SIR FRANCIS BERNARD DICKSEE, P.R.A. (British, 1853-1928)


SIR FRANCIS BERNARD DICKSEE, P.R.A. (British, 1853-1928)
signed and dated 'FRANK DICKSEE/-1901-' (lower left)
oil on canvas
40 ¾ x 60 in. (103.5 x 152.4 cm.)
The artist.
Wolf Harris (1858-1926), London, acquired at the Royal Academy exhibition, 1901.
with William Walker Sampson, The British Galleries, London.
H.H. Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar (1872-1933), Staines, UK.
By descent to his heirs.
Fred and Sherry Ross, New Jersey, acquired in 1995.
Their sale; Sotheby's, New York, 1 February 2019, lot 426.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
'The Royal Academy, A Rapid Review,' The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality, London, 8 May 1901, p. 82.
'The Royal Academy, First Notice,' Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, London, 11 May 1901, p. 395.
The Athenaeum, no. 3838, London, 18 May 1901, p. 636.
'The Royal Academy, Subject Pictures,' Supplement to The Illustrated London News, London, 18 May 1901, p. 42.
H. Thompson, 'Music in the Royal Academy Exhibition,' The Musical Times and Singing-Class Circular, London, 1 June 1901, p. 386.
'Cultured Conversations,' Punch, or The London Charivari, 5 June 1901, p. 416.
Academy Notes, London, 1901, pp. 9-10, no. 52.
'The Royal Academy of 1901,' The Art Journal, London, 1901, p. 165, as Iseult.
M. H. Spielmann, 'At the Royal Academy Exhibition 1901, Part III-The Figure Subjects' The Magazine of Art, vol. 25, London, 1901, p. 439.
E. R. Dibdin, 'The Art of Frank Dicksee, R.A.,' The Art Journal Christmas Art Annual, London, 1905, pp. 18, 26, 32, illustrated.
S. Toll, Frank Dicksee 1853-1928: His Art and Life, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2016, pp. 7, 120-21, 234, no. FD.1901.1, illustrated.
London, Royal Academy, Summer Exhibition, 1901, no. 52.
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1901.

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Laura H. Mathis
Laura H. Mathis Specialist, Head of Sale

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Lot Essay

Yseult was inspired by Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte dArthur, also known as The Complete Book of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. An avidly read book and a fertile source of subject matter for myriad 19th century artists, it created a craze for Medievalism and romance among the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their followers which has endured among artists and illustrators to the present day.
Painted in 1901, Yseult depicts the daughter of King Hoel of Brittany, Princess Yseult of the White Hands, the wife of Sir Tristram. Seated at an open balcony off her bedchamber in a great palace built into the cliff at the side of the ocean, the princess searches the horizon for a sight she has been dreading in the light of early dawn. She has passed the long night weaving at her tapestry and watching for a ship bearing her rival, also named Yseult. In another chamber deep within the palace lies the subject's husband, Sir Tristram, clinging to life, waiting for the arrival of his beloved Yseult, the daughter of the King of Ireland, whose magic is the only cure for his mortal wounds. Tristram has sent word asking her to attend him in a ship with white sails, signaling that she is safely aboard. Many years have passed since the love affair of their youth and she is now the wife of King Mark of Corwall, but their love was then bound by an enchanted philter and only she can save his life now. Princess Yseult of Brittany will soon rise from her seat at the window, driven by deceit and jealousy, and will slowly move through the corridors of the palace to her husband’s chamber, where she will kneel at his side and whisper into his ear that the sails on the ship which has appeared on the horizon are black, signaling that Tristram’s love, and only hope for survival, is dead. Tristram perishes in grief as the white-sailed ship sails into the harbor.
The two heroines with the same name sowed confusion among the critics and writers when the painting was first exhibited. The Art Journal assumed that Yseult depicted an earlier event from a different version of the tale: ‘With clasped hands on the wide balustrade in front of her, she gazes across the waste of waters toward the setting sun, dreaming of the day when she and Tristram were spiritually wed, of her lover, now wandering over Spain, whose grave in Brittany, set with rose and vine bush intertwined, she later shared’ (The Art Journal, 1901, p. 165). The critic clearly had not interpreted the true meaning of Dicksee’s portrayal of the Princess battling her envy and despair.
The figure of a woman gazing out from a balcony at dawn is reminiscent of images of the classical Hero or Shakespeare's Juliet; indeed, the marble column is the same as that in Dicksee’s Romeo and Juliet of 1884 (fig. 1). The pose of the princess of Brittany is based upon that of the anxious woman in The Confession (fig. 2). She is dressed is a ruby-red gown lined with gold, over which she wears a cloak encrusted with gemstones. Her bright auburn hair is plaited with strings of pearls and she is crowned with emeralds. The costume is similar to ones designed for Victorian stage performances like those designed by Edward Burne-Jones for Comyns Carr’s play King Arthur at the Lyceum Theatre in 1895. Dicksee was an avid theatre-goer and although it is not known if he designed any productions, he would clearly have been influenced by the costumes at the more prestigious performances. It is commonly known that he favored actresses as his models, due mostly to their ability to adopt dramatic gestures and poses, and their professional attitude to the work. While the model for Yseult is not known, she may have been Rachel Lee, a red-haired model who posed for Dawn, 1897 (Bradford Art Gallery) and An Offering, 1898 (Private Collection).
To mirror the opulence of the costume and throne, Dicksee designed an elaborate frame for the painting in the shape of a Celtic lyre, a clear reference to the Irish ancestry of the protagonist’s rival. Although the subject of the present work was too esoteric of many critics of the day to delve into too deeply, the decorative treatment of the work overall was praised by Dicksee’s contemporaries. The Magazine of Art described the painting as ‘a graceful composition (of unusual shape) in an opulent scheme of colour from pale yellow through coppery reds to purple. The beautiful princess looks out to sea, her fair face fine in expression, and the hands drawn with great elegance and delicacy’ (The Magazine of Art, 1901, p. 439).
Yseult was purchased directly from the Royal Academy exhibition by Wolf Harris, a wealthy merchant from New Zealand who had recently moved to London. After his death is 1926, several of Harris’ pictures were bought by the famous Indian cricketer Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, who also owned another of Dicksee’s illustrations for Le Morte dArthur, The Passing of Arthur. Ranjitsinhiji was a devoted Anglophile who decorated his home at Staines, in the Thames Valley, with a large and varied collection of Victorian art, with pictures by Leighton, Godward, Poynter and Henry Scott Tuke, who also painted the collector's portrait in full Maharaja regalia.

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