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Benjamin Walter Spiers (fl.1875-1893)

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Benjamin Walter Spiers (fl.1875-1893)

Un po' di Roma

Details
Benjamin Walter Spiers (fl.1875-1893) Un po' di Roma signed with initials and dated 'B.W.S. 1884' (lower right, on a folio) and further signed and inscribed 'ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS UN PO' di ROMA BY B.W. SPIERS. 70 HEREFORD RD. BAYSWATER.' (on the artist's label attached to the backboard) pencil and watercolour heightened with bodycolour 20 3/8 x 25 5/8 in. (51.8 x 65.2 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 9 June 2005, lot 159.
Literature
C. Wood, 'Knicknacks and silly Old Books', Country Life, 10 June 1993, pp. 124-125, illustrated.
Exhibited
London, Royal Academy, 1884, no. 1163.
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Lot Essay

Benjamin Spiers' extraordinary fidelity in his painting and his eclectic taste makes him the leading exponent of a particular type of interior painting, popular in the 19th Century. Christopher Wood considers him to be 'one of the most remarkable painters of still-life in English Art' (see C. Wood, loc. cit.). His watercolours are very different to the typical nature morte, as painted so successfully by 'Bird's Nest' Hunt - William Henry Hunt, O.W.S. (1790-1864) and his followers. Spiers was interested in possessions rather than objects of nature and his curiosity for antiquarian objects, books, maps, prints etc. His work can be seen as illusionistic decoration rather than straight forward still-life. The successful deception he achieves in his depiction of books and other objects fulfills the purposes of the trompe l'oeil: 'to trick the eye' and display the artist's skill in depicting three-dimensionality and surfaces such as glass, mirror and ceramic.

In Spiers' watercolours the same objects repeatedly appear which suggests that they were in his possession. He was fascinated by the antique shops on Wardour Street in Soho, and one can surmise that the bric-a-brac in his work did belong to him, as the title of one watercolour confirms Chez Moi. The present watercolour compares closely in content to Amour, prints, pictures, pipes, china (all crack'd) Old rickety tables, and chairs broken back'd, sold at Sotheby's, London, 30 January 1991, lot 204. Items such as the Italian holy water stoop in the far left of our composition, the swords, the psalter, the textiles and the violin all appear in both watercolours. The majority of the drug jars in his composition are Italian majolica which complements the Rome theme, however whether Spiers actually travelled to Rome or not we do not know.

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