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Charles Edward Perugini (1839-1918)
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Charles Edward Perugini (1839-1918)

A Fan-maker

Charles Edward Perugini (1839-1918)
A Fan-maker
signed with monogram (lower left)
oil on canvas
54 ¾ x 39 ½ in. (139 x 86.3 cm.)
Mrs Jessie Ford (d. 1973), Chicago, c. 1923.
Academy Notes, 1897, p. 19.
The Athenaeum, 1897, p. 752.
London, Royal Academy, 1897, no. 559.
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Lot Essay

Exhibited in 1897, A Fan-maker is a wonderful example of Perugini’s fascination with combining classicism with the highly-fashionable aestheticism of the day. The sitter is draped in sumptuous silks, and is surrounded by decorative furniture and ceramic tiles from the East, whilst she stitches a fan of exotic ostrich feathers. Describing Perugini’s house in 1909 Austin Chester commented on ‘the separate pieces of furniture, the soft, lustrous-hued Persian rugs, the sombre tapestries, the subdued-in-colour brocades that go so congruously to form a whole of a high level of taste’ (A. Chester, ‘The Art of C.E. Perugini’, The Windsor Magazine, vol. XXX, June to November 1909, p. 262).

Although born in Naples, Perugini grew up in England, his Anglophile family having emigrated before he was eight years old. Travelling to Rome in 1853, he met the young Frederic Leighton, future President of the Royal Academy and undisputed head of the late Victorian art establishment. Their friendship was later cemented in Paris, where Perugini was studying and Leighton exhibiting at the Exposition Universelle. Perugini became one of Leighton's many protégés, continuing to receive his financial support well into the late 1870s. Perugini's style was greatly influenced by Leighton's, and he explored a similar range of subject-matter, operating, as it were, on the borders between modern life and idealism in the Classical-cum-Aesthetic taste. His Girl Reading, shown at the Royal Academy in 1878 (Manchester City Art Gallery), is a perfect example. Like Leighton, moreover, he was loyal first and foremost to the Academy, where he showed almost every year from 1863 to 1915. On seeing the present painting at the Academy The Athenaeum critic noted 'We observe that, not for the first time, Mr. Perugini has assumed the mantel of the late Mr. E. Long, though he is a much better artist. This is manifest in A Fan-maker (559), where the motive and design could not be tamer nor the execution smoother'.

The year after the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy the art critic Marion Spielmann wrote an extensive review of Perugini’s work for the Magazine of Art in which he stated that ‘…such is the charm that animates his work, which, invested with equal grace of colour, subject, and design, seeks to make our life more sunny and to sweeten it with the luxury of refinement. He is indeed a true descendant of his own school’ and went on to add that ‘Mr. Perugini is the painter par excellence of the siesta, the recorder, in delicate colour and harmonious line, of the delights of sweet idleness – when life is young and love is warm, ideally gracious, and more or less platonic’ (Magazine of Art, 1898, p. 457).

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