Marie Spartali Stillman (1844-1927)
Marie Spartali Stillman (1844-1927)
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Marie Spartali Stillman (1844-1927)

The Enchanted Garden

Marie Spartali Stillman (1844-1927)
The Enchanted Garden
signed with monogram and dated '1889.' (lower left)
pencil, watercolour and bodycolour heightened with gum arabic on paper
30 5/8 x 39 ¾ in. (77.9 x 101.2 cm.)
Purchased from the artist by T.E. Stillman, Boston, 1900.
with M. Knoedler & Co., New York.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 9 April 1952, lot 101.
Mr & Mrs Fitch of Newark, New Jersey, 1979, from whom purchased for the present collection.
Illustrated London News, 18 May 1889, p. 627.
P. Bate, The English Pre-Raphaelite Painters, their Associates and Successors, London, 1899, illustrated, facing p. 112.
New York Times, 22 November 1903.
V. Lee, 'Old Italian Gardens', in In Praise of Old Gardens, Portland, 1912, pp. 34-35.
C. Wood, The Pre-Raphaelites, London, 1981, p. 132.
J. Marsh and P.G. Nunn, Women Artists and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, London, 1989, pp. 104, 172.
K.A. Shepherd, Marie Spartali Stillman: A Study of the Life and Career of a Pre-Raphaelite Artist, MA diss., George Washington University, 1998, pp. 33, 57-59, 65, 153-154.
F. Spalding, 'Pre-Raphaelite women artists. Birmingham & Southampton', in Burlington Magazine, vol. CXL, no.1140, March 1998, pp. 217-218, fig. 69.
J. Marsh & P. Gerrish Nunn, Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, London, 1999, pp. 74, 134.
J. Marsh, ''The Old Tuscan Rapture': The Response to Italy and Its Art in the Work of Marie Spartali Stillman', in Unfolding the South: Nineteenth-Century British Women Writers and Artists in Italy, New York, 2003, pp. 175-176.
D.B. Elliott, A Pre-Raphaelite Marriage: the Lives and Works of Marie Spartali Stillman and William James Stillman, Suffolk, 2006, pp. 160,162, 215.
M. McLaughlin, 'The Pre-Raphaelites and Italian Literature', in The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy, Oxford, 2010, p. 34.
London, New Gallery, 1889, no. 177.
Liverpool, Autumn Exhibition, 1889, no. 991.
London, New Gallery, 1890, number untraced.
Boston, Curtis and Cameron, 1901, number untraced.
New York, Water Color Club, 1903, no. 198.
Nottingham, Nottingham Castle Museum, Women's Art Show 1550-1970, 1982, as Messr Ansaldo showing Diavola [sic] his enchanted garden.
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art; Hamamatsu, The Hamamatsu Municipal Museum of Art; Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery; Osaka, Daimaru Museum of Art; and Yamanashi, Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art, The Pre-Raphaelites and their Times, 26 January - 23 June 1985, no. 32.
London, Barbican Art Gallery, The Last Romantics: The Romantic Tradition in British Art, Burne-Jones to Stanley Spencer, 9 February - 9 April 1989, no. 30.
Nottingham, Djanogly Art Gallery, Heaven on Earth: The Religion of Beauty in Late Victorian Art, 7 October - 27 November 1994, no. 64.
Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; and Southampton, Southampton City Art Gallery, Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, 22 November 1997 - 2 August 1998, no. 52.
Florence, Uffizi Gallery, I Giardini delle Regine - Il Mito di Firenze nell'Ambiente Preraffaellita a nella Cultura Americana fra Ottocento e Novecento, 6 April - 31 August 2004, no. 41.
Ravenna, Museo d'Arte della città di Ravenna; and Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, I Preraffaelliti: Il sogno del 400 italiano, da Beato Angelico a Perugino, da Rossetti a Burne-Jones, 28 February - 5 December 2010, no. 131.
Wilmington, Delaware Art Museum; and Compton, Watts Gallery, Poetry in Beauty: the Pre-Raphaelite Art of Marie Spartali Stillman, 7 November 2015 - 5 June 2016, no.18.
Special notice
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Lot Essay

Marie Spartali Stillman was both a gifted artist and a major Pre-Raphaelite muse, who features as a model in many of the movement's most memorable works (fig. 1). Stillman was the youngest daughter of wealthy Greek parents. Her father, Michael Spartali, had made his money as a cotton merchant and served as Greek consul-general in London between 1866 and 1882. The Spartali family were prominent members of the cultured and affluent Anglo-Greek community that came to have an enduring impact on the history of Victorian art; they included Burne-Jones' and Rossetti’s great patron Constantine Ionides and his family, as well as Maria Zambaco, Burne-Jones’ model and mistress, and Aglaia Coronio, who sat for Rossetti. Devoted to drawing from an early age, Stillman became a pupil of Ford Madox Brown in 1865, and for the next few years had regular lessons in his studio, working alongside his own three children, Lucy, Catherine and Oliver. Stillman first exhibited her work at the Dudley Gallery, Piccadilly, in 1867, where she presented three watercolours of female figures. Over her long career, she painted over a hundred and fifty works, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, Grosvenor Gallery, and in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester.

Stillman painted the present watercolour in 1889, at the height of her career, after having exhibited publicly for over two decades. It was painted in London during one of her most fertile creative periods when she also executed The First Meeting of Petrarch and Laura (private collection), showing the clear influence Italian literary subjects had on her work at this time. She had exhibited two further Dantesque subjects at the New Gallery in 1888, and she showed The Enchanted Garden there the following year. Her fondness for these themes owed much to her friendship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and also the time she spent living in Italy. In 1886 Stillman had moved from Florence to Rome when her husband became the correspondent there for The Times.

The source material from which Stillman draws is the fifth story on the tenth, and last, day of Boccaccio’s Decameron. In the tale a nobleman in Udine, Messer Ansaldo, is desperately in love with Madonna Dianora, the virtuous wife of another man. In order to put off his persistent attentions, Dianora tells him she will give herself to him if he is able to conjure up in the middle of winter ‘a garden full of green grass and flowers and flowering trees, just as if it were May’, but if he was to fail, he must never trouble her again. Ansaldo remains undeterred and employs a necromancer in order to pull off this impossible feat to win her love.

The Enchanted Garden therefore illustrates the climactic moment of Ansaldo’s success. The arches that bracket the composition on both sides reveal the frozen and snow-capped landscape beyond, yet within Ansaldo’s walls the garden is a riot of blooms, blossom and flowering fruit. Dianora and her women are shown, still clad in their heavy winter cloaks, gazing in wonder at the incredible scene laid before them. Jan Marsh writes that Ansaldo even appears ‘somewhat abashed at the success of his deception’ (M.S. Frederick & J. Marsh, Poetry in Beauty: the Pre-Raphaelite art of Marie Spartali Stillman, Delaware, 2015, p. 104). In contrast to her amazed attendants, Dianora appears melancholy with her eyes downcast, horrified that the promise she made has to be fulfilled. The tale, however, has a happy end, as Dianora confesses to her husband and she is eventually released from her contract by Ansaldo, who appears rather chastened by the whole affair.

Stillman drew inspiration from the Renaissance era both in subject matter and in style, as can be seen in the frieze-like composition so reminiscent of paintings from this period. John Christian remarked that the whole picture is reflective of her experience of living in Italy and that 'the costumes of the page-boys, who might have stepped out of a fresco by Ghirlandaio or Benozzo Gozzoli, are a particularly characteristic touch' (J. Christian, The Last Romantics: Romantic Tradition in British Art - Burne-Jones to Stanley Spencer, London, 1989, p. 87). Whilst Boccaccio’s Decameron wasn’t perceived as being a particularly refined text due to its sexual content, it was tackled by various Pre-Raphaelite artists, and Waterhouse also painted the same subject in The Enchanted Garden (fig. 2, c.1916-1917, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), some twenty-five years later, shortly before his death.

In 1871 Marie had married the Rossettis' friend William James Stillman, an American diplomat and journalist. The couple lived an itinerant life, spending time in America, Italy and England. Due to their peripatetic existence and William’s unsettled career, Marie was often relied upon to supplement his income through the sales of her work. The present lot was painted when Stillman was in a commercially focused frame of mind, as at this time she was relied upon to support her husband and six children financially. At thirty by forty inches, this picture is one of the most ambitious in her œuvre, and the vivid colouring and lush composition make it one of the most visually arresting. Stillman took it with her when she travelled to the USA in 1900 where it was purchased by T.E. Stillman, a retired railroad lawyer and distant relative of her husband based in Boston. The painting then disappeared until its re-discovery in the 1980s.

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