O'Neil was born in St.Petersburg and was a painter of historical and literary genre. He travelled in Italy in his early days with his friend and fellow painter Alfred Elmore and then joined a number of artists in a society known as 'The Clique' in the 1830's. An odd assortment of painters, Richard Dadd, Calderon and Egg among them, they were held together by a general distaste for the R.A.. O'Neil came to great prominence in the 1850s with the appearance of his contemporary scene Eastward Ho! showing British forces leaving for the Indian Mutiny. He then added a companion piece Home Again, showing the soldiers' return. These remain the works on which is reputation is founded.
Perdita is a character in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. It must, given the Westbourne Grove address on the back of the painting, date from the years 1848 - 1859, when he is known to have lived there. These years interestingly equate almost exactly to the years in which the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood came to prominence and flourished. The choice of Shakespearean subject and the meticulous observation of detail were central to their concerns and in Perdita this influence is clear. There is a crispness and clarity in both the treatment of the girl and in the rendering of the flowers in her hair and the grasses behind her, which is even reminiscent of the slightly earlier artists William Dyce and John Rogers Herbert. Both these men influenced the Pre-Raphaelites and it is probable therefore that the work may date to 1850. O'Neil's output varied considerably throughout his life. Perdita with its combination of obvious charm and striking care of execution must rate as one of his most successful small scale works.
We are grateful to Kendall Smaling Wood for providing the above catalogue entry.