Sympathy was one of Riviere's most popular compositions. When the original version (Royal Holloway College) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1878, the critics went out of their way to praise it. The Times, the Illustrated London News, the Magazine of Art, the Graphic, the Academy and the Athenaeum were among its many admirers. Even John Ruskin's resistance to academic painting was overcome by such a winsome image of innocence. 'It is long', he wrote, 'since I have been so pleased in the Royal Academy as I was by Mr Briton Riviere's "Sympathy". The dog is uncaricatured doggedness, divine as Anubis, or the Dog-star; the child entirely childish and lovely, the carpet might have been laid in by Veronese. A most precious picture...' (for full details, see Jeannie Chapel, Victorian Taste: the complete catalogue of paintings at the Royal Holloway College, 1982, pp. 126-7, no. 63).
Naturally, there was a great demand for reproductions. By 1891, according to Walter Armstrong, the little girl being comforted by her canine friend had 'found her way into hundreds of homes, both humble and luxurious.' Agnew's published a mezzotint by Frederick Stackpoole, A.R.A, and, as so often with his more popular works, Riviere found himself painting replicas. One was acquired by Henry Tate in 1896 and presented to the Tate Gallery the following year.
The present version is unsigned but we believe it to be authentic. Side-by-side comparison with the original at Royal Holloway College shows significant variations, generally a clear indication that the artist himself is the executant rather than a copyist eager to reproduce every detail of the original. The handling also seems to be characteristic of Riviere. While admittedly more fluent than that of the original, it is not unlike that found in the small version of Requiescat (RA 1888; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney) that was sold in these Rooms on 19 February 2003, lot 39, as part of the Forbes Collection.
Sympathy was based on an unidentified illustration that Riviere had contributed to an American publication many years before the picture was painted. The model for the little girl was his daughter Millicent.
We are grateful to Dr Mary Cowling for her help in preparing this entry.