The present lot is a heretofore-unlocated canvas from a small group of picturesque, lushly colored genre scenes that J. W. Waterhouse painted, or at least conceived, in Capri during the late 1880s. This Italian island had become increasingly popular with artists from around the world for its beautiful scenery, sunny climate, and abundant models. Having been born in Rome, 'Nino' Waterhouse may even have been able to converse with the locals in Italian.
An Orange Garden depicts three models picking and gathering oranges, a continuation of the traditional view that women enjoy a particularly harmonious relationship with nature, and also a portent of the maidens-stretching-to-pick-flowers theme that Waterhouse would explore for the rest of his life. This composition showcases the artist’s lively brushwork and many hallmarks of his style, such as the stone staircase that connects the scene’s upper and lower halves, the subtle pink dress and the rich mauve headscarf that move our eye along that staircase, the trees’ twisting trunks and branches, the flowers planted in terracotta pots, the weathered surfaces of the stucco architecture, and the deft juxtaposition of whites and off-whites best admired in the youngest girl’s apron.
With this and the other Capri scenes, Waterhouse created a Mediterranean variation on the popular paintings of his fellow Englishman George Clausen (see lot 23), the disciple of Jules Bastien-Lepage who had sweetened that late French master’s frank views of working peasant children to suit the tastes of British collectors. Waterhouse’s London dealer, Agnew’s, received An Orange Garden on 1 February 1890 and sold it just 19 days later to Dr. Alfred Palmer JP, a member of the family that owned the Reading-based bakers Huntley & Palmer. Around the same time, Palmer’s Berkshire neighbor, the financier Alexander Henderson, acquired from Agnew’s the larger Orange Gatherers and went on to become Waterhouse’s most significant patron.
The reappearance of An Orange Garden is a welcome reminder of how skillfully Waterhouse could transform a seemingly ordinary, non-narrative scene of modern life into a lyrical vision of color and light.
We are grateful to Peter Trippi for preparing this catalogue note and for his assistance in cataloguing this work.