One of Crane's largest and most important paintings, The Fate of Persephone was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1878 with an appropriate quotation from Paradise Lost in the catalogue. It represents the well-known myth by which the ancient world explained the rotation of the seasons. Persephone (or, as the Romans called her, Proserpine), was the daughter of Demeter (Ceres), the goddess of agriculture, and herself the goddess of Spring. She was abducted by Pluto (Dis), the lord of the underworld, as she picked flowers in the vale of Enna, the eternal grove of spring in Sicily; but at the behest of her sorrowing mother, Zeus (Jupiter), the ruler of the gods, ordained that she should spend half the year on earth. Her return heralds the advent of spring and summer, and her retreat to Hades the onset of autumn and winter.
Crane gave a fuller account of the picture's iconography in his Reminiscences:
Pluto and his black horses and gilded biga are supposed to have suddenly emerged from a volcanic fissure in the earth in Enna, and surprised the goddess as she stooped to pluck the fateful narcissus. Her figure, in white with a yellow mantle, is relieved against the black horses rearing up behind her, as Pluto, in Roman armour and fanciful helmet, lays his hand upon her. Her three frightened maiden attendants, like the fates, witness the scene, divided from Persephone by the crack in the earth. The foreground is covered with flowers, chiefly narcissus and anemones; a mountainous country sloping to the dark horizon of the sea with blossoming orchards and the walls and towers of a city with a peak in eruption beyond form the landscape background. A pomegranate tree in blossom in front suggests the legend of Persephone and the promise of her return to earth, while a tiny figure on the mountain was meant to indicate the sorrow of Demeter.
Crane was born in Liverpool, the son of a minor portrait painter, who gave him the only artistic training he ever received. When he was still an infant, the family moved to Torquay, and he spent his boyhood there until another move was made to London in 1857. Two years later his father died, and he was apprenticed to the leading wood-engraver W.J. Linton. It was in Linton's office in Hatton Garden that he first met Ruskin, whose books had already inspired him. When the appreticeship ended in 1862, he continued to work as an illustrator, and the following year he met Edmund Evans, the pioneer of colour-printing. By 1865 they were producing the first of a long series of children's picture-books, published by Routledge at the low price of sixpence or a shilling. These so called 'toy books' were the ideal vehicle for Crane's abundant imagination, and they soon achieved great popularity.
In fact, although the books were aimed at a juvenile audience, they had a much wider significance. The Aesthetic movement, the cult of beauty in everyday life that revolutionised late Victorian taste, was gathering momentum in the 1860s, even if it only came to full fruition - the point at which it could be mercilessly satirised by Du Maurier in Punch or sent up by Gilbert and Sullivan in Patience - a decade or so later. Crane was a true eclectic, alive to every cultural wind that blew, and the shameless way in which he mixed influences in the toy books, drawing freely on classical, medieval, Renaissance, oriental and Pre-Raphaelite sources, did much to disseminate awareness of Aesthetic values.
Crane was not only eclectic but astonishingly versatile. He was one of those arists who seem to have a finger in every pie available at a given time. If he made a major contribution to Aestheticism, so he did to the closely related Arts and Crafts. Stained glass, wallpaper, textiles, ceramics, mosaics, tapestry and gesso reliefs, all were among his areas of activity as a decorative artist.
On top of all this, Crane was a painter of easel pictures. Indeed he always maintained that painting was his first love. After discussing his protean commitment to the applied arts in the extended essay on his work published as the Easter Art Annual in 1898, he wrote: 'It now only remains for me to speak of another class of my work, namely painting. In this case the last is also the first, as painting was the first craft I attempted, and it is the one I return to after following other kinds of design'.
Crane was as versatile here as he was elsewhere. Allegorical and literary subjects, portraits and landscapes were equally within his scope; and he was prolific as well as varied. No fewer than eight-six works appeared at the Grosvenor Gallery during its ten-year heyday (1877-87), and many more were shown at the other institutions he supported - the Dudley Gallery, the New Gallery, the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. What is strange is that, in spite of this fecundity, Crane's paintings are seldom seen on the market. His modestly-sized landscapes and decorative designs appear from time to time, but the large allegories and literary or mythological subjects are rare indeed. Nothing comparable to The Fate of Persephone has emerged since The Bridge of Life (fig. 2) was sold in these Rooms in March 1990. A complex allegory shown at the Grosvenor in 1884, it realised £242,000, a record which has yet to be broken and which testifies not only to its importance but to its rarity value.
Crane's career as a painter took off in the 1860s, when he belonged to a set of young artists with similar ideals. In fact today he is by far the best known of this group, although others - Robert Bateman, Edward Clifford, Henry Ellis Wooldridge, Theodore Blake Wirgman, E.H. Fahey and Alfred Sacheverell Coke - have become the subject of keen interest among collectors and scholars devoted to the period. They drew inspiration from the small, intensely romantic works that Burne-Jones began to exhibit at the Old Watercolour Society in 1864; and they found their spiritual home at the Dudley Gallery, which held exhibitions at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, from 1865, and gave support to many of the younger Pre-Raphaelites and their associates. This encouragement was all the more welcome since the work of these artists, like that of their hero, Burne-Jones, often had a hostile reception in the press. Critics dubbed them the 'Poetry without Grammar School', implying that, while their pictures undoubtedly had poetic intensity, their drawing, from an academic point of view, left much to be desired.
Crane continued to experience formative influences in the early 1870s. In September 1871 he married Mary Frances Andrews, and they set out for an extended honeymoon in Italy. Rather like Samuel Palmer and his wife in the late 1830s, they were away for two years, returning in the summer of 1873. Crane was to make further visits to Italy, notably in the winter of 1882-3 when he and his wife returned to Rome, their centre ten years earlier, to recover from the death of a child. The country's art, architecture and landscape is reflected in his work at many levels.
Shortly before his marriage and departure for Italy, Crane had finally met Burne-Jones and his great friend and collaborator, William Morris. He was introduced to them by George Howard, later Earl of Carlisle, a talented artist who had taken lessons from Burne-Jones as well as being a patron of both him and Morris. After his return from Italy, Crane rapidly established himself within this circle. The classical painter Edward Poynter, who was Burne-Jones's brother-in-law (their wives being sisters), was Crane's neighbour in Shepherd's Bush, and the musical evenings which were hosted jointly by the two families were attended by many with advanced views on artistic and social issues. In addition to Howard, Crane's patrons at this period included two keen supporters of these tendencies, the Rev. Stopford Brooke and his brother-in-law Somerset Beaumont. Both bought his easel pictures, while for Howard he collaborated with Burne-Jones on painting a frieze for the dining room in the London house, 1 Palace Green, that Howard had recently had built to designs by Philip Webb. Based on Burne-Jones's illustrations to the story of Cupid and Psyche in Morris's Earthly Paradise, the frieze was eventually completed in 1881.
When Sir Coutts Lindsay launched the Grosvenor Gallery in New Bond Street in 1877, it was inevitable that Crane should contribute. In some ways the Grosvenor continued the work begun by the Dudley a decade earlier. Opened amid great publicity, with all the glamour appropriate to a great social event, it was conceived as a liberal alternative to the Royal Academy, in which the work of the chosen artists (inclusion was by invitation only) would be seen to much greater advantage than in the crowded exhibitions of the older institution. True, many Academicians were represented, including Poynter and Frederic Leighton, who was to become PRA the following year. But this did not vitiate its primary purpose of providing a showcase for all the most sophisticated, forward-looking and anti-academic tendencies in contemporary British art. From the outset, the Grosvenor was perceived as the flagship of the Aesthetic movement. Not for nothing did Oscar Wilde parade himself at the private view in a coat in the shape of a cello.
The absolute star of the Grosvenor was of course Burne-Jones. The eight large pictures he sent in 1877 caused a sensation, making an artist who was still known only to a few devotees famous over-night. But it could be argued that his impact would have been less if he had not been supported by so many associates and followers: his old friend J.R. Spencer Stanhope, and Stanhope's niece Evelyn Pickering, his assistants J.M. Strudwick and T.M. Rooke, and such members of the 'Poetry without Grammar' group as Bateman, Clifford, Fahey and Crane himself. All were either present in force in 1877 or became contributors during the next few years. They were not by any means the only element in the make-up of the Grosvenor. In addition to Leighton and Poynter, such powerful personalities as Watts, Whistler, Legros, Millais, Holman Hunt, Alma-Tadema and Tissot were involved. But they did cumulatively dominate the shows, and went far to define the Gallery's essential ethos.
To the inaugural exhibition Crane sent six pictures. By far the most important was The Renaissance of Venus (fig. 3), a large (54½ x 72½ in.) canvas representing the well-worn theme of the goddess of beauty arising fully formed from the waves. It hung in the West Gallery, the biggest and most prestigious exhibition space, in the company of the eight Burne-Joneses, four works by Spencer Stanhope, and examples of nearly all the other major contibutors. The picture was also well received by the critics. 'Mr Crane', wrote William Michael Rossetti in the Academy, 'has painted a charming and delicious picture, ... one that holds its own well even against such formidable competition as that of Mr Burne-Jones'. The Examiner went even further. 'The design ...', it enthused, 'exhibits a very remarkable feeling for ornamental beauty, and the execution of certain parts ... is a marvel of pure colour and sound workmanship. Of all the younger essays in imaginative painting to be found in the Gallery, this is ... to our thinking, the most original and the most hopeful'. The picture did not find a buyer at the time but it was much admired by G.F. Watts, and he eventually purchased it in 1882, paying Crane by instalments. Crane was also the subject of one of Watts's most sensitive portraits, painted in 1891 (fig. 1).
It is always interesting to see what an artist exhibits on his second appearance at some particular venue, when he is anxious not to disappoint after an initial success. Burne-Jones maintained the enormous momentum he had achieved in 1877 by sending Laus Veneris (Newcastle) and Le Chant d'Amour (Metropolitan Museum, New York) to the exhibition the following year. Richly coloured works in his most seductively Giorgionesque vein, he must have known they would be popular, as indeed they were. In Crane's case there was even more at stake since he was not as well known as Burne-Jones, his senior by twelve years. Burne-Jones had only to come up to the expectations of his existing fans, Crane had to prove that he was something more than a delightful book illustrator and a painter of rather whimsical watercolours. If ever there was a moment to establish his reputation as a painter, this was it, and the august company in which he found himself must have fired his ambition the more. At all events, his solution to the 'second appearance' problem was The Fate of Persephone.
Crane clearly took great trouble over the compostion. A number of preliminary sketches survive in the Chelsea and Kensington Public Library (Local Studies Collection) and the collection of Professor Anthony Crane, the artist's grandson, while two drawings appeared in the exhibition of Crane's designs which was held at the Fine Art Society in 1891. One of these was almost certainly the attractive watercolour that surfaced at Christie's a hundred years later (fig. 4). Though quite highly finished, it still shows him experimenting with the poses of the principle figures. In fact no element, including the attitudes of the attendant maidens, the position of the horses, the landscape and the overall colour scheme, has yet been fully resolved.
In later life Crane had no hesitation in describing Persephone as one of his 'principal and largest pictures' (letter of 1 November 1896 to Samuel Martin; Hammersmith and Fulham local history archive), while the Italian critic Antonio Agresti, writing in 1907, suggested that it did indeed secure Crane's reptuation as a painter. It is interesting to compare it with The Renaissance of Venus. Another well-known mythological subject, it is, if anything, even larger; certainly, though not quite so tall, it is considerably longer, with something of the processional character that Crane so often gave his compositions. Several motifs recur, such as the three attendant nymphs and the classical architecture, but Isobel Spencer is right to describe Persephone as a 'more dynamic design', in which 'Pluto's black stallions make a striking contrast with a fine colour scheme of yellow and white draped figures and flowers'. In general, warm yellows and browns tend to replace the silvery greys and blues of the earlier picture.
Given Persephone's subject and scale, it is tempting to invoke the phrase 'history painting in the grand manner'. True, the concept seems so art-historically out of date as to be inappropriate; after all, it is associated with the academic conventions against which the Pre-Raphaelites had reacted, and Crane was a direct product of that reaction. For all this, it sums up a large figure subject by him or one of his peers as effectively as a work of this nature by Reynolds, the great exponent of academic theory in England, or Haydon, who espoused the ideal of grandiose history painting with an almost ludicrous fervour. The Victorian masters were every bit as conscious as their predecessors of working in a tradition going back to the Renaissance, when the notion of 'history' had first been evolved by art theorists. An exhibition entitled Victorian High Renaissance, held at Manchester and Minneapolis in 1978-9, was devoted to this very theme, Nor is it impossible to find circumstantial connections. G.F. Watts, for instance, having met Haydon as a boy and proved his successful rival in the first Westminster Hall competition, lived on to buy Crane's Renaissance of Venus forty years later.
The analogy with academic history painting is sustained when we turn to questions of meaning. History painting, it was universally agreed, had an ethical dimension, treating great mythological, literary or historical themes in such a way that they taught profound moral lessons. This had been the constant refrain of the theorists who had backed such artists as Sacchi and Poussin in the seventeenth century, and those, like Shaftesbury and Richardson, who took up the cause in England in the eighteenth. The moral element is still strong in Haydon's patriotic desire to see a school of history painting in England, and it re-emerges powerfully in G.F. Watts's determination to make didactic statements in allegorical form. Crane was very much in this tradition.
He was not a conventionally religious man, describing himself as a free thinker influenced by Shelley, Darwin and Herbert Spencer, but his view of life was nonetheless intensely moral, as his later support for the Socialist movement shows. His idea of using myths to point moral lessons not only looks back to time-honoured academic theory but finds a remarkable parallel in the thinking of one his earliest heroes, John Ruskin. In 1858 Ruskin lost his Christian faith and embraced that familiar Victorian concept, a 'relgion of humanity'. One of the results was that he began to see classical myths as repositories of revealed truth, comparable in efficacy to holy scripture. A famous example occurs at the end of the last volume of Modern Painters (1860), where he analyses two of Turner's mythological subjects, seeing them as symbols of the condition of England, in the grip of industrialisation and the pursuit of wealth, and the brighter vision to which he eagerly looks forward. He continued to study myths throughout the 1860s, and in his books of the period - Munera Pulveris, The Cestus of Aglaia, The Queen of the Air, and others - he employs them again and again to illustrate his ideas, often in tortuously allusive trains of thought that stretch them to the very limits of meaning.
In fact there may well be a connection between Ruskin's views on myths and Crane's painting. In 1873 Burne-Jones persuaded Ruskin to buy the so-called 'Florentine Picture-Chronicle', a volume of anonymous fifteenth-century Florentine drawings, now in the British Museum. One of the drawings shows the rape of Persephone, and Burne-Jones copied this in a sketchbook of about 1875 (Wightwick Manor, Woverhampton). It is by no means impossible that Crane heard of the matter and even discussed Ruskin's ideas on myths with his fellow artist, with whom, as we have seen, he was collaborating on George Howard's frieze. We know that the story of Demeter and Persephone was of interest, indeed of personal significance, to Ruskin; he discusses it in The Queen of the Air (1869), and Prosperine was one of the nicknames he gave to Rose La Touche. We also know that the subject played some ill-defined but important role in his relationship with Burne-Jones. In 1883, the very year that he lectured on Burne-Jones in his capacity as Slade Professor at Oxford, characterising him as an artist who 'seeks to teach the spiritual truth of myths', he comissioned him to paint it. Burne-Jones did indeed make a delicate pencil drawing (fig. 5) but the project went no further.
We can best approach Crane's own concept of 'the spiritual truth of myths' by noting his obsession with the theme of rebirth and renewal. He usually visualised this in terms of the changing seasons. His lesser works at the Grosvenor in 1877 included Winter and Spring, a now lost allegory that Burne-Jones had tried to get his patron William Graham to buy, and an Italian landscape, A Day of Spring: View from Monte Pazioli twoards Albano, which touched more literally on his favourite subject. Numerous other examples could be given from all periods of his career: A Herald of Spring, The Advent of Spring, The Earth and Spring, The Coming of May, La Primavera, The Triumph of Spring, and so on. The emphasis is nearly always on the joyous sense of life reviving that Spring brings with it. Even in Sorrow and Spring, a rather feeble late work exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society in 1901, we are invited to consider how the arrival of Spring banishes misery and grief. But on one occasion at least Crane painted something approaching the subject's opposite. When his patron Somerset Beaumont visited him in Rome in 1872, 'he found me', wrote Crane, 'at work upon a design, conceived some time before, suggested by Shelley's lines on "The Death of the Year"'. The picture showed 'a procession of the Months following the bier of the Year, preceeded by a winged figure swinging incense, and a priest-like one in a cope reading from a book and passing into the pillared porch of a temple - the House of Time'. The picture was on the London art market in 1989, and a composition drawing in watercolour, once attributed to Leighton, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
In The Renaissance of Venus and Persephone, the themes of death and re-birth are treated in more overtly mythological terms. While the birth of the goddess of beauty is the subject of the first, the second shows the rape (or 'fate' in Crane's Victorian euphemism) of another deity, an image which to the ancients symbolised beauty's eclipse. Crane had already illustrated the Persephone myth in a watercolour entitled Pluto's Garden that he had shown at the Dudley Gallery in 1870. It would be interesting to know how this compared with our picture, but unfortunately it is untraced and was never, apparently reproduced. The Fate of Persephone may show the fatal rape, but, as Crane himself observed in the description quoted above, there are strong hints that all is not lost, that beauty will return in due course. A pomegranate tree spreads its flowering branches over the cavernous entrance to Hades, while in one of the most attractive passages in the painting, daffodils, jonquils, anemones and narcissi blossom luxuriantly in the foreground. Morna O'Neill is surely right to point out that Crane's ability to hint at such a narrative continuum owes much to his experience as an illustrator. She also suggests that, far from merely picking a convenient literary tag when he quoted from Paradise Lost in the Grosvenor catalogue, he was deliberately invoking one of the supreme expressions of the theme of redemption and regeneration.
Crane had two kinds of renewal in mind, although they were so closely linked that he might not have recognised a division. One was identified by William Michael Rossetti when he wrote that The Renaissance of Venus 'signifies substantially "The Re-birth of Beauty" ... at the period of art and culture'. The Italian Renaissance was the obvious 'period' in question, and one with which Crane identified closely. He had steeped himself in its art during his two-year sojourn in Italy in the early 1870s. His very choice of the title The Renaissance of Venus speaks volumes, and he would later write of The Bridge of Life (fig. 2) that it 'showed a revival of the more classical or renascence (sic) influence in its design and conception'. But as this implies, Crane was also thinking of the present, of the Aesthetic movement in which he himself was so closely involved, helping, as it were, to bring about a renaissance of the Renaissance. 'The sense of beauty, like the enchanted princess in the wood', he was later to write in an article on 'The English Revival in Decorative Art' in the Fortnightly Review, ' seems liable ... to periods ... of slumber or suspended animation ... Such a period of apathetic slumber and awakening in the arts we have been passing through in England during the last quarter of the nineteenth century'. He goes on to 'trace the genesis' of this revival, acknowledging the crucial role played by the Pre-Raphaelites, paying tribute to Ruskin, Pugin, William Morris, Whistler and others, and discussing such important influences as Japanese art and the ever-expanding collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum. There is also a reference to the Grosvenor Gallery, which, 'owing to the enterprise of Sir Coutts Lindsay, was the means of bringing the decorative school in English painting to the front, and did much towards directing public attention in that direction'. In addition to the work of Burne-Jones and others, he was obviously thinking of his own contributions to the Grosvenor, pictures which had attempted to further the 'English revival' in themselves, while commenting on its existence through their mythological themes.
But Crane was no ivory-tower aesthete. On the contrary, he was as much concerned with social regeneration as he was with the rebirth of the arts. Like William Morris, he was to play a leading role in the early history of the Socialist movement. Indeed from the 1880s until his death in 1915 he was in effect its official artist, creating a long series of telling images for its posters, broadsheets and manifestos. For in Crane's mind there was no discrepancy between the practice of art and the promotion of social equality. Art was inherently uplifting, and to cultivate beauty in everyday life was inevitably to advance a just, happy and self-confident society. Hence his deep involvement with the Arts and Crafts, the making of those artefacts so essential to a beautiful interior, whether in some grand house like the Ionides' at 1 Holland Park or a humble cottage. (As he wrote in his paper on the revival of decorative art, 'the great advantage and charm of the Morrisian method is that it lends itself to either simplicity or to splendour'.) He would help to found the Art Worker's Guild in 1884 and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society four years later. Of the first he was Master from 1887 to 1889, of the second President from its inception until 1893, and again (following Morris's death) from 1896 to 1912. Equally significant were his labours on behalf of art education, both in London, where he enjoyed a long relationship with the National Art Training School at South Kensington, and in Manchester, where he was Director of Design at the Art School from 1893 to 1897. But Crane's belief in the total interdependence of social and artistic renewal is most vividly demonstrated by some of the subjects on which he wrote and lectured so copiously: 'Art and the Commonweal', 'The Socialist Ideal as a new Inspiration in Art,' 'Why Socialism appeals to Artists', and so on.
In a sense, Crane's talk about renaissances is deceptive. For him a 'revival of classical or renascence influence' may have had profound social implications, but pictures like The Fate of Persephone can also be seen in the less loaded context of late Victorian classicism. P.G. Konody, in his monograph on Crane, was right to draw attention to the female figures, so obviously dependent on antique prototypes in their 'diaphonous robes of classic cut, with countless folds clinging to the body as though they were damp, and showing rather than concealing the graceful lines of limbs.' Comparable figures abound in the work of G.F. Watts, that passionate admirer of the Elgin Marbles, or Frederic Leighton, whom Crane met in Rome in 1872 and for whose famous Arab Hall he would design a mosaic frieze in the early 1880s. The classical artist with whom Crane was on closest terms socially was Edward Poynter, whose house in Shepherd's Bush he eventually took over in 1876; but no artist in these circles escaped classicism's influence. Burne-Jones felt it very strongly in the 1860s, coming close to Albert Moore, and the two 'Venetian' pictures he showed at the Grosvenor in 1878 (both, as it happens, later versions of much earlier designs) were followed by such glacially classicising works as the Pygmalion series (1879; Birmingham) and The Goldent Stairs (1880; Tate Gallery).
The classical tendency in Victorian art had, of course, its literary dimension, and this too is relevant here. Nothing says more for its potency than that it swayed the arch-goth, Morris. The stories in his Earthly Paradise (1868-70) were deliberately drawn half from north- European and half from classical sources, and Burne-Jones's designs for what was originally to have been a lavishly illustrated book attempt a parallel synthesis in stylistic terms. There is a link between Morris's poem and Persephone though the frieze based on designs for one of the classical stories, that of Cupid and Psyche, that Crane was helping Burne-Jones to paint for George Howard while the picture was on the easel. Perhaps we can go further and see a connection between the fresh, airy spirit of the picture and the spring-like delicacy of effect that Morris so often aims for in the Earthly Paradise. The other literary parallel is Walter Pater's essay 'The Myth of Demeter and Persephone', published in the Fortnightly Review early in 1876. Morna O'Neill has suggested that this may have had some impact on Crane's choice of subject. Certainly it appeared at the right time, and Crane himself later wrote for the Fortnightly Review. And of course Pater too made an enormous contribution to the Aesthetic movement, very different in kind to Crane's, but no less unique.
This is a subject that tends to go round in circles. Even if Crane never read 'The Myth of Demeter and Persephone', he can hardly have missed Pater's most famous book, Studies in the History of the Renaissance, published in book form in 1873 but based on earlier articles. Two of his subjects, Botticelli and Leonardo, were heroes of the Aesthetic movement, partly due to his and Swinburne's pioneering criticism, but equally to their influence on artists such as Burne-Jones, Simeon Solomon and Crane himself. Botticelli, so famous today, then had the novelty value of an art-historical discovery, as Crane observed when recalling his visit to the Uffizi in 1871. 'Botticelli was not at that time in the honoured places, not having been re-discovered by the critics, but more or less scattered, and sometimes "skyed" in less important rooms, but I shall never forget the charm of his beautiful "Spring" and the "Venus"'. Needless to say, his own Renaissance of Venus treats the same subject as Botticelli's celebrated work, while the influence of the Primavera (fig. 6) on The Fate of Persephone in unmistakable. Comparable in size and shape, the pictures share a freize-like composition and a number of motifs: a central, elegantly posed and draped female figure, a group of three nymphs - whether Graces of Fates - with still more balletic poses, and above all a foreground composed of a greensward powdered with flowers.
This foreground recedes into an Italianate landscape which recalls another of Crane's experiences in Italy. Leighton had introduced him to Giovanni Costa, whom Crane had probably already heard of from George Howard. He and Costa struck up a warm friendship, and Crane's subsequent landscapes bear a close relationship to the work of the Etruscan school, of which Costa was the leading light.
Other debts may exist. Pluto's chariot, for instance, is reminiscent of those in Mantegna's Triumph of Ceasar cartoons at Hampton Court. More important, however, is the flat, decorative quality of the painting, giving it the effect of a tapestry or mural. For all its philosophical dimension, this is painting as craft, a picture designed not to be seen in splendid isolation but to take its place in a decorative ensemble. Hence Crane's talk of a 'decorative school in English painting' being encouraged by the Grosvenor, or his comment in the catalogue of the Fine Art Society exhibition in 1891: 'I do not draw any hard and fast line between pictorial work and other work [ie. his work as a decorative designer] in kind or principle'. Not surprisingly, he was interested in tempera painting, and exhibited a picture in this technique, Truth and the Traveller, at the Grosvenor in 1880. Sometimes his method is far from clear. When Watts bought The Renaissance of Venus, his friend Mrs Russell Barrington wrote to Crane: 'We speculate how far it is tempera and how far oil, will you give us a little light?'. A similar uncertainty exists in the case of Persephone, although Konody (not always a reliable source) lists it as an oil. Crane's interest in the tempera medium was a bond with Spencer Stanhope, one of the first to revive it in England. Discussion on the subject no doubt took place when he visited Stanhope at the Villa Nuti, Stanhope's house at Bellosguardo outside Florence, in 1890. Later still, in 1901, he would join Stanhope and another old friend, Robert Bateman, together with such younger artists as J.E. Southall and J.B. Batten, to found the Society of Painters in tempera.
In view of the complex web of cross-currents within which Crane was working, it was inevitable that some of his peers should attempt the same subject. Burne-Jones's never completed painting for Ruskin has already been mentioned. Leighton exhibited his Return of Persephone (fig. 7) at the Royal Academy in 1891. Although much later than Crane's painting and offering no stylistic comparison, it demonstrates the appeal of the subject to an artist Crane knew and admired. As for D.G. Rossetti's Proserpine (fig. 8), probably the most famous treatment of the theme in Victorian art, this too is by a hero of Crane's. But although it was conceived well before his picture, numerous versions being produced from the early 1870s, again there is no real comparison, either in design or approach. All the focus is on the unhappy heroine, immured in Hades by a husband she longs to escape. The model is Jane Morris, leading many to suggest that the picture reflects the real-life circumstances of the artist and his model.
When Crane's picture was exhibited in 1878, critical response was more mixed than he could have wished. The Times failed to mention it at all, merely stating the obvious fact that Crane belonged to 'the same or a kindred school' as Burne-Jones. The Art Journal was hardly more forthcoming, finding the picture an 'adaequate example' of an artist who was among the 'thoughtful and gifted disciples of this quasi-classic, semi-mystic school'.
As this rather desperate phrase suggests, the Art Journal had never come to terms with Pre-Raphaelitism, and was soon out of its depth in this area. Over the years the Times, too, had been conspicuously hostile to Burne-Jones and his followers. But if Crane was hoping for a more sympathetic response from two critics who had close links with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, W.M. Rossetti and F.G. Stephens, he was to be disappointed.
Rossetti, writing in the Academy, started quite enthusiastically by describing the picture as 'a large work, of considerable pretention and no little achievement'. But he evidently felt that Crane's true direction lay in children's book illustration, and it was a mistake to pursue loftier ambitions. 'We do not think', he continued, 'that (the picture) is quite within the proper range of Mr Crane's faculty: it comes rather too near to classical severity and completeness, and does not sufficiently draw upon those powers of capricious fancy, romantically irresponsible, with which he is so richly endowed'.
F.G. Stephens took a similar line in reviewing 'Mr Crane's large enterprise' in the Athenaeum, but he made matters even worse by indulging in one of those pedantic quibbles which can make Victorian art criticism so tiresome. 'Persephone' he wrote, 'is seized by a very mild young Pluto, younger than any king of Hades we ever saw before, and younger than Pluto ever was, ... (wearing) Mars's helmet, or rather a Roman gladiator's helmet, and holding a lister or trident - the tridens of the retiarius, a weapon usually belonging to Neptune, or to Britannia on old penny-pieces'.
After so many complaints and reservations, it must have been a relief to Crane to know that at least Burne-Jones approved. 'I have not seen many newpaper criticisms of the Grosvenor,' George Howard wrote to him from Venice, 'so I do not know what our instructors say about your work this time, but I heard from Ned Jones, whose opinion we value a little more, who was really greatly pleased with your Persephone'. There is just a hint here, in the ironical use of the word 'instructors' and the suggestion that a fellow artist's opinion is worth more than any professional critic's, that Howard knew Crane was disappointed with press reaction to his picture, and was deliberately relaying a countervailing opinion he was bound to value.
The picture remained on Crane's hands until the early 1890s, when he lent it to the South London Art Gallery in Camberwell. This was opened in 1891, and, rather like the art exhibitions organised in Whitechapel by Canon Barnett, the Warden of Toynbee Hall, was supported by a number of leading artists anxious to help in bringing art to a deprived area. Naturally, it was an enterprise wholly after Crane's heart, and as well as lending Persephone he designed a marquetry panel for the Gallery's floor, inscribed with the hopeful legend: 'The Soul of Art is the Life of a People'. The panel is still in situ, and recently formed the centrepiece of a Crane exhibition.
In fact the Gallery may have felt that it owned the picture since it is listed in a catalogue of 1893 and was described as the Gallery's property when it was lent to an exhibition at Earl's Court in 1897. By 1900, however, it had been withdrawn and included in a large exhibition of Crane's work that was held that year at Budapest. The exhibition was an enormous success, and went on to Vienna, Darmstadt, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt before becoming part of the British section of the great International Exhibition of Modern Art held at Turin in 1902.
Research has yet to show whether Persephone was seen at Turin. Possibly not, since in 1902 it appeared at the Jubilee Exhibition at Karlsruhe, and was acquired by the Kunsthalle, then under the directorship of the symbolist painter Hans Thoma (fig. 9), for its permenant collection. Crane's work had long been popular in Germany. Together with Watts and Burne-Jones, he had shown at the International Exhibition at Berlin in 1886. On that occasion, Leighton had introduced him to the critic Friz Gurlitt, who arranged for him to have a one-man exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Art in Berlin in 1893. In the catalogue, the Museum's director, Peter Jessen, presented Crane as one of the leading decorative artists in England, and Gurlitt himself claimed that his toy books had, in Konody's words 'indirectly reformed the art of Europe' by drawing attention to the artistic movement of which they were a product. What particularly pleased Crane, however, was that the Germans reacted warmly to his paintings, so often coolly received or dismissed in England. No doubt this was, as he said himself, because 'the symbolic and figurative character of their subjects (was) more in sympathy with the Teutonic mind'. Indeed there is often a distinctly Germanic quality to his later allegories and literary inventions, notably a group of Wagnerian subjects - Swan Maidens (1894), Lohengrin (1895), and The Valkyries' Ride (1903) - which followed a visit he paid to Bayreuth in 1893. One of the keenest collectors of his paintings was Ernst Seeger of Berlin, who owned at least six of the most important including The Bridge of Life (fig. 2). Persephone, moreover, was only one of several museum acquisitions; Neptune's Horses was bought for Munich, and A Masque of the Four Seasons for Darmstadt. Hans Thoma seems to have been a great enthusiast. Not only did he buy Persephone for his museum, but another painting, The Mower, for himself. This extraordinary work of 1901, aptly described by Isobel Spencer as showing 'a field of elfin daisies shivering beneath the menacing scythe of Death', is now in the Kunsthalle at Karlsruhe, to which Thoma presumably either gave or sold it.
It is curious that The Mower remains in the collection while The Fate of Persephone was de-accessioned in 1923, eight years after Crane's death and one before Thoma's. It was brought by the Berlin dealer Carl Haberstock for 100 dollars and taken to America , where it was acquired by Brian Hooker. An author, librettist, and Professor of Rhetoric at Yale University, perhaps best known for translating Cyrano de Bergerac, Hooker had long hoped to build a house on Fisher's Island and to hang the picture there; but the project never materialised and in about 1935 he lent it to the Center School, Old Lyme, Connecticut, where his cousin was working as an architect. The picture remained at the school when Hooker died in 1946, and has languished there ever since. It was recently recognised as being of interest by a ten-year old pupil, Bingham Bryant, and identified by his father. Two surviving daughters of Brian Hooker are the vendors.
We are very grateful to Morna O'Neill for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.