St Cecilia was a Roman virgin martyr who lived in the 2nd or 3rd century AD. Her relics, believed to be genuine, are preserved in the church of S. Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome, which is of very early foundation. According to legend, she rejected the sound of musical instruments that greeted her as she went to her wedding, saying that she had ears only for the celestial music that required her to be stainless in body and soul. Ever since this story gained currency in the 15th century, she has been cast in the role of music's patron saint, often being shown playing an organ or other instrument.
In Appleyard's picture, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1903, the Saint has fallen asleep at her organ, watched over by a guardian angel and surrounded by such appropriate symbols as an open book of devotion and a discarded jewel-box. The artist was certainly familiar with Tennyson's account of the subject in his poem 'The Palace of Art', quoting it in the R.A. catalogue:
Or in a clear-wall'd city on the sea,
Near gilded organ-pipes, her hair
Wound with white roses, slept St Cecily;
An angel look'd at her,
and he probably knew D. G. Rossetti's illustration to this passage in the famous Moxon edition of Tennyson's works (1857). In each of these the iconography of his own picture is strikingly anticipated. Nor can he have missed J. W. Waterhouse's version, itself indebted to Tennyson and Rossetti. One of the artist's masterpieces, which was to establish his record price of £6 million when sold in these Rooms on 14 June 2000, the picture had appeared at the Royal Academy in 1895, only eight years before Appleyard's canvas was shown at the same venue.
Appleyard was born in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, the son of an iron-merchant. Having studied at Scarborough art school and the National Art Training School at South Kensington, he entered the Royal Academy Schools in July 1897; Frank Cadogan Cowper (see lot 52) and E. H. Shepard, the future illustrator of Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows, enrolled on the same day. Lord Leighton, the President who had wielded such authority in the late Victorian period, had died the previous year, but the academic tradition that Leighton had embodied still flourished. William Blake Richmond, Hubert von Herkomer and Val Prinsep were successively Professors of Painting during Appleyard's five years as an RA student. J. W. Waterhouse, whose St Cecilia seems to have impressed him so forcibly, also taught him, as did E. A. Abbey, Luke Fildes, Frank Dicksee, John Singer Sargent and others.
Appleyard was a brilliant student, carrying off all the prizes and winning the annual competition to encourage mural painting in 1899. Having made his debut at the summer exhibiton with the award-winning design, he was commissioned by the Council to paint a mural in the Academy's Refreshment Room, part of the extension to the premises that Norman Shaw had carried out in 1885. Completed in 1902, the work survived an attempt to obliterate it in the 1930s and is still in place today.
Appleyard continued to enjoy a successful career. He had pictures bought for the Chantrey Bequest and for museums at Bath, Bristol, Rochdale, Doncaster and Grahamstown, South Africa, where he lived from 1910 to 1912. Somewhat surprisingly, he was never even an associate member of the RA, although his work appeared at Burlington House for many years. He also supported the big regional exhibitions in Liverpool and Glasgow, and was a member of the Royal West of England Academy from 1926.
Like so many artists of his generation, brought up to paint subject pictures only to find that by the turn of the century these were no longer in fashion, Appleyard was eventually forced to diversify, moving into such relatively accessible areas as portraiture and landscape. His later landscapes are attractive works in a quasi-impressionist style, and many hedge their bets by introducing an element of symbolism, with vaguely religious of mythological figures and settings found among the ruins of Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire. Having spent his early life in London, Appleyard had settled nearby at Alresford in 1910, and it was there that he died in 1963 at the age of eighty-eight.