Saturday, 23 May 2015

'Lost' pictures by Marie Spartali

Marie Spartali Stillman's exhibition record stretches from 1867 to 1922 and in that period she exhibited around 150 works whose titles and ante quem dates are known.   Although it's been assumed she was generally 'unsuccessful' in seldom selling her pictures, in fact a large proportion were sold.  There are few records of the purchasers, however, and many of the paintings that are now known passed down through the families of her daughter and  son. Which leaves a good number of documented but now lost works whose location is currently unknown. 

One of these, newly identified as Luisa Strozzi, exhibited in 1884, priced at 80 guineas, has recently surfaced through a bequest in Canada.  Fruit of the artist's residence in Florence, and her knowledge of a tragic historical story, this features a Renaissance half-length woman, with the Palazzo Strozzi in the background.  Sadly, this emerged too late for the forthcoming Delaware Art Museum exhibition, which nevertheless includes a good few works that have rarely been seen since Marie's death.

copyright Delaware Art Museum 
Two more tableaux perdus are known from contemporary photographs.  Both were among Spartali's most-acclaimed works and if re-discovered will instate her fully within the Pre-Raphaelite canon, for both invoke the Italianate world inspired by the poetry of Dante and Boccaccio, showing imagined figures from that fictional world and are painted with all appropriate refinement.    That on the right depicts Fiammetta, Boccacio's inamorata, referring to his 'last sight' of her;  that below a scene from Dante's Vita Nuova, showing the poet, Eros, Beatrice and her companion Giovanna.
copyright Delaware Art Museum

A third  painting, this time known from an illustration, depicts another scene from La Vita Nuova, showing Dante overcome with emotion, trembling and faint, at the sight of Beatrice among a gathering at the house of a newly-wed couple. 

If  any of these - or any other 'missing' pictures - should come to your attention, please let us know.  It has been rewarding to reconstruct Spartali's career and start a serious assessment that takes it beyond 'talented amateur, better known as model'.  But a lot remains to be learnt and found.

More details of the  exhibition here

The catalogue, Poetry in Beauty :  The Pre-Raphaelite Art of Marie Spartali Stillman
2015 [ ISBN 978-0-996-06761-4 ]  is now in production by Marquand Books for Delaware Art Museum

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