viernes, 29 de septiembre de 2017

LUNA || Christa Zaat

Christa Zaat

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Edward Burne-Jones (British painter and designer) 1833 - 1898
Luna , 1872-75
oil on canvas
101 x 71 cm. (39.75 x 28.0 in.)
signed with monogram 'EBJ' l.r.
private collection

Although at first sight this picture may seem uncharacteristic of Burne-Jones, it does in fact belong to a group of works dating from the early 1870s in which he explored the idea of an allegorical female figure floating in the night sky. The first was The Evening Star, or Vesper as the artist himself called it (private collection), a watercolour of 1870 that was bought by his friend and patron George Howard, later Earl of Carlisle. This was swiftly followed by a comparable watercolour, Night (Lloyd Webber Collection), painted for the Manchester businessman Frederick Craven, to which Burne-Jones added a pendant, an altered version of Howard's Evening Star (same collection), in 1872. Luna was the last of these paintings, and the only one in oil. First mentioned in Burne-Jones's autograph work-record in that year ('an oil picture of Luna - in tones of blue'), it was not completed until 1875.

It is sometimes argued that Burne-Jones's interest in these figures betrays the influence of his early mentor George Frederic Watts, whose obsession with cosmic imagery is well known, but as Luna itself suggests, the older artist may equally well have owed something to Burne-Jones. It is fascinating to compare the picture with Watts's Hope, perhaps his single most famous composition, which also shows a female figure seated on a globe and is conceived in muted shades of grey and blue. Although the idea of painting an allegory of Hope may have been in Watts's mind as early as the 1840s, the composition he eventually evolved post-dates the execution of Luna, the two large versions (Tate Britain and private collection) being painted in 1885-1886.

Luna was first exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1878. Situated in Bond Street and conceived as a liberal alternative to the nearby Royal Academy, the Grosvenor had held its inaugural exhibition the previous year. The eight large paintings shown by Burne-Jones had caused a sensation, bringing him fame overnight, and in 1878, anxious to keep up the momentum, he contributed a further eleven works. All except one were displayed as a group in what one critic called 'the place of honour' in the East Gallery. The two most important were a pair of large Giorgionesque compositions, Le Chant d'Amour (Metropolitan Museum, New York) and Laus Veneris (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle), both painted for William Graham, the wealthy Glasgow merchant and former member of parliament who was the artist's most devoted patron. Luna, which hung directly above Laus Veneris, was among the smaller works.

Inevitably, the press tended to go for size; Laus Veneris, a canvas inspired by the Tannhäuser legend remarkable alike for its sumptuous colouring and mood of erotic languor, attracted particular attention from the critics. But Luna was not overlooked altogether. Perhaps the most appreciative comment came from William Michael Rossetti, the younger brother of Burne-Jones's master Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who reviewed the Grosvenor exhibition in The Academy. He found the picture 'a lovely colour-invention of veiled though brilliant blue tints', adding that 'the curled female form, with drapery clouding the face', was 'charmingly apposite'.

Luna was brought by Alexander (Alecco) Ionides (1840-1898), the youngest brother of Constantine Ionides, who owned the Rossetti drawing in the present sale (lot 91). As a young man Alecco and another brother, Luke, had belonged to the so-called 'Paris Gang', the bohemian set of art students and their friends later immortalised in George du Maurier's novel Trilby (1894). However, it was not until he took over the parental home, 1 Holland Park in North Kensington, that he was able to show his mettle as a man of taste. During the 1880s he transformed this conventional Victorian mansion into one of the great Aesthetic houses of the day, calling on the resources of the architect Philip Webb and two of the most prominent exponents of the Arts and Crafts movement, William Morris and Walter Crane. Their rich yet restrained decorative schemes were the showcase for an eclectic collection of bronzes, Tanagra statuettes, Persian and Chinese ceramics, Japanese lacquer and so on, while the walls were adorned with paintings by Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Whistler, Alphonse Legros, Henri Fantin-Latour and others. As a contemporary critic put it in an article on the house in The Studio (1898), the whole ensemble demonstrated 'the harmony of complexity ', and had 'the splendour of an old silk rug'.

In fact the house was the subject of several articles, and in a photograph which illustrates another, published in The Art Journal in 1893, Luna is seen hanging in one of two interconnecting drawing-rooms on the first floor (fig. 1). Ionides owned four works by Burne-Jones in all, and a second, Pan and Psyche (private collection), appears on the adjoining wall. Morris was responsible for the room's wallpaper, carpet, curtains, and ceiling decoration. Three fine Damascus tiles hang above the window, and beneath the pictures stands a grand piano designed by Burne-Jones, made by Broadwood, and decorated in gesso relief by Kate Faulkner, another member of the Morris circle. This piano is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Overall, the room was conceived as a chromatic harmony of blues, greys and greens, and with this Luna could not have been more in keeping. Alecco did not have long to enjoy his great achievement. By 1897 his money had run out and Luna, Pan and Psyche and other pictures were sent for sale anonymously at Christie's. Luna failed to find a buyer, and was inherited by his widow when Alecco died the following year. Thus it was she who lent it to Burne-Jones's memorial exhibition, which took place at the New Gallery in the winter of 1898-1899, the artist himself having died the previous June. It had already appeared in his retrospective show held at the same venue in 1892-1893.

The picture fared better when Mrs Ionides re-offered it at Christie's in March 1902; it was bought by Agnew, probably on commission for Robert Henry Benson (1850-1929), who was its next owner. One of the outstanding collectors of his day, noted in particular for his old masters, Benson had known Burne-Jones and was an ardent admirer of his work. He had already bought Alecco's Pan and Psyche, which did sell in 1897, and was thus able to reunite two works that had hung almost side by side in the Ionides collection.

Luna did not appear in the sale of Benson's modern pictures held at Christie's two months after his death in April 1929. In fact it was lost sight of for many years, and as recently as last summer an exhibition catalogue referred to it as 'missing'. Nearly all Burne-Jones's paintings have been traced since the long eclipse of his reputation ended in the 1960s. This was one of the few that remained elusive, and for students of his work its rediscovery is a major event.

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