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The British Sale
Lot 317: f - ARTHUR HUGHES 1832-1915
SIGNED AND DATED (MAKER'S MARKS)
signed l.l.: Arthur Hughes
A beautiful young maiden turns with a look of yearning gratitude, to face a victorious knight resplendent in his armour who has vanquished the villain who threatened her purity. The opponent lies lifeless in the stream beneath an ancient bridge where the joust has recently taken place, and the breath of valiant knight's horse still heated from the combat, hangs in the chill autumn air. This is the moment of anticipation between the fight and the moment when the knight which take the indebted maiden in his arms.
The subject of The Overthrowing of the Rusty Knight is taken from Tennyson's tale of medieval romance and chivalry, Gareth and Lynette and the moment depicted is immediately following the hero Gareth's victory over the tyrant Evening, who had captured Lynette and tied her to a tree. The poem Gareth and Lynette was written in 1872 for The Idylls of the King, the most influential modern reinterpretation of Arthurian legend of the Nineteenth Century and one of Tennyson's most widely illustrated texts.
Gareth the son of Lot and Bellicent, and the beautiful maid Lynette, are the main protagonists in Tennyson's tale of the kitchen knave who wins the heart of the beautiful and high-born Enid, whom he saves from the rusty knight, encouraged by Enid's words; "Well done, knave-knight, well stricken, O good knight-knave, O knave, as noble as any of all the knights, Shame me not, shame me not. I have prophesied, Strike, thou art worthy of the Table Round, His arms are old, he trusts the hardened skin, Strike--strike--the wind will never change again." Tennyson leaves the conclusion of the romance enigmatic and we are unsure whether Lynette and Gareth are eventually united and live happily ever after, the last lines of the poem reading, 'And he that told the tale in older times, Says that Sir Gareth wedded Lyonors, But he, that told it later, says Lynette.'
Hughes had been interested in tales of Medieval romance since the 1850s when he contributed to the famous decoration of the Oxford Union Murals, with his The Death of Arthur, and notable examples of paintings based upon episodes from Tennyson's poetry of knights and maidens include La Belle Dame Sans Merci of 1861-3 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne), Enid and Geraint of 1859 (private collection) and The Lady of Shallot of 1872-3 (private collection). Hughes typically chose the moments of hightened emotional charge in which hearts pound with desire as lovers embrace or break at the moment of parting. With The Overthrowing of the Rusty Knight, which was begun around 1894 but not completed until 1908, the tension is caught between the archetypes of medieval romance, the knight and the pure hearted and the virtuous maiden. This idea of 'historic' chivalry was a theme which counteracted the socio-realist dramas which vied for attention in the same exhibitions. Chivalric paintings, writings and theatrical performances offered the Victorian audience an escape to an imagined age of romance.
The Overthrowing of the Rusty Knight appears to have been inspired by Frank Dicksee's Chivalry of 1887 which in turn had been suggested by Millais' The Knight Errant. The subject of chivalrous knights and bound damsels was popular for Victorian artists and had its classical counterpart in the story of Perseus and Andromeda. Hughes painted another similar subject of a knight rescuing innocent children from the clutches of a dragon in his triptych of 1907-8 entitled The Rescue (now dismantled and separated). Hughes' work on The Rescue may have determined him to take up the incomplete The Overthrowing of the Rusty Knight.
Hughes painted the bridge and the background at Ashness Bridge near Derwentwater and a similar bridge appears in Sir Galahad of 1865-70 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).
Dimensions: 52 1/2 by 43 cm. ; 20 3/4 by 17 in.
Exhibited: London, New Gallery, Summer Exhibition, 1908, no.49, £31 10s
Literature: Leonard Roberts, Arthur Hughes - His Life and Works, 1997, cat no. 300, pg. 221, colour plate 100
Medium: oil on panel
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