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Lot 238: Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931)
THE FORBES COLLECTION OF VICTORIAN PICTURES AND WORKS OF ART
February 19, 2003
London, United Kingdom
Description: Alleluya oil on canvas 20 x 261/4 in. (50.8 x 66.7 cm.) PROVENANCE with the Fine Art Society, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1984. EXHIBITION Childhood in Victorian England, 1985, no. 17. Victorian Childhood, 1986, cat. pl. 38. The Heatherley School of Fine Art: 150th Anniversary Exhibition, 1996, no. 85. NOTES Alleluya is either a study for, or a reduced detail of, a larger canvas of the same title, peopled with more figures, and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1896, no. 374. It was later purchased by the Chantrey Bequest and can now be seen in Tate Britain. It was accompanied when exhibited by verses 6 and 7 from Psalm XLVII: 'Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding'. Our picture features two of the girls who appear in in the centre of the lowest row of choristers in the larger work (see fig. 1). The Athenaeum pronounced the figures in the fuller composition to be 'fresh, original,... lifelike..., and pure... The faces resemble those in old Flemish pictures; they have the veracity of portraits, and in the differing dresses of the girls there is a curious reminiscence of the naive simplicity of Rogier van der Weyden and his followers.' Alleluya can be regarded as the culmination of a series of paintings executed after Gotch's visit to Florence in 1891-2. Italy awakened in him a keen sense of colour, and works executed after this date such as The Child Enthroned, of his daughter Phyllis, dressed in the richest of brocades, owe a stylistic debt to the Madonnas of sixteenth century Venice. In this and similar pictures the female ideal is elevated, and the allusion to the conventions of fifteenth century iconography in both Flemish and Italian painting evoke a symbolic and spiritual effect. They also recall works executed thirty years previously by the stars of the Grosvenor Gallery, Burne-Jones, and Albert Joseph Moore. Like the pictures of those two masters, Alleluya is an exercise in formal values, a decorative ensemble in the aesthetic style. The narrative content is limited, and the colour scheme is all important. Moreover the theme of music is intrinsic to the picture's power. Music, being the most abstract of the arts, had long been regarded in the nineteenth century as a test of aesthetic probity. In an essay on 'The School of Giorgione' in The Renaissance of 1873, Walter Pater wrote 'It is the art of music which most completely realises this artistic ideal, this perfect identification of form and matter, therefore, to the condition of its perfect moments, all the arts may be supposed constantly to tend and aspire'. Whistler took immense care over his colour harmonies, and emphasised the connection between art and music by giving his pictures appelations such as harmony, symphony and nocturne. Burne-Jones also emphasised musical analogies in Music of 1876 (private collection) and The Hours, exhibited in 1883 (Sheffield Art Gallery), in which colour harmonies form the raison d'ˆtre of each picture, and the characters play musical instruments, again to emphasise the connection between the two arts. Gotch can be seen as heir to this tradition, and his work was welcomed by the critic A.L. Baldry, as representing at the turn of the century, the rarest phase of contemporary painting, classified by him as 'imaginative symbolism'. Baldry welcomed it as a relief 'from the skilful depiction of commonplace scenes of momentary importance', and from 'the photographic representation of a saddening episode' so frequently depicted in Victorian painting. The simplicity and unashamedly decorative interest of these works was also appreciated by the public and they enjoyed huge popularity, many being bought by civic collections. It is perhaps for his symbolist works that Gotch is now best remembered, but it is interesting to note that through his friendship with Henry Scott Tuke (see lot 23) he became one of the founder members of the Newlyn School. Though born in Kettering, and resident for a time in Hampstead, Gotch spent much time in the Cornish fishing village for the sake of his wife's health. There, Mrs Gotch, who had met her husband while they were both attending art school in Paris, proved an excellent hostess for the artistic community, despite being described as 'very aesthetic and untidy' by Stanhope Forbes. Forbes was later to remind an audience in Penzance how 'Gotch was busy making angels of some of the fairest of your girls, clothing them in lovely silks and damasks'. With Forbes, Gotch was responsible for the formation of the New English Art Club in 1886, and his exhibited works won medals in Paris, Berlin and Chicago. His ideal depictions of serenity and youth have ensured him enduring international appeal.