Saturday, February 26, 2011

Venus in Peril: Captive Andromeda by Arthur Hill

Captive Andromeda (1876)

For Victorian painters seeking to make their nudes socially acceptable the classical world was a wonderful justification for depicting naked women.  Even better, for all sorts of reasons, if they could depict a naked chained woman, hence the popularity of Andromeda as a subject.  We have already looked at two examples by Delacroix and Takanen.

A Piper, Arthur Hill

Here is an example by the English artist Arthur Hill, about whom very little is known except that he specialised in classical nudes as well as landscapes and portraits.  His style is like a combination of Alma-Tadema, although with less architecture (Hill reduces the classical elements to small background items) and Poynter, who produced his own Andromeda a few years before this one (which we will look at another time).

Before the Bath (1880), Arthur Hill

Hill's dates are not known although he was active between 1858 and 1893. He worked in Nottingham and London and exhibited at the Royal Academy.  

William Russell-Cotes and his wife Annie on their wedding day, 1860

This picture was owned by the remarkable Victorian collector Sir Merton Russell-Cotes (1835-1921).  Russell-Cotes was born in Staffordshire but his father died when he was seven and he was brought up by his sister and her husband in Glasgow.  Russell-Cotes started in the wine and hotel trade in Glasgow and in 1875, having been unwell and seeking a more temperate climate than Dublin, where he had been living since moving from Scotland, he bought the Bath Hotel in Bournemouth.  After extensive renovation it re-opened in 1880 as the Royal Bath Hotel and was an immense success, hosting the likes of The Prince of Wales, Disraeli and Oscar Wilde.  Russell-Cotes made a great deal of money and was able to indulge his passion for art, which he hung in his hotel.

Russel-Cotes and his wife at home in the Royal Bath Hotel with part of his collection

Apart from pictures by Hill he owned works by Corot, Turner, Alma-Tadema,  Edwin Long, Landseer, Albert Moore, Leighton, Rosetti, Etty and many, many more.  He had a significant collection of nudes which, he recorded, often aroused scandalised comment. 

The main Hall at East Cliff Hall, 1907

Some commentators have identified a sado-masochistic approach to items in his collection but, in fact, Russell-Cotes was a significant patron of women artists which tends to a suggest a less sensationalist view of women. Russell-Cotes also had a significant collection of the then popular orientalist picture and in this category had another Hill, The Egyptian Water Carrier.

The Egyptian Water Carrier

In 1894 he became Mayor of Bournemouth and made plans for his house, East Cliff Hall, which was designed to house his collection and  is now the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, where his collection can now be seen (including Captive Andromeda). 

East Cliff Hall in 1907
His collection became so large, even though he sold around a third of it off at Christies in 1905, that  a major extension had to be added to the to the house but this was done after he had given both his collection and East Cliff Hall to the municipality.  He was allowed to continue living there until he died in 1921. Today it is a rare, surviving Victorian collectors house.

East Cliff Hall and the gallery extension which opened in 1919

When it was first exhibited the reviewers saw no dubious elements in a naked, chained girl (or if they did they did not admit to them!).  The Art Journal in 1875 (Hill revised the picture afterwards, hence the 1876 date) said that "Hill makes a by no means unsuccessful dash at the female nude, and has been able to appropriate it to a picture at once classic in tone and chaste in sentiment".

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