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The Choice of Paris: An Idyll

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    England (probably, made)

  • Date:

    1860 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Claxton, Florence (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour, heightened with gold paint and gum arabic

  • Museum number:

    E.1224-1989

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS, case rack, shelf 104, box r

Florence Anne Claxton produced this watercolour as a satire on the work and ideas of the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of painters who were active between 1848 and 1853. It caused a sensation when it was exhibited at the Portland Gallery in London (where the Pre-Raphaelites themselves had exhibited), and it was reproduced as a full-page spread in The Illustrated London News, a high-circulation national weekly magazine. The satire is packed with references to members of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and their paintings. Here the artist John Everett Millais (1829-1896) plays the part of Paris choosing the most beautiful of the ‘Three Graces’. He is awarding the golden apple to an angular, medieval-style figure who represents the Pre-Raphaelite ideal. The 'truth-to-nature' concept that formed the basis of most Pre-Raphaelite art is parodied by the man examining the surface of the outside wall with opera glasses.

Physical description

Claxton, the daughter of a painter, produced this watercolour as a satire on the work and ideas of the Pre-Raphaelites. It caused a sensation when it was exhibited at the Portland Gallery (where the Pre-Raphaelites themselves had exhibited), and was reproduced as a full-page spread in the Illustrated London News, a high-circulation national weekly magazine. The satire is packed with references to the PRB painters and their pictures. Millais plays the part of Paris choosing the most beautiful from the three graces, and is awarding the golden apple, not to a Raphaelesque Madonna or a contemporary contender, but to an angular medieval figure who represents the Pre-Raphaelite ideal. The 'truth-to-nature' precept is parodied by the man examining the surface of the outside wall with opera glasses.

Place of Origin

England (probably, made)

Date

1860 (painted)

Artist/maker

Claxton, Florence (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour, heightened with gold paint and gum arabic

Marks and inscriptions

FLORENCE CLAXTON
Signed in capitals

As a cock was scratching in a farm-yard he came upon a jewel. "Oh", said he, "You're a very fine thing no doubt, but, give me a barley-corn before all the pearls in the world". Aesop
Inscribed

Dimensions

Height: 26.8 cm from catalogue, Width: 37.8 cm from catalogue, Height: 435 mm gilt frame, Width: 535 mm gilt frame, Depth: 35 mm gilt frame

Object history note

Provenance: Sotheby's, Nineteenth Century European Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 20 June 1989, lot 28.

The original version of this work was exhibited at the Institution of Fine Arts at the Portland Gallery, London, in 1860 (no.176, price 12-12-0, now collection of W E Fredeman) and was engraved for The Illustrated London News XXXVI (2 June 1860) p.541, with an explanatory text on p.542; another explanatory text, framed, was purchased with the watercolour (E.1224a-1989). Fredeman reproduces a third version (present whereabouts unknown). There are several differences in detail between the three versions and the engraving. The work satirises the archaising and "truth to nature" principles of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their circle. In particular, it parodies paintings from 1848 to 1859 by Holman Hunt (the Light of the World, Claudio and Isabella, the Scapegoat, The Hireling Sheperd, the Awakening Conscious), Brett (The Stonebreaker), Millais (the Blind Girl, Apple Blossoms, The Vale of Rest, A Dream of the Past, Isabella), Calderon (Broken Vows), Windus (Burd Helen), Deverall (A Pet), William Henry Hunt (Oyster Shell and Onion) and Ford Madox Brown (Christ Washing Peter's Feet). Among other episodes are - principally - Millais as Paris awarding the golden apple to a Pre-Raphaelite beauty rather that Raphael's Madonna (taken from the Brera Marriage of the Virgin) or a woman in contemporary dress; the portraits of Raphael, Reynolds and Van Dyck hung facing the wall and above those of Millais, Ruskin amd P T Barnum; a haloed man peering at a woman's toe-nails through a magnifying glass; a figure labelled 'Middle Ages' closing the back door on a classiclly-robed figure (taken from Raphael's Sistine Chapel tapestry cartoons); a man examining the outside wall through an opera-glass.

Descriptive line

Watercolour by Florence Claxton, 'the Choice of Paris: An Idyll', 1860

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

William E Fredman, 'Pre-Raphaelites in Caricature: 'The Choice of Paris: An Idyll' by Florence Claxton', Burlington Magazine CII (December 1960), pp.523-9, repro. two other versions.
Colin Cruise Pre-Raphaelite Drawing London: Thames & Hudson, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-7093-0264-3
105
Tim Barringer, Jason Rosenfeld, Alison Smith, London, Tate Publishing: 2012. ISBN: 978-1-84976-015-7.
Cat.59; p.83

Subjects depicted

Clothing; Interiors; Paintings; Satire

Categories

Drawings; Paintings; Caricatures & Cartoons

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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