The Choice of Paris: An Idyll thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS , Case R, Shelf 104, Box L

The Choice of Paris: An Idyll

Watercolour
1860 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour, heightened with gold paint and gum arabic
Brief Description
Watercolour by Florence Claxton, 'the Choice of Paris: An Idyll', 1860
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.
Dimensions
  • From catalogue height: 26.8cm
  • From catalogue width: 37.8cm
  • Gilt frame height: 435mm
  • Gilt frame width: 535mm
  • Gilt frame depth: 35mm
Styles
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)
Object history
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.
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.
Bibliographic References
  • 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.
  • 105Colin Cruise Pre-Raphaelite Drawing London: Thames & Hudson, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-7093-0264-3
  • Cat.59; p.83Tim Barringer, Jason Rosenfeld, Alison Smith, London, Tate Publishing: 2012. ISBN: 978-1-84976-015-7.
Collection
Accession Number
E.1224-1989

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record createdDecember 15, 1999
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