JOHN MELHUISH STRUDWICK (1849-1937)
PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848)
A Symphony (England, c.1903)
Oil on canvas
(45.00 inches high)
(26.50 inches wide)
Richard Haworth, Blackburn, circa 1930; sold to:
Mrs Turnbull, Blackpool
By descent to her nephew; sold to:
The Leicester Galleries; sold to:
In its original gilt frame
London, The New Gallery, 1903
Description / Expertise
Strudwick was one of the most accomplished of Burne-Jones's followers. He painted legendary and symbolic subjects with a lapidary technique and a style that derives from the Italian quattrocento. Despite this, he never visited Italy.
In the early 1870's, when he was briefly studio assistant to Burne-Jones, he developed his distinctive style, which never altered. Like most artists in Burne-Jones's circle, he exhibited chiefly at the Grosvenor Gallery and the New Gallery, but his output was very small because his technique was so meticulous (there are no more than 35 oil paintings recorded).
Throughout his life Strudwick worked on a series of paintings, which take music as their central theme. A Symphony is among the culminating examples of these works, which also include The Gentle Music of a Bygone Day (1890, Private Collection), When Apples were Golden (1906, Manchester City Art Gallery) and closest precedent to the present work St Cecilia (1897, private collection) which exists in a number of versions.
Significantly in the present painting Strudwick has eliminated any reference to a story or individuals so that the musical theme stands alone. Music was the central metaphor in the aesthetic movement for the direct way in which paintings affected the spectator's emotions through their design and colour. Many artists in this movement made musical references in their works. It is noteworthy that Whistler titled his paintings Harmonies and Symphonies.
A Symphony shows how Strudwick attains an evocative mood outside everyday reality through pictorial inventiveness. In 1891 he was the subject of a pioneering article in the Art Journal by George Bernard Shaw:
No matter how minutely a painter copies a model in the costume of a certain period, with appropriate furniture and accessories, his labour is as nothing compared to that of a man who creates his figures and invents all the circumstances and accessories. This is what Strudwick does.(1)
In the present painting, by drawing directly onto the canvas and then building up a series of thin glowing glazes in the Pre-Raphaelite manner, Strudwick creates both a richness and delicacy.
1. George Bernard Shaw, J. M. Strudwick, Art Journal (1891), pages 97-101.