ARTHUR HUGHES (1832-1915)
PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848)
Beauty and the Beast (England, 1863 - 1865)
Oil on canvas
Signed Arthur Hughes lower left
Purchased from the artist in March 1865 by Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell
Patrick Robinson by 1966
By descent in the family to 2004
Fortnightly Review, 1 August 1865, page 673
Athenaeum, 6 May 1865, page 628
The Times, 8 May 1865, page 8
Fraser's Magazine, June 1865, page 758
Mss. letter from Arthur Hughes to James Leathart, late March 1865: Windsor Lodge. Mr. Bell called and seemed to decide upon having the little picture of the girl in white dress - have you heard of this? – but did not mention money matters & I fear to ask him
Mss. letter from Arthur Hughes to James Leathart, 17 April 1865: Windsor Lodge. I have sent Mr. Bell a Pall Mall Gazette in which his and your pictures are named.
Roger Lancelyn Green (editor), The Diaries of Lewis Carroll, Cassell 1953, page 201 and page 232: Spent the morning at the Royal Academy… My favourites are Hughes's…'Beauty' (Mary MacDonald) (4 July 1865)
Francis Turner Palgrave, Essays on Art, Macmillan 1866, page 110
William Raeper, George MacDonald, Lion, Tring 1987, page 172
Dianne Sachko Macleod, Private and Public Patronage in Victorian Newcastle, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 1989, volume 52, page 198
Leonard Roberts, Arthur Hughes His Life & Work. A Catalogue Raisonné, Antique Collectors Club 1997, page 161, catalogue number 63
London, Royal Academy, 1865, number 190
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Paintings and Other Works of Art in the Town Hall, September-October 1866, number 135
Description / Expertise
Arthur Hughes’s superlative Pre-Raphaelite visions, Ophelia (1851-3) and April Love (1856), had won him the respect of the Pre-Raphaelite circle and most importantly Rossetti, whose love of medieval romance and ancient myths he idealised. Hughes’s poetic paintings of the 1860's, however, were enriched by his friendship with the Scottish novelist and writer of fairytales, George MacDonald, whom he first met in 1859. On a private and spiritual level, George MacDonald and Arthur Hughes shared a heart-felt love of fairytales and folk-tales, which they considered a necessary antidote to Victorian materialism. As G.K. Chesterton writes, MacDonald did really believe that people were princesses and goblins and good fairies. Hughes, as an ardent admirer of the symbolism and childlike innocence of MacDonald’s magical fireside tales, illustrated many of his books and it was these exquisite illustrations that had first attracted the attention of the young Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). Carroll became a family friend and ‘Uncle’ to Hughes’s children and photographed the family at their new home in Wandsworth in 1863. He had been involved in Beauty and the Beast from the very start (31st July 1863) when he accompanied MacDonald’s daughter, Mary, to Hughes’s studio.
Hughes had chosen Mary MacDonald as the model for Beauty. The subject for the painting came from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s classic eighteenth century fairytale, La Belle et la Bête. The origins of the story can be traced to Lucius Apuleius’s Cupid and Psyche (2nd Century AD). Psyche, the third and most beautiful daughter of the King, is cursed by Venus to fall in love with the most miserable creature living, the most poor, the most crooked, and the most vile, that there may be none found in all the world of like wretchedness. The earliest version of La Belle et la Bête was written by Madame Villeneuve in 1740, a story laced with Baroque theatrical extravaganzas, very different to de Beaumont’s more straightforward interpretation. Hughes depicts the scene in de Beaumont’s tale in which Beauty is granted a week of freedom from the Beast’s enchanted castle to spend with her beloved father. She awakes to find a chest of beautifully embroidered gowns of jewel-like colours, a gift from the Beast, although in her modesty she chooses the plainest:
“You shall be there tomorrow morning”, said the Beast,“but remember your promise. You need only lay your ring on a table before you go to bed, when you have a mind to come back. Farewell Beauty.” Beast sighed, as usual, bidding her good night, and Beauty went to bed very sad at seeing him so afflicted. When she waked the next morning, she found herself at her father’s, and having rung a little bell, that was by her bedside, she saw the maid come, who, the moment she saw her, gave a loud shriek, at which the good man ran up stairs, and thought he should have died with joy to see his dear daughter again. He held her fast locked in his arms above a quarter of an hour. As soon as the first transports were over, Beauty began to think of rising, and was afraid she had no clothes to put on; but the maid told her, that she had just found, in the next room, a large trunk full of gowns, covered with gold and diamonds. Beauty thanked good Beast for his kind care, and taking one of the plainest of them, she intended to make a present of the others to her sisters. She scarce had said so when the trunk disappeared. Her father told her, that Beast insisted on her keeping them herself, and immediately both gowns and trunk came back again.
Hughes had chosen this particular passage to emphasise humility and avoidance of vanity. He had just returned from a ‘grand tour’, which had been funded by his wealthy new patron John Hamilton Trist. He had marvelled at the fashions, art and architecture in the medieval towns of Nuremberg, Cologne, Verona, Padua and, most importantly, Venice, describing the church of San Marco as a fairy palace out of the Arabian Nights. In addition, in Venice he admired and studied the works of Bellini with their ‘great colour’ and ‘understanding of texture’. Here was the inspiration for the Beast’s gifts of rich fabrics, extraordinary gowns and magnificent jewellery.