Catalogue entry

T02103 STUDY FOR ‘CHRIST AND THE WOMAN OF SAMARIA’ c. 1827–1828

Pen and sepia ink on paper, 4 3/16 × 5 7/16 (10.7 × 13.9)
Purchased at Sotheby's (Grant-in-Aid) 1976
Prov: as for T02102; sold Sotheby's 18 November 1976 (183, repr.), bt. John Baskett for the Tate Gallery.

From the same ‘book of early scraps’ as T.2102. This drawing, formerly pasted on to a page inscribed ‘first sketch for Picture of Woman of Samaria’, is a study for the painting (15 3/4 × 19 ins.) exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1828 (283), presented by the artist's family in 1897 to the Tate Gallery, and now No.1492 in the collection. In the finished painting, the slightly slouched posture of Christ in the study is corrected to a nobler pose, the Woman also becomes more graceful, meticulously-painted flowers replace the rather scraggy shrub in front of the well and in the background, the distant city, of ‘Moorish’ aspect in the drawing, acquires Gothic spires and belfries.

The influence of William Blake, who died less than a year before the painting was exhibited, pervades Richmond's study. Details such as the ripening corn beside Christ and the grazing sheep behind the Woman are borrowed almost directly from Blake. In the figures themselves, Richmond has evidently aspired to the ‘intense, soul-evidencing attitude and action’ which Samuel Palmer praised in Blake's figure-drawing, and which Blake himself derived from engravings after Michelangelo.

Though ‘Christ and the Woman of Samaria’ (from the Gospel according to St. John 4:5–42) is not known to be a subject Blake himself depicted, it was evidently one which interested Palmer and (particularly) Linnell as well as Richmond. Palmer, in a note addressed probably to Linnell in May 1826, wrote ‘If, happening at any time to lay your hands on the prints from M. Angelo, of Christ and the woman at the well or the Conversion of St. Paul, you would lay them by, I should be delighted by a sight of them’ (The Letters of Samuel Palmer, ed. Raymond Lister, 1974, I, pp.10–11). Possibly Palmer thought of painting the subject himself (though no treatment of it by him is now known). Certainly it seems likely that he discussed both the subject and Michelangelo's representation of it with Richmond, his ‘dear friend’ and at this period his close associate. While details of Richmond's drawing are Blakeian, his composition is largely based on Beatrizet's engraving of the ‘Christ and the Woman of Samaria’ drawn c. 1542 by Michelangelo for Vittoria Colonna, but since lost (a copy in bistro over gesso on panel, by an unknown hand, probably based on the engraving, could have been known to Richmond, but this is unlikely: it belonged briefly to William Young Ottley (for four months in 1811, when Richmond was two years old), to William Roscoe 1811–6 and then to Dr Traill, who presented it in 1819 to the Liverpool Royal Institution; it is now no.2789 in the collection of the Walker Art Gallery).

On 8 April 1828 Richmond recorded in his diary ‘Sent to the Exhibition my Picture of the “Woman of Samaria”, which was hung on the line!’ (A.M.W. Stirling, The Richmond Papers, 1926, p.30). No comment on it has been traced in reviews of that year's RA exhibition, and since the picture (Richmond's second exhibited work) remained in the artist's family, presumably it attracted no purchaser.

The following year, Linnell exhibited his own version of ‘Christ and the Woman of Samaria’ at the British Institution (283). As its framed measurements were given as 19 × 17 ins, it must have been nearly the same size as Richmond's panel (15 3/4 × 19 ins), though an upright composition. The present whereabouts of Linnell's painting of 1829 are unknown, but his sketch of it (MS. Notebook, ‘Landscapes & other pictures not Portraits’, I, p.41, coll. Linnell Trust) suggests a composition closely similar to Richmond's (and ultimately to Michelangelo's) in the disposition of the figures around a circular well, though the background appears to be more naturalistic. Linnell must have known of Richmond's painting, and (on the evidence of Palmer's note, quoted earlier) apparently knew of Beatrizet's engraving after Michelangelo. Whether he painted his own panel in friendly association with Richmond or as an attempt to show that he could do better than the younger man is not known; but here Linnell should probably be given the benefit of the doubt. There is no evidence of unfriendly rivalry; in fact Thomas Knyvett Richmond, to whom the artist gave his ‘book of early scraps’, noted in his diary on 2 March 1864 that ‘Papa spoke this evening on Originality in Art and Literature, and said that in the best days of Art no one scrupled to take an old motive and treat it in his own way. Nowadays we imitate another's treatment but fear to be accused of plagiarism if we take his motive’ (Stirling, op. cit., p.175). Linnell was to return to the subject of ‘Christ and the Woman of Samaria’ several times, in watercolour ‘about 1846’, and in two large paintings, one exhibited at the RA in 1850, the other sold in 1866 for £1,000 (MS. Notebook, op. cit., 1, p.161); but whereas Richmond set his subject in an ideal Gothic landscape, Linnell's ‘Christ and the Woman of Samaria’ appear to inhabit an increasingly naturalistic Surrey-like countryside.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979