Frederick Sandys 1829-1904
Oil on panel 251 x 190 (9 7/8 x 7 1/2)
Inscribed 'AFS 1861' (initials in monogram) b.r. Also inscribed, presumably by the artist, on labels formerly on back and now separately preserved: 'N° <...> 1 | Oriana | Painted by Frederick Sandys | Thorpe next Norwich | Norfolk' and 'Or[iana] n° 1.'
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from the Abbott Fund 1984
Prov: Presumably sold by the artist to William Houghton Clabburn, Thorpe, Norwich 1861 (see below), for whose executors sold Spelman, Norwich 25 Sept. 1889 (148); ...; anon, sale, Christie's 20 Nov. 1897 (46) £50 bt Charles Fairfax Murray; offered for sale by him to Samuel Bancroft Jr 1906 but not bt; ...; Lord Lawrence of Kingsgate, sold Christie's 15 March 1935 (144) £65.2s. bt MeKelvie; ...; anon. sale, Christie's 18 Nov. 1949 (110) £84 bt Leggatt, from whom bt by Lt-Col. R.C. Allhusen Dec. 1949 and sold Sotheby's 19 June 1984 (26, repr. in col.) £30,094 bt Christopher Wood, from whom bt by Tate Gallery
Exh: RA 1861 (639); Works by the Late George Frederick Watts ... and the Late Frederick Sandys, RA, Jan-March 1905 (302)
Lit: Rowland Elzea (ed.), The Correspondence between Samuel Bancroft, Jr. and Charles Fairfax Murray 1892-1916, Delaware Art Museum Occasional Papers, II, Wilmington, Delaware 1980, pp.137, 186-8
In Tennyson's early poem 'The Ballad of Oriana' Oriana is described standing on the wall of a castle, watching her betrothed in battle below. An arrow meant for him goes astray and she is killed instead. Only one line of the ballad, 'She stood upon the castle wall', can be directly related to Sandys's painting, which is more an imaginary portrait of Oriana than an illustration of Tennyson's narrative. Sandys's main concern is clearly with the different textures of his sitter's skin, hair and brocade cloak, his minute scrutiny of which, and of the landscape background, suggests an interest in fifteenth-century Flemish painting. Some years earlier Sandys had copied a portrait by Rogier van der Weyden (Frederick Sandys 1829-1904, exh. cat., Brighton Museum and Art Gallery 1974, no.10, pl.2) and he toured Belgium and Holland the year after painting 'Oriana'.
The landscape background of the painting contains at least one reference to Sandys's native city of Norwich. The bridge is based on Bishop's Bridge, which also figures in 'Autumn' (Norwich Castle Museum; Brighton 1974, no.52, pl.24), a picture Sandys was probably working on at the same time as 'Oriana'.
Brocades similar to the one used for Oriana's cloak appear in other early works by Sandys. His fascination with such materials may have been one of the reasons why his paintings appealed to the Clabburn family of Thorpe near Norwich, who were shawl manufacturers of some repute, winning gold medals in the international exhibitions of 1855 and 1862. 'Oriana' was in William Houghton Clabburn's sale in 1889 and had probably been bought by him when it first appeared at the Academy in 1861. Sandys's only other exhibit that year was a portrait of Mrs Clabburn, painted in 1860 (Brighton 1974, no.84, pl.55). In 1861 he painted Mrs Clabburn senior, in 1869 drew her daughter-in-law again, in 1870 drew and painted Clabburn himself and subsequently drew his two sons (ibid., nos.85, 107, 108, 95, 109, 110 respectively, all repr.). At his death W.H. Clabburn's collection included numerous works by Sandys in addition to these family portraits. In the RA catalogues Sandys gave his own address as Thorpe between 1861 and 1865, thereafter reverting to a London address.
Sandys presumably knew Holman Hunt's two illustrations to 'Oriana' in Moxon's 1857 edition of Tennyson s Poemsbut there is no thematic or stylistic connection between them and his painting. Lost sight of by scholars for some years before it reappeared at auction in 1984, 'Oriana' is one of a handful of paintings by Sandys of the late 1850s and early 186os that show his earliest, most 'hard-edged' Pre-Raphaelite style. From about 1862 Rossetti's influence becomes more apparent in his work.
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.80-1