Maxwell Ashby Armfield

Oh! Willo! Willo! Willo!


Not on display

Maxwell Ashby Armfield 1881–1972
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 445 × 289 mm
Purchased 1974

Catalogue entry

T01902 OH! WILLO! WILLO! WILLO! 1902

Inscribed ‘June to August 1902 AD’ and monogram b.l.
Oil on canvas, 17 1/2×11 11 3/8 (44.5×29)
Purchased from Thomas Stainton through the Fine Art Society Ltd (Benson Fund) 1974
Coll: According to Alexander Ballard, the artist sold T.1902 to a private collector who afterwards exchanged it for another painting by Armfield, a flower piece; Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read; Thomas Stainton
Exh: Homage to Maxwell Armfield, Fine Art Society, April–May 1970 (11, as ‘Willow, Willow’); Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Art: The Handley-Read Collection, R.A., March–April 1972 (E122, repr.); The Arts and Crafts Movement, Artists, Craftsmen and Designers, Fine Art Society, October 1973 (p6); Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings from the Handley-Read Collection, Fine Art Society, June 1974 (4, repr.)

The title relates to the late sixteenth or early seventeenth-century song of lost love, ‘Willow Song’, by an anonymous composer and used, with alterations, by Shakespeare in Othello. Dr Warwick Edwards of Glasgow University has commented on the passage of music at the bottom as follows:

'The source... is probably W. Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time, 1855– 9, i, 207–8 (or Woolridge's revision of this, 1893). The extract begins at the upbeat to bar 11 and the words are from the 2nd. stanza. The text has been modified. (“she” for “he”) and “improved” (e.g. “my garland must be” for “must be my garland”).

‘Chappell's source is BM Add MS 15117, f.18 (before 1616), a setting for voice and lute of the famous Willow Song beginning “The poor soul sat sighing”. He has transposed the melody, modified it, and supplied a 19th century harmonization. Probably the most recent discussion of the Willow Song is in F.W. Sternfield's Music in Shakespearian Tragedy, pp.23–52’. (Information kindly transmitted via Dr David Charlton of the University of East Anglia).

Alexander Ballard has suggested (letter to the compiler of 10 July 1975) that the face of the young man is that of Norman Wilkinson ‘of Four Oaks’ (1882–1937), the painter and stage designer, who studied at the Birmingham College of Art from 1900–1902 where he met Maxwell Armfield, with whom he went to Paris in 1902 where they shared a studio. Armfield and Wilkinson were particularly close friends until about 1910. Armfield painted a portrait of Wilkinson in watercolours in Paris in 1904 (repr. in catalogue of the 1970 Fine Art Society exhibition Homage to Maxwell Armfield, plate 5; for a brief popular account of Wilkinson's life see an article by Anthony Everitt in the Birmingham Post Saturday Magazine, 14 February, 1970).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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