Sir Max Beerbohm

The Sole Remark Likely to Have Been Made by Benjamin Jowett about the Mural Paintings at the Oxford Union


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Sir Max Beerbohm 1872–1956
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 451 × 298 mm
Bequeathed by Sir Hugh Walpole 1941

Display caption

Beerbohm caricatured people and events associated with the charismatic Rossetti in a series of watercolours called 'Rossetti and his Friends'. This watercolour recalls the summer of 1857, when Rossetti led a troupe of young artists, including Morris and Burne-Jones, to Oxford. There they painted the walls of the newly-completed Union building with scenes from Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur. Beerbohm shows Rossetti at work on Sir Launcelot's Vision of the Sanc Grael, for which Burne-Jones posed as Sir Launcelot. Also shown is Benjamin Jowett, an Oxford professor of classics famous for his pithy remarks.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

A01041 [from] ROSSETTI AND HIS FRIENDS (TWENTY-THREE DRAWINGS) 1916–17 [A01038-A01060; complete]
Bequeathed by Sir Hugh Walpole 1941.
Coll: Mrs Charles Hunter; from whom purchased by the Leicester Galleries; from whom purchased by Sir Hugh Walpole 1921.
Lit: Lynch, 1921, pp.146–50.

A series of twenty-three drawings, variously dated 1916 and 1917. Fifteen were lent by Mrs Charles Hunter to the Modern Loan Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, November 1917 (98); the complete series was first exhibited at the Leicester Galleries, September 1921 (1), in the order in which they are given here, again as Rossetti and his Friends. They were published in book form by Heinemann in 1922 as Rossetti and His Circle, possibly an allusion to Rossetti's Dante and His Circle, the second edition of his translations from the early Italian poets, published in 1874. The complete series of drawings was further exhibited in Paintings and Drawings of the 1860 Period, Tate Gallery, April–July 1923 (336), and was on loan to the Tate Gallery from June 1938. For further details, see below (artists represented in the collection will be fully discussed in the appropriate section of the catalogue).

(iv) Inscr. ‘The sole remark likely to have been made by Benjamin Jowett about the mural paintings at the Oxford Union: “And what were they going to do with the Grail when they found it, Mr Rossetti?”’ and ‘Max 1916’ b.r. Pencil and watercolour, 17 1/2×11 1/4 (45×30).
Exh: Grosvenor Gallery, November 1917 (98, 2); Leicester Galleries, September 1921 (4); Tate Gallery, April–July 1923 (336, 4); Hugh Walpole's Collection, French Gallery, May–June 1937 (21); on loan to the Tate Gallery from June 1938.
Repr: Rossetti and His Circle, 1922, pl.4 (in colour).

Rossetti, with friends and disciples, began the decoration of the Debating Hall of the Oxford Union with subjects from the story of ‘King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table’ in 1857; the scene shown is Rossetti's ‘Sir Launcelot's Vision of the Sangrael’. The decorations, made in distemper over a coat of whitewash applied to the bare wall, have practically disappeared. (See W. Holman Hunt, Oxford Union Society: The Story of the Painting of the Pictures ... in the Years 1857–8–9, 1906; Rossetti's picture repr. pl.3.) Benjamin Jowett (1817–93), Regius Professor of Greek in the University of Oxford and Master of Balliol College, was at one time strongly suspected of heresy, though he always remained within the Church.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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