Melancholic Sappho


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‘Melancholic Sappho’ by Arthur Hill RBA (1841-1908).

The painting – which depicts the celebrated poet of Ancient Greece appealing to the Goddess Aphrodite, with the Parthenon on the Hill of the Muses above the city of Athens in the background – is signed by the artist, dated 1877, and further inscribed to the stretcher verso. It is presented in its original gold leaf Pre-Raphaelite frame.

Known as ‘The Tenth Muse’ Sappho of Lesbos was one of the greatest lyric poets of Greek antiquity famous for her love poetry and in particular ‘Ode to Aphrodite’ in which Sappho herself appeals to the Greek goddess to fly from Olympus in her chariot drawn by doves to advise her in affairs of the heart. It is this moment depicted in the current work. When the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy it was hung with the following quote from Psalm 55; “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!”.

Arthur Hill became a pupil at the Royal Academy Schools in 1863 and made his debut at the Summer Exhibition the following year. A contemporary of Frederick Leighton (1830-1896), Lawrence Alma Tadema (1836-1912), and Edward John Poynter (1836-1919), Hill was one of several important late Victorian artists known as ‘Olympians’ owing to their fondness for portraying scenes from classical antiquity.

Between 1864 and 1893 Arthur Hill exhibited the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, the British Institution, the Royal Birmingham Society, Glasgow Institute, Manchester City Art Gallery, and the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. Arthur Hill was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1881. Seven years later, in May 1888, Hill was one of ‘The Fiendish Party” of members (that also included Alfred Stevens, George Percy Jacomb Hood, and James Jebusa Shannon) who demanded that James Whistler resign his presidency of the RBA.

Academy Fine Paintings only offers artwork for sale in the finest condition it can be for its age, having been professionally cleaned, conserved, and re-varnished. Clients should also note that tracked and signed for international shipping is complimentary.

Dimensions: (framed) 129cm x 88cm (50¾” x 34¾”)

Dimensions: (canvas only) 105cm x 67cm (41¼” x 26¼”)

Medium: Oil on canvas.

Provenance: 1877: Royal Academy Exhibition, London (cat no. 154). Thence in private UK collection.

Presentation: Fine quality gold metal leaf frame.

Condition: Very good. Professionally cleaned, restored, and re-varnished. Ready to hang.



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