St. Veronica c.1902 signed 'Rupert C W Bunny' lower right oil on canvas 86.0 x 111.0cm (33 7/8 x 43 11/16in).
PROVENANCE Paul Renard, New Drouot, Paris, 24 June 1988, as 'Le voile de Véronique' Private collection Thence by descent Private collection, Perth
EXHIBITED Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1902, cat. 305, as 'St. Veronica' Exhibition of Paintings by Rupert C. W. Bunny, Fine Art Society's Gallery, Melbourne, 15-27 November 1922, cat. 8, as 'St. Veronica' An Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Drawings by Rupert C. W. Bunny, 2-31 May 1923, Anthony Hordern & Sons Limited, Sydney, 1923, cat. 8
LITERATURE Rupert Bunny Papers, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria, MS7970/35 Terry Ingram, 'As the Gavel Falls', Financial Review, Sydney, 4 August 1988
RELATED WORK Composition Studies for 'St. Veronica', 'Dance of the Hours', 'Frieze The Hours', and 'Perseus', pen and ink on paper, The University of Melbourne Art Collection, 1948.0246 Leaf from a Sketchbook, c.1900, pen and ink on paper, 20.6 x 15.4 cm (sheet), one of the composition study is inscribed 'St. Veronica', National Gallery of Victoria Three Composition Studies for 'St. Veronica', conté on paper, 9.2 x 14.7 cm (sheet), in Sketchbook, c.1900, The University of Melbourne Art Collection, 1948.40: 17A Sketch for 'St Veronica', oil on card, formerly Mrs J. S. Reid, Melbourne, thence by descent
In his early works, Rupert Bunny drew deeply on Christian lore and legend as often as classical mythology. Women invariably played a prominent role. Significantly, one of his first major oil paintings exhibited in the Paris Salon was St. Cecilia c.1889 (collection of Mr. Philip Bacon, Brisbane). Not only was it commissioned by Bunny's early patron, Alfred Felton, remembered nowadays as the great benefactor of Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria, but, as the patron saint of music, it celebrated Bunny's love of music. A very different kind of woman, Circe the beguiling sorceress of Homeric myth, featured in a number of early watercolours, as did other Symbolist femme fatales Salome and the Sirens. The duality of his interests is seen further in the watercolours Aeneas and the Sibyl at Cumae 1887 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), and Jacob Wrestling with an Angel c.1888 (University of Melbourne Art Collection). It was the oil, The Tritons c.1890 (Art Gallery of New South Wales), which gave Bunny success when he was awarded a mention honourable at the 1890 Paris Salon. He was the first Australian to win such prized recognition. Then, the pendulum swung back to Christianity with the large Salon painting Les roses de sainte Dorothée 1892 (private collection, Melbourne), imaginatively set in pagan Caesarea, complete with a bronze statue of Perseus based on that of the Italian master Benvenuto Cellini. 1 Importantly, Bunny's mother's third name was 'Dorothea'. 2 Marie Hedwig Dorothea Bunny was a very strong personality and had a decided influence on her son, seen in the predominance of women in his paintings. The nineties included Ancilla Domini c.1896 (Art Gallery of South Australia), Burial of St Catherine of Alexandria c.1896 (National Gallery of Victoria), which was awarded a bronze medal in Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, Descending Angels c.1897 (Art Gallery of South Australia), and The Descent from the Cross c.1898 (Art Gallery of New South Wales) - exhibited to acclaim in the salons and academies of Paris, London, Pittsburgh, and St. Petersburg.
These interests continued into the first years of the new century. A Feather Fallen from the Wings of Cupid c.1901 (Art Gallery of Western Australia), and The Hours c.1901-03 (private collection) set mythological themes in the contemporary French countryside. The male was briefly to the fore in two major paintings of about 1903, The Sacrifice of Abraham and The Prodigal Son, with its hint of self portraiture (both in Wesley Church, Melbourne). St. Veronica, the painting on offer, appears to be slightly earlier in style, having been exhibited at London's Royal Society of British Artists in 1902. In the best academic tradition, Bunny developed his compositions for these large figure subjects through preparatory drawings. Five pen and ink studies are known for St. Veronica, together with a small oil sketch, as detailed above. According to Christian tradition, St. Veronica was among the bystanders as Christ made his way to Golgotha and crucifixion. According to medieval writers, when she wiped his face with her veil, his image was imprinted on it. The pen and ink compositional studies, oil sketch and final painting show Christ falling under the cross. Whereas the oil sketch portrayed the central moment of Veronica wiping Christ's face, the finished painting shows her driven away by a Roman soldier. Both concepts were explored in the drawings, together with agitation of figures and turbulence of movement. True to form, the figure of Veronica is prominent in the immediate left foreground. Bunny was approaching the height of his creative powers and widest international recognition. The high esteem in which his religious paintings were held by his contemporaries was shown again in Australia in 1901. Bunny sent the large The Conversion of Valerian c.1900 (believed lost) out to Bendigo for the Victorian Gold Jubilee Exhibition 1851-1901. The show included some of Australia's best paintings to date including Tom Roberts's Bailed Up and Shearing the Rams. The three judges, directors of the National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the Art Gallery of South Australia, awarded the gold medal to Bunny for the best painting.