Herbert James Draper (British 1864-1920) By summer seas 127 x 76 cm. (50 x 30 in.)

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Lot 75
Herbert James Draper
(British 1864-1920)
By summer seas 127 x 76 cm. (50 x 30 in.)

£ 300,000 - 500,000
US$ 390,000 - 650,000
Herbert James Draper (British 1864-1920)
By summer seas
signed 'Herbert Draper' (lower left)
oil on canvas
127 x 76 cm. (50 x 30 in.)


  • Provenance:
    Property of a gentleman

    Herbert Draper was until relatively recently an obscure figure in Victorian art, but is now one of the most sought after of artists and widely regarded to be one of the greatest late Victorian painters. As Simon Toll wrote in the introduction to his 2002 monograph on the artist, he ‘became one of the most successful exponents of academic romanticism in an era in a state of flux, an opulent Golden Age, which saw the last stance of grand narrative painting. Whilst some dreamt of Avalon and Karnak, Draper and his patrons were beguiled by the call of the siren and the distant laughter of the bacchante.’ (Simon Toll, Herbert Draper; A Life Study, Antique Collector’s Club, 2003).

    Draper was born at 35 Wellington Street in 1863, the seventh-born child and only son of a merchant grocer at Covent Garden. At Bruce Castle School in Tottenham he excelled in scientific subjects and his father hoped that he would fulfill a superstition associated with seventh-born children to become a doctor. Fortunately he followed his own dreams and in the early 1880s he enrolled at the St John’s Wood Art School and graduated to the Royal Academy Schools, where he excelled.

    Draper rapidly became one of the most popular and successful painters of mythology in the 1890s and his painting ‘The Lament For Icarus’ was bought by the Chantrey Bequest in 1898 for what was to become the Tate Gallery. By the turn of the century Draper’s art was well-known at the Royal Academy exhibitions and he was very well regarded by his peers.

    ‘Summer Seas’ is a typical and dramatic example of the artist’s work, which combined Draper’s technical skill as a draughtsman and colourist, with a sensual notion of mythology. Although the two female nudes appear to be generic bathers rather than his usual nymphs and sirens or the classical Andromeda or Aphrodite, the figures echo ancient precedents from the classicism of the Greeks and Romans. They resemble the type of elegant nudes painted by Sir Edward Poynter in the early Twentieth Century, such as the famous ‘Cave of the Storm Nymphs’ (Collection of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber) of 1905 which Draper had greatly admired.

    The main theme running through Draper’s work is the connection between women and water and almost all of his most successful paintings depict naked women beside the sea or rivers. His first painting of a nude woman was an illustration to Spenser’s Fairee Queen ‘The Spirit of the Fountain’ of 1893 (private collection) in which a sexy nymph attempts to seduce a young knight. The pose of the girl which is very close to that of the uppermost bather in ‘Summer Seas’ painted two decades later, is sensual inviting and languid. The connection between sexuality, fertility and danger was made between water and the female seductresses of literature and mythology. As Toll has noted ‘In mythology it was always best to avoid the seduction of women encountered beside water, as they invariably adopted the cold engulfing nature of the element’ (Ibid Toll, pg. 59). However there were two types of sea-nymph, the siren and the ondine, the former murderous and cold-hearted and the latter, a playful and alluring spirit of the ocean. In Draper’s art he moved between these thematic currents and painted both the dangerous and the amorous sea nymph. In 1894 the theme of the siren was expanded with ‘The Sea Maiden’ (Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro) which was the artist’s first major success at the Royal Academy, but after the mid-1890s he began to concentrate upon the ondine rather than the siren. A string of successful paintings followed in the 1890s, in which women are painted in or around water, seductive and beautiful, but certainly not deadly; ‘Calypso’s isle’ (Manchester City Art Gallery) and ‘The Foam Sprite’ (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide) both of 1897, ‘The Lament for Icarus’ (Tate Britain, London) of 1898 and ‘The Water Baby’ (Manchester City Art Gallery) of 1900. In the Twentieth Century the series of studies of vaguely classical nudes beside the ocean continued in paintings such as ‘Ariadne Deserted by Theseus’ (whereabouts unknown) of 1905, ‘The Pearls of Aphrodite’ (private collection) of 1907 and the famous ‘Ulysses and the Sirens’ (Ferens Art Gallery, Hull; replica, Leeds City Art Gallery) of 1909. The last picture had seen a return to the lusty dangerous siren as a subject, but the main focus is the sexy sweep of the female forms.

    ‘Summer Seas’ was conceived alongside one of Draper’s most successful later works ‘The Mountain Mists’ (private collection) of 1912. This was a period in which Draper painted his last nude studies, including ‘Flying Fish’ of 1910 (private collection), ‘The Mountain Mists’ of 1912 (Christie’s, November 2000) ‘The Kelpie’ of 1913 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) and ‘Halcyone’ of 1915 (offered in these rooms 6 December 2000). A composition sketch for ‘The Mountain Mists’ is drawn beside a page of figure studies for this picture (Toll catalogue raisonnee number HD160ii. incorrectly stated to be for ‘The Kelpie’). Sketches for ‘Summer Seas’ have been confused with those for ‘The Kelpie’ of 1913 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) in which Draper reused the pose of the uppermost girl for the solitary figure of a Scottish water nymph. A figure study for ‘Summer Seas’ which was exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in 1913 is reproduced in the illustrated catalogue of the sale of drawings by Draper sold by Julian Hartnoll in 1999 (Toll catalogue raissonne number HJD165iv.)

    In his book Simon Toll identifies the model for all three female figures in ‘The Mountain Mists’ as Jessie Morris ‘a stage performer and model from the Academy’ (pg. 150). Comparison of her features with those of the dark-haired girl in ‘Summer Seas’ suggests that she was the model for at least this figure. The other girl in the painting appears to be Hilda Edgell who was used as the model for the main figure of the grief-stricken Greek princess ‘Halcyone’ in the painting of that title. These two models appear together again in similar poses in Draper’s last imaginative painting ‘Reveil’ (private collection) of 1918.

    This previously undocumented work by Herbert Draper has never been exhibited or reproduced and appears to have been made to fulfill a private commission. By 1912 when ‘Summer Seas’ was painted, Draper’s reputation was well established and demand for his sensual images of mythology was great.

    Toll, Simon, Herbert Draper 1863-1920: A Life Study, Antique Collector’s Club, 2004.
Herbert James Draper (British 1864-1920) By summer seas 127 x 76 cm. (50 x 30 in.)
Herbert James Draper (British 1864-1920) By summer seas 127 x 76 cm. (50 x 30 in.)
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