Robert Barrett Browning (British, born 1846) Before the mirror
Lot 51W
Robert Barrett Browning
(British, born 1846)
Before the mirror
Sold for £ 43,750 (US$ 56,489) inc. premium

Lot Details
Robert Barrett Browning (British, born 1846) Before the mirror
Robert Barrett Browning (British, born 1846)
Before the mirror
signed and dated 'Rt. BARRETT BROWNING . 1887' (lower left)
oil on canvas
209.5 x 129cm (82 1/2 x 50 13/16in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    with Galerie Remmler & Co., Liepzig, no.4593
    Sale, Sotheby's London, 13 June 1984, lot 129
    with Richard Green, London
    Sale, Christie's New York, 30 October 1992, lot 272
    Private collection, Belgium

    Robert Barrett Browning, known as 'Pen' Browning was the only child of the celebrated English poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He was born in March 1849 in Florence where his parents had resided since 1846.
    A cherished and somewhat over protected child, he was home schooled by his father until 1861, when, after the death of his mother, he was sent back to England to further his studies. He attended Oxford University, first at Balliol and then Christ Church College, but proved more able on the games field and the river than in the classroom; he left without taking a degree.

    In the autumn of 1873, Pen was staying at Birnam in Scotland with his father's friend Sir John Everett Millais, when as the artist Felix Moscheles recounted "whilst Millais was painting his picture of 'Scotch Firs,' his young friend made a study of the same subject, which gave evidence of so much talent that Millais unhesitatingly advised him to devote himself to art".

    Pen and his father embraced the idea and Moscheles recommended a teacher in Antwerp, the Dutch painter Jean-Arnould Heyermans. The recommendation was followed, and on 17 January 1874, Pen left London for the Belgian city. In April 1878 his painting, "A Worker in Brass" was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and sold for £300, he continued to exhibit at the RA until 1884, and at the Grosvenor Gallery until 1889. From January to April of 1882, Pen studied life modelling with Auguste Rodin in Paris and soon after produced a bronze bust entitled "An Italian Model" which was exhibited in 1883 at the R.A. The following year Pen submitted a life-size bronze statue of the maiden Dryope fascinated by Apollo in the form of a serpent, (sold at Bonhams, lot 88, 21st March 2006), however it was considered indecent and, consequently, not accepted. When it was turned down by the Grosvenor as well, Robert Browning interceded on his son's behalf and although the Grosvenor had made it a policy not to take any work the RA had rejected, in this case they made an exception.

    In October 1887 Browning married the American heiress, Fannie Coddington and returning to Venice after their honeymoon, they bought and restored the Palazzo Rezzonico, one of the great palaces on the Grand Canal in Venice. In November 1889 the couple were joined by Pen's father, however the poet developed a cold which quickly turned into severe bronchitis and he subsequently died in December. The marriage however did not prove happy and after Robert's death the couple grew further apart. The couple's attempt to have children ended in two miscarriages, and Fannie's physical and mental health were apparently affected thereafter. Rumours of an affair between the artist and one of his models, Ginevra Biagiotti alienated Fannie even more and the couple separated in 1893.

    Pen's career also underwent a change after the death of his father; his failing eyesight meant that he became less able to work and began to concentrate on the restoration of Palazzo Rezzonico. Increasingly isolated, and with only his servants and a menagerie for company, Pen eventually sold the Palazzo in 1906 and thereafter divided his time between two other homes in Italy, the Torre all' Antella, near Florence, and Asolo. In 1911 his health began to deteriorate and he died following an asthma attack on 8th July 1912.
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