Henry Wallis (British, 1830-1916) His Highness and His Excellency the Ambassador of the Florentine Republic

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Lot 26
Henry Wallis
(British, 1830-1916)
His Highness and His Excellency the Ambassador of the Florentine Republic

Sold for £ 10,687 (US$ 13,723) inc. premium
Henry Wallis (British, 1830-1916)
His Highness and His Excellency the Ambassador of the Florentine Republic
signed and inscribed 'No 1./Henry Wallis./9 Red Lion Square/W.C.' (on an old label attached to the stretcher)
oil on canvas
66 x 92cm (26 x 36 1/4in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Sold at the exhibition in Dublin in 1873.
    T. O'Mahony Collection, Castlecorner, Kilkenny, Ireland, by 1973.
    Anon. sale, Christie's, London, 8 November 1996, lot 62.
    Private collection, UK (acquired from the above sale).

    Exhibited
    London, Dudley Gallery, Cabinet Pictures in Oil, 1870, no. 93, asking price £200.
    London, The International Exhibition, 1871, no. 473.
    Dublin, Industrial Exhibition Palace, Loan Museum of Art Treasures, 1873, no. 12, asking price £200.

    Literature
    The Illustrated London News, 5 November 1870, p. 478.
    Art, Pictorial and Industrial, An Illustrated Magazine, vol. I, p. 124.
    The Art Journal, vol. IX, 1870, p. 372.
    The Athenaeum, no. 2245, 5 November 1870, p. 598.
    The Illustrated London News, 7 January 1871, p. 16.
    Ronald Lessens, The British Art Journal, 'Henry Wallis (1830-1916), a neglected Pre-Raphaelite', vol. XV, no. 1, p. 54.

    During 1502 and 1503 Niccolò Machiavelli, head of the second chancery of Florence and acting as emissary and spy, accompanied Cesare Borgia around Romagna. This region, recently conquered by Borgia, extended startingly close to the city-state of Florence; the Florentine government were unsure of Borgia's intentions towards them, but they were aware of his ambition and ruthlessness. They sent Machiavelli to discover his objectives while working as a diplomat, Borgia knew of the duplicity of this assignment and Machiavelli knew Borgia knew. This resulted in a battle of intellect as Machiavelli sent letters back to Florence while trying to avoid Borgia's censors. Also in Romagna around 1502, not pictured here, was Leonardo da Vinci who had been commissioned by Borgia to survey the area and reportedly interacted with Machiavelli at this time.

    This is the first of a series of Italian Renaissance inspired paintings that would preoccupy Wallis's work in the 1870s. The painting received mixed reviews at the Dudley Gallery exhibition. The critic for Art, Pictorial and Industrial said 'His Highness and His Excellence the Ambassador of the Florentine Republic (93) by H. Wallis, is not, perhaps, altogether original in conception, but it is painted with great knowledge, and is excellent in tone. The bits of glowing sky seen through the trees which overhang the garden wall by which the great Florentine and the Prince are seated, help the picture greatly'.

    The critic for The Art Journal said, 'Mr. H. Wallis, we fear, has laid himself open to the charge of plagiarism in an otherwise commendable picture – His Highness and His Excellence the Ambassador of the Florentine Republic (93). Certainly these figures on a bench are singularly like to Cabanel's well-known composition The Florentine Poet. Mr. Wallis, however, whether or not he has stolen an idea, succeeds in making an agreeable picture: once more he pushes colour to a romantic pitch; his work, if not strong, is subtle and sensitive to beauty'.

    The critic of The Illustrated London News indicated, 'The praise of dramatic insight is due to Mr. H. Wallis's picture His Highness and his Excellence the Ambassador of the Florentine Republic (93), representing Duke Caesar Borgia and Machiavelli conversing on a garden-seat. The painter shows two well-contrasted types of representative Italian public men of the fifteenth and early in the sixteenth century. His Highness lolls, careless and laughing on his seat. Red-haired, of sanguine temperament, and dressed in a crimson suit, he is the man of action, combining the craft of the fox with the bloodthirstiness of the tiger. The other is the man of thought and deceitful diplomacy. He is of atralbilarious temperament, cold and astute; sitting erect and self-contained, he essays to purchase security for a Republic enervated by wealth and factious division, and is quite capable of duplicity. The colouring is very refined, but a rather clouded vagueness of general effect arises from a want of more definite light and shade'.

    Not surprisingly the most extensive review was by Wallis's friend F. G. Stephens in The Athenaeum, 'Mr. Wallis has struck out into more than one fresh pathway, always with more or less success...the picture before us, shows the wealth of his mind, and the facility with which he turns its powers to account in divergent courses...We are heartily thankful for His Highness and His Excellence the Ambassador of the Florentine Republic (93) – C. Borgia and Machiavelli, resting on a marble bench by a garden wall in Rome, conversing, and not only dressed each suitably to his nature, but posed and looking each after the mode of his kind. One sits nervously, almost on the edge of the bench, and listens to all appearance acquiescently, if not deferentially, to the other, who, clad in flame-colour from head to foot, lolls back, poses his foot on the marble, and demonstratively urges some apparently favoured scheme, looking, with his flushed and jovial face, his eager eyes and action, his restless limbs and mobile fingers, the very type of impulse and geniality, which by no means disclaimed the character of craft, yet seemed more open for being more profound. A big, robust, and luxurious, if not coarse, man, is this Caesar; whereas his companion is the type of Italian refinement and intellectual power. Dark while the other is red, slight of form, with strength of character marked on his brow and nose, astute, reticent, patient, Machiavelli is soberly, yet richly, clad in blue and grey. The design is admirable; the composition seems to us in need of enrichment by added elements, for the two figures are the sum of the picture, and each is alone, whereas we would not bring them closer together – this would mar the conception of the subject, than which it would be hard to invent a fairer – yet it may be that nothing of the expressiveness of the work would be lost if the figures were not isolated'.

    This work will be included in the Henry Wallis catalogue raisonné, Henry Wallis From Pre-Raphaelite Painter to Collector/Connoisseur, currently in preparation by Dennis T. Lanigan & Ronald Lessens. We are grateful to Dennis T. Lanigan for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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