John Edward Newton RI (British, active 1835-1891) Rival performers

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Lot 61*
John Edward Newton RI
(British, active 1835-1891)
Rival performers

Sold for £ 37,750 (US$ 50,247) inc. premium
John Edward Newton RI (British, active 1835-1891)
Rival performers
signed with monogram and dated '1861' (lower right)
oil on canvas
24.5 x 31cm (9 5/8 x 12 3/16in).

Footnotes

  • Exhibited
    Liverpool, Liverpool Academy, 1861, no. 281 (£26 5s).
    London, The Royal Society of British Artists, 1862, no. 941 (£25. 5s)

    This delightful genre subject by the Liverpool artist John Edward Newton shows an amateur musician, looking attentively at a musical score as he prepares to play. It is not clear whether he welcomes or is distracted by the song of a caged bird, but perhaps it was the artist's intention to emphasise the purity and simplicity of the birdsong, by comparison with the musician's own attempts with his instrument. Hence the painting's title The Rival Performers (as it was exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1861).

    Newton was an extraordinary technician and one whose works invited comparison with the Dutch interior and still-life painters of the seventeenth century. He shows the male figure seated and cross-legged, dressed with crumpled informality and wearing a smoking cap. The impromptu nature of his playing is indicated by the way in which the score rests precariously on the edge of the table. The room that he occupies appears to be a relatively comfortable one, with tape-edged curtains and a fine casement window with wide panes of glass suggesting that this sitting-room may have belonged to one of the fine terraced houses in Liverpool's 'Newtown', on the north and east of the city's historic centre and to which the Liverpudlian middle classes were then gravitating. In 1860 Newton had sent works to the Liverpool Academy from an address in Everton and which may perhaps have been the setting for the subject. It seems likely that the work is a self-portrait or alternatively shows a family member. Domestic self-indulgence is suggested by the hookah pipe which rests on the window sill.

    A brief biography of John Edward Newton is given in H.C. Marillier's The Liverpool School of Painters (1904). Although a member of the Liverpool Academy from 1856 to 1867 and an exhibitor in the annual exhibitions in the Academy galleries in Old Post Office Place, Marillier saw Newton as somewhat out of place there (although he emphasises Newton's friendship with James Campbell who was one of the leaders of the progressive group of Pre-Raphaelite inspired artists associated with the Academy). Newton seems to have moved from one specialisation to another, painting landscapes, and still-lifes of flowers and fruit, as well as of domestic subjects such as the present. All are characterised by a meticulous handling of paint and idiosyncratic observation. By the late 1860s this love of detail was coming to be regarded as somewhat old fashioned as artists introduced greater breadth and painterliness to their compositions and came to be less concerned with the specificity of place or type, an artistic direction which may have been discouraging to Newton. Nonetheless, The Rival Performers may be recognised as one of the finest genre or domestic subjects of the Liverpool School of painters at the time of that group's most remarkable florescence.

    We are grateful to Christopher Newall for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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