‘A Dream of Italy’ dated to 1894 at the latest.

Have found a mention of Annie’s A Dream of Italy, in a newspaper article dated 1894, as on display at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. (Liverpool Mercury, 1 Sep 1894) This is five years older than any previous reference I had come across, and I’m guessing that this was the first time the painting had been put on display after completion. This places it nicely in line with her two other most finely executed ‘classical’ works, Cupid and Psyche (1890) and Mater Triumphalis (1892).

There is a bit of mystery about what happened to the painting. The black-and-white image above is from a newspaper of the period showing the work with mountains in the background – the photograph doesn’t carry the title of the painting, but a description in the text matches the image. It was exhibited in London in 1899 and 1900, and acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, New York, in 1920. The last mention I have found as still present there is from 1933, afterwhich it disappears off the face of the earth.

In 2017 a painting appearing to be this, but with no title, turned up at an auction in the US (and again in 2018, both times unsold), but with a background of clouds, not mountains, and with subtle differences in the lines and shading of the upper body. What can be seen of the fine detail in the lower half of the picture convinces me that it is is the same canvas with background and details reworked.

My personal hypothesis is that Annie repainted the background and refined the lines of the body after the painting received negative reviews after the London exhibitions, such as the body being too masculine and the mountains looking “papier-mâché“). I’m also guessing that the Metropolitan Museum sold off the work during one of its periodic clearouts, perhaps during the WWII period.

I hope the painting come up for auction again soon, so I can contact the dealer and hopefully get some clearer images and perhaps information on provenance.

Annie’s other works which might be called ‘classic-themed’ are Oceanid and Oreads, but these are painted more freely in an Impressionist or even Post-Impressionist style – athough I think the resemblance is coincidental rather than deliberate – and they date 1904 and 1907 respectivly.


Jonathan Russell

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