Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6

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Lot 23
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'
executed Rome, circa 1833-6

Sold for £ 75,250 (US$ 90,536) inc. premium
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'
executed Rome, circa 1833-6
the rectangular plaque ​carved with a group of three winged putti in full chorus, holding and reading from a scrolling music score, signed with the sculptors monogram AT, lower right, later mounted within a moulded ebonised wood frame with foliate gilt composition inner slip, the plaque, 36.5cm high x 41cm wide, the frame, 47cm x 52cm

Footnotes

  • Provenance

    Possibly acquired directly from the sculptor by Sir Thomas Dyke Acland ('Great Sir Thomas') 10th Baronet (1787-1871) and his wife Lydia Elizabeth née Hoare (1786-1856) of Killerton House, Devon, whilst they stayed in Rome during the autumn and winter of 1835-6. An alternative version of events is that the offered lot was perhaps given to their son Thomas Dyke Acland junior, later 11th Baronet, FRS (1809-1898) as part of his 1835-6 tour to Italy with his friend Sir Charles Bowyer Adderley, Lord Norton (1814-1905).

    Thereafter possibly gifted by Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 11th Baronet, FRS (1809-1898) to Mr Samuel Hayman Warren (1809-1881) of The Mount, Dulverton, Somerset, on the celebratory occasion commemorating his twenty-four years of service as Honorary Secretary to the Devon & Somerset Staghounds under the Master of Hounds, Mr Mordaunt Fenwick Bisset in 1878.

    Thence by descent to his great niece, Miss J. B. Warren, Budleigh Salterton, Devon.

    Subsequently bequeathed to a close friend and neighbour and thence by descent to the present vendor.

    Gifts and Grand Tours: Rome 1835-6

    During his youth, Lord Norton undertook the Grand Tour with his friend, Thomas Dyke Acland Junior. Their travels in Italy and their excursion to Rome are described in 'The Life of Lord Norton.' Worthy of special note on this subject are the following (annotated) excerpts from this biography:

    'In the autumn of 1835, after I had taken my degree and come of age, I went with Acland to join them (Acland's parents, the 10th Baronet and his wife) in Rome. His father, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, had travelled with my father, after leaving Oxford, in Norway, during the Peace of Amiens (in 1802) and they got (sic) detained prisoners in Christiania at the rupture of the Peace...'

    '...We reached Rome on a lovely evening, my sister, Anna Maria, and McGeachy (Forster Alleyne McGeachy (1809-1887) school reformer and MP for Honiton, Devon between 1841-1847) meeting us a little outside and lodging me in their house in Via Felice, Monte Mario (presumably with Acland joining his father and mother, who had come by their yacht, St Kilda, and taken the Villa Aldobrandini)...'

    '...The summer passed in an excursion with Lord Clements (William Sydney Clements, 3rd Earl of Leitrim (b. 1806), assassinated in Northern Ireland in 1878) round Sicily...'

    '...I stayed a little at Rome, en retour, as the guest of Thorvaldsen, whose bas-reliefs now adorn the walls at Hams' (Hams Hall, Warwickshire – the house dismantled and the contents dispersed during the 1920s). The reliefs, which included a pair of plaques by Bertel Thorvaldsen of 'The Genii of Music' and the 'The Genii of Singing,' were gifts to the young Lord from the sculptor.

    Comparables: The 'Genii of Singing' plaques at the National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden and the Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen Denmark

    Lord Norton is known to have acquired an unsigned plaque of 'The Genii of Singing,' (identical to the signed plaque offered at Bonhams) along with its pendant 'The Genii of Playing.' Lord Norton's plaque, now in the permanent collection of the National Museum, Stockholm, was acquired in 1926 by a private collector, Otto Smith, after much of the contents of Hams Hall were dispersed, and which was subsequently gifted to the Museum in 1928. There is a further identical unsigned plaque of 'The Genii of Singing,' in the collection of the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen which was acquired as a direct bequest from the sculptor.

    Lord Norton's plaque of 'The Genii of Singing,' along with its pendant (whereabouts now unknown,) are recorded as having been gifted to him by the sculptor, who at that time had his studio in Rome. Lord Norton is also recorded as making an order for four further works (which were presumably purchases) as referenced in the following footnote on p.22 of Lord Norton's biography:

    'The following is a list of Thorvaldsens's works at Hams - the two first were gifts from the sculptor, the rest were done to order: (1) Singing Genii; (2) Playing Genii; (3) Cupid awakening the fainted Psyche; (4) Bacchus giving Cupid his first cup (5) Cupid's reception by Anacreon, wounded by dart of poetry in gratitude. These are all in marble.'

    The listed works from the collection of Lord Norton were subsequently sold by Spink & Son at the 1926 contents sale of the dismantled Hams Hall. A set of four marble panels, possibly including the three mentioned on the list of Thorvaldsen's works at Hams in the biography, were sold by Sotheby's New York in January, 2014.

    Mutual Friends and Introductions: The Adderleys and the Aclands, The Knudtzon Brothers and Bertel Thorvaldsen

    It is likely that Lord Norton's father may have previously met the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen during the first decade of the 19th century, when the former was traveling with his friend Sir Thomas Dyke Acland in Norway, via an introduction from their mutual friends Jørgen and Bruder Knudtzon. However it seems more probable that the young Lord Norton's introduction to the great sculptor was during his trip to Rome in 1835, some seventeen years after his own father's death. In the autumn of that year, Norton travelled to the eternal city with Thomas Dyke Acland junior, presumably visiting Acland's parents, the 10th Baronet and his wife, at their impressive villa. Norton did not stay at the Acland villa but took up rooms with his newly married sister and her husband at their lodgings.

    Lord Norton's introduction to Thorvaldsen may have come about in a number of ways. Perhaps he had read about the great sculptor or had been told about him by his brother-in-law, Forster Alleyne McGeachy (who apparently also knew Thorvaldsen). It seems most likely that his first encounter was via his university friend and travelling companion, Acland junior, who could have easily secured the introduction via his parents.

    Whichever explanation is applicable, Lord Norton certainly used the trip as an opportunity to increase his knowledge in the arts and to significantly enhance his country seat back in England. As mentioned previously, his meeting with Thorvaldsen resulted in an order for an important set of marble figural relief plaques as well as a generous gift of a pair of marble figural reliefs.

    Sir Thomas Dyke Acland is known to have had a connection to at least one of the Norwegian Knudtzon brothers, Jørgen (1784-1854) and Bruder (1788-1864) whom he met when he was travelling with Lord Norton senior in the early 1800s. The brothers were without doubt hugely influential figures in Thorvaldsen's career. They not only championed his work but promoted it to enlightened and wealthy patrons all over Europe and especially in Britain. Jørgen in particular had a profound and life-long interest in the arts. With his close companion Alexander Baillie, they travelled around Europe and met a number of impressive figures including Napoleon and Lord Byron. Jørgen's close relationship with Thorvaldsen resulted in the creation in 1816 of a pair of charming portrait busts depicting Jørgen and his life-long friend Baille.

    Interestingly, in June of that same year Jørgen wrote to Thorvaldsen making a reference to the surfeit of English clients in Rome. No doubt, he thought this abundance of wealthy visitors might lead to potential orders. Significantly, Jorgen mentioned Sir Thomas Dyck Acland:

    'Rome will this winter be filled with English; You will have a multitude of visitors and many admirers of your works; I have among other things, a friend Sir Thomas Acland who will greet you from me and us...'

    However, it may be that an actual meeting between Sir Thomas Dyck Acland and Thorvaldsen took place years later during the Acland's family trip to Rome when Thomas Dyck Acland junior also travelled to the city with his friend the young Lord Norton. A letter from Bruder Knudtzon to Thorvaldsen written in late December of 1835 makes a further reference recommending Sir Thomas Dyke Acland and Lady Acland and their three children to the sculptor as they were intending to visit Rome. An extract from the letter roughly translates as follows:

    'Sir Thomas is an old and tried friend both of my bother Jørgen, like me and I am pretty persuaded that his acquaintance will not be the wicker (sic?)...'

    As such it is possible that if Sir Thomas Dyck Acland had already made the acquaintance of Thorvaldsen earlier in the 19th century (or even if it had been made much later during their 1835-6 visit to Italy) either he or his son could have orchestrated the introduction of the young Lord Norton to Thorvaldsen. Because of this they may well have acquired the Bonhams signed copy of 'The Genii of Music' (and possibly its pendant). This may have been purchased or possibly gifted to them for introducing a young and wealthy new patron to the sculptor. This seems especially likely given that a pair of terracotta roundels of 'Night,' and 'Morning,' by Thorvaldsen, which are set into the walls of the Library at Killerton (once part of the 'Parlours' or connecting principal rooms when the house was built, now in the permanent collection of the National Trust) were apparently acquired on the same trip to Italy in 1835-36. In addition, it also may be no small coincidence that the Bonhams plaque depicts putti singing if it was indeed a gift (along with a pedant plaque of putti playing if one was made) to Sir Thomas as it is reputed that his wife Lady Lydia was a lover of music who often held recitals at Killlerton. She may even have performed in Italy with Thorvaldsen in attendance.

    The possibility of the Bonhams plaque being a gift to Sir Thomas Dyck Acland, 10th Baronet or his son Thomas Dyck Acland Junior (later the 11th Baronet) from the sculptor is further validated as it is signed with Thorvaldsen's monogram. This is something which is rarely found on any of his works, perhaps explainging its significance and importance. It is however still not completely clear whether Thorvaldsen personally signed only the works of art he considered to be his very best or if he 'validated' these works with a signature (as other forms of signature are recorded). Another possibility his distinctive monogram was used due to the demands of others such as his commissioners, or as is very likely in this case, as a reflection of his gratitude for introducing a new client to his studio.

    Held in High Esteem: The Acland's, Mr Samuel Hayman Warren and The Devon & Somerset Staghounds

    The connection between the Acland family, who resided at Killerton House, and Samuel Warren comes from a shared passion in the Devon & Somerset Staghounds. In his book 'Records of stag hunting on Exmoor,' published in 1887, the historian Sir J. W. Fortescue, chronicles the evolution of stag hunting on Exmoor. In the book and in a later associated volume 'With the Devon & Somerset, 1887-1901,' by Philip Evered, published in 1902, numerous references are made to the Acland family and their associations with the Devon & Somerset Staghounds. Both volumes mention Samuel Hayman Warren who was made Honorary Secretary to the Devon & Somerset Staghounds on or around the same time that the MP and sporting enthusiast Mordaunt Fenwick Bisset became Master of Hounds in 1854-5. As such Sir Thomas Dyck Acland and his son would have known Bisset (known as 'The General') and Samuel Warren very well. Whilst Bisset was lauded for reviving the fortunes of what had been a struggling hunt, it seems that Warren was no less instrumental in this transformation. His contribution to the hunt was rewarded in 1878 when he received a tray engraved with the inscription 'Presented together with 372 sovereigns to Samuel Hayman Warren by 200 friends in grateful recognition of his services and uniform courtesy as Hon. Secretary during the 24 years of Mr Fenwick Bisset's Mastership, Christmas 1878.'

    As such, given that Warren was held in such high esteem (372 sovereigns in 1878 would be now worth around £45,000) it is possible that Sir Thomas Dyck Acland, or his son, could have also made a further personal gift of the marble plaque of 'The Genii of Singing,' as the frame that surrounds the plaque could date from this time – the third quarter of the 19th century. In addition, given that the reception rooms of Killerton are known to have been remodelled on numerous occasions during the 19th century, it could be that when the plaque was removed from the interior walls of the house it was chosen as a personal gift by the Aclands, particularly if it had been previously admired by Warren when visiting the house.

    Reference Sources

    William, S. Childe-Pemberton, Life of Lord Norton (Right Hon. Sir Charles Adderley, K.C.M.G., M.P) 1814-1905, Statesman & Philanthropist, John Murray, Albermarle Street, W. 1909

    Sir John, William Fortescue, 'Records of Stag-Hunting on Exmoor, Chapman and Hall Limited, 1887

    Philip Everard, 'An account of the chase of the Wild Red Deer on Exmoor, Devon and Somerset', 1887-1901, 1902

    'Killerton House, Devon', The National Trust Guide, Centurion Press Ltd, 2000

    Related Literature

    Kira Kofoed, 'From Genii to Angels and Back (Translation David Possen)', The Thorvaldsen Museum Archives, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk/en, 2016.

    Kira Kofoed, 'Thorvaldsen's Works at Hams Hall Rediscovered (Translation David Possen)', The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk/en, 2016.

    'A Guide to Thorvaldsen's Museum', Copenhagen 1871, p. 7 and pp. 18-19.

    Elena di Majo, Bjarne Jørnaes, Stefano Susinno, 'Bertel Thorvaldsen 1770-1844, scultore danese a Roma', exh. cat. Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome, 1989, p. 72, Fig 17 (for a comparable relief)

    Ludvig Muller, 'Thorwaldsen Museum Catalogue, vols. I-IV', Copenhagen, 1847-50

    Jørgen Birkedal Hartmann, 'Bertel Thorwaldsen, scultore, danese, romano d'adozione', Rome, 1971

    Jørgen Birkedal Hartmann, 'Antike Motive bei Thorvaldsen', Studien Antilenrezeption des Klassizismus Bearbeitet und Herausgegeben von Klaus Parlasca, Tubingen, 1979

    Bjarne Jørnæs, 'Bertel Thorvaldsen: la vita e l'opera dello scultore', Rome, 1997

    Bjarne Jørnæs, 'The Sculpture of Bertel Thorvaldsen', Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen, 2011

    We would like to thank Kira Kofoed, author, Mag.art., art historian and scientific researcher at the Thorvaldsen Museum for her invaluable and generous help in identifying and researching this lot.
Contacts
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6
Bertel Thorvaldsen (Danish, 1770-1844): A rare and important signed Carrara marble bas-relief plaque of 'The Genii of Music Singing'   executed Rome, circa 1833-6
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