John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

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John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
John Roddam Spencer Stanhope.jpg
oil portrait by Evelyn De Morgan
Born (1829-01-20)20 January 1829
Yorkshire, England
Died 2 August 1908(1908-08-02) (aged 79)
Florence, Italy
Nationality English
Education Oxford and Florence
Known for painting
Notable work Love and the Maiden (1877) considered his masterpiece
Movement Pre-Raphaelite ("second wave"), Aestheticism, British Symbolism

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope[1] (20 January 1829 — 2 August 1908) is an English artist associated with Edward Burne-Jones and George Frederic Watts and often regarded as a second-wave pre-Raphaelite. His work is also studied within the context of Aestheticism and British Symbolism.[2] As a painter, Stanhope worked in oil, watercolor, fresco, and mixed media. His subject matter was mythological, allegorical, biblical, and contemporary. Stanhope was born in Yorkshire, England, and died in Florence, Italy. He was the uncle and teacher of the painter Evelyn De Morgan.

Life and career

Stanhope was the son of John Spencer Stanhope of Horsforth and Cannon Hall, a classical antiquarian who in his youth explored Greece. The artist’s mother was Elizabeth Wilhemina Coke, third and youngest daughter of Thomas William Coke of Norfolk, first Earl of Leicester; she and her sisters had studied art with Thomas Gainsborough.[3] Stanhope had one older brother, Walter, who inherited Cannon Hall, and four sisters, Anna Maria Wilhelmina, Eliza Anne, Anne Alicia, and Louisa Elizabeth.[4] Anna married Percival Pickering and became the mother of Evelyn.[5]

Not inheriting the family estates left Stanhope free to make a commitment to art. While a student at Oxford, he sought out Watts as a teacher and was Watts’ assistant for some of his architectural paintings.[6] Spencer-Stanhope traveled with Watts to Italy in 1853 and to Asia Minor in 1856–57. Upon his return, he was invited by Dante Gabriel Rossetti to participate in the Oxford murals project, painting Sir Gawaine and the Damsels.[7]

File:Love and the Maiden.jpg
Love and the Maiden (1877), regarded as the artist's masterpiece[8]

On 10 January 1859 he married Elizabeth King, the daughter of John James King, granddaughter of the third Earl of Egremont, and the widow of George Frederick Dawson. They settled in Hillhouse, Cawthorne, and had one daughter, Mary, in 1860.[9] That same year, Spencer-Stanhope’s house Sandroyd (now part of Reed's School), near Cobham in Surrey, was commissioned from the architect Philip Webb. Finished by 1861, Sandroyd was only Webb’s second house, the first having been built for William Morris.[10] The house was designed to accommodate Stanhope’s work as a painter, with two second-floor studios connected by double doors, a waiting room, and a dressing room for models.[11] The fireplace featured figurative tiles designed by Burne-Jones based on Chaucer’s dream-vision poem The Legend of Good Women.[12] For a person of Stanhope’s social standing, the house was considered “a modest artist’s dwelling.”[13] Burne-Jones was a frequent visitor to Sandroyd in the 1860s, and the landscape furnished the background for his painting The Merciful Knight (1864), the design of which Stanhope’s I Have Trod the Winepress Alone is said to resemble.[14]

The move was intended to offer an improved environment for Stanhope’s chronic asthma. When his condition was not alleviated, he turned to wintering in Florence. In the summers, he at first stayed at Burne-Jones’s house in London and later at the Elms, the western half of Little Campden House on Campden Hill, the eastern half of which was occupied by Augustus Egg.[15]

In 1867, at the age of seven, Mary died of scarlet fever and was buried in at the English Cemetery in Florence. Her father designed her headstone.[16]

Though his family accepted his occupation as a painter[17] and took a great interest in art, Evelyn’s parents disparaged the achievements of “poor Roddy” and regarded the painters with whom he associated as “unconventional.”[18] Considered among the avant-garde of the 1870s, Stanhope became a regular exhibitor at the Grosvenor Gallery, the alternative to the Royal Academy.[19]

Stanhope moved permanently to Florence in 1880.[20] There he painted the reredos of the English Church, and other work in the Chapel of Marlborough College.[21] In 1873, he bought the Villa Nuti in Florence, where he was visited frequently by de Morgan and where he lived until his death.[22]

De Morgan’s sister, A.M.W. Stirling, wrote a collection of biographical essays called A Painter of Dreams, including reminiscences of her uncle, “the Idealist, the seer of exquisite visions.”[23] During the 19th and early 20th century, the extended Spencer-Stanhope family included several artists, whose ties were the theme of a 2007 exhibition, Painters of Dreams, part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the opening of Cannon Hall to the public as a museum. Featured were paintings by Stanhope and de Morgan, along with ceramics by her husband, William de Morgan; bronzes by Gertrude Spencer-Stanhope;[24] and the ballroom at Cannon Hall and “Fairyland” in the pleasure grounds, which were designed by Sir Walter and his daughter Cecily.[25]


External video
John Roddam Spencer Stanhope's Thoughts of the Past, Smarthistory[26]

Paintings and other works by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope include:

  • Penelope (1849)
  • Sir Gawaine and the Damsels at the Fountain (1857), Oxford murals
  • Thoughts of the Past (1859)
  • Robin of Modern Times (1860; Tate, London)
  • Juliet and Her Nurse (exhibited at the Royal Academy 1863)[27]
  • The Wine Press (1864)
  • Our Lady of the Water Gate (1870)
  • Procris and Cephalus (exhibited at the Royal Academy and Liverpool 1872)[28]
  • Love and the Maiden (exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery 1877, now in the collections of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor Art Museum, San Francisco)
  • Night (1878)
  • The Waters of Lethe by the Plains of Elysium (1879–80)
  • The Shulamite (c.1882)
  • Charon and Psyche (c. 1883)
  • Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead? (c. 1886; also known as Resurrection)
  • Eve Tempted (1887)
  • The Pine Woods of Viareggio (exhibited 1888)
  • Flora (1889)
  • Holy Trinity Main Altar Polyptych (1892–94)
  • Holy Trinity Memorial Chapel Polyptych (1892–94)
  • The Escape (c. 1900)

Other works (dates unavailable):

  • Andromeda
  • Autumn
  • Charcoal Thieves
  • Cupid and Psyche
  • In Memoriam, “in which a barefoot country girl suggestively smiles at the dead or wounded bird she caresses in her hand”[29]
  • Love Betrayed (The Russell Cotes Gallery, Bournemouth)
  • The Millpond (watercolor with bodycolor)[30]
  • Patience On A Monument Smiling At Grief
  • The Vision Of Ezekiel: The Valley Of Dry Bones
  • The Washing Place
  • The White Rabbit


  1. The hyphenated form “Spencer-Stanhope” is used more often by British writers; American art historians are likely to omit the hyphen and to alphabetize the artist by “Stanhope.”
  2. Simon Poë, “Mythology and Symbolism in Two Works of Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s Maturity,” Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 12 (2003) 35–61.
  3. A.M.W. Stirling, "The Life of Roddam Spencer Stanhope, Pre-Raphaelite, a Painter of Dreams,” in A Painter of Dreams and Other Biographical Studies (London: Lane, 1916). p. 288. Stirling was the daughter of Spencer-Stanhope’s sister Anna; although she is a unique and valuable source of information, her reliability is sometimes questioned. See Elise Lawton Smith, “The Art of Evelyn De Morgan,” Woman’s Art Journal 18 (1997–98) 3–10 and Evelyn Pickering De Morgan and the Allegorical Body (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002).
  4. A.M.W. Stirling, A Painter of Dreams, p. 287; Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (London 1863) part 2, 4th edition, p. 1417.
  5. “About Evelyn De Morgan née Pickering,” The De Morgan Centre.
  6. Caroline Dakers, The Holland Park Circle (Yale University Press, 1999), p. 20.
  7. Jane A. Munro, “‘This Hateful Letter-Writing’: Selected Correspondence of Sir Edward Burne-Jones in the Huntington Library” Huntington Library Quarterly 55 (1992), p. 98, note 28. Vera Schuster, “The Pre-Raphaelites in Oxford,” Oxford Art Journal 1 (1978), p. 9, considered the work “unfinished.”
  8. Christie's, Fine Victorian Pictures, Drawings and Watercolours, catalogue of sale held on June 6, 1997, cited by Simon Poë, “Mythology and Symbolism in Two Works of Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s Maturity,” Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 12 (2003) 35–61; Christie's auction catalogue Lot 43, Sale 5801 online and archived.
  9. Coke of Norfolk and His Friends, vol. 2 (New York 1908), p. 531.
  10. Sheila Kirk, “Philip Webb,” citing Grove Art Online; Caroline Dakers, Clouds” The Biography of a Country House (Yale University Press, 1993), p. 30; Henry-Russell Hitchcock, “High Victorian Gothic,” Victorian Studies 1 (1957), p. 54.
  11. Caroline Dakers, The Holland Park Circle (Yale University Press), pp. 48–49.
  12. William Morris Gallery, “Morris & Co Hand Painted Tiles: Alcestis,” online exhibition.
  13. Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Yale University Press, 1987), p. 359.
  14. Caroline Dakers, The Holland Park Circle: Artists and Victorian Society (Yale University Press, 1999), p. 49.
  15. Caroline Dakers, The Holland Park Circle: Artists and Victorian Society (Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 49 and 53.
  16. Nic Peeters and Judy Oberhausen, “L’Arte della memoria: John Roddam Spencer Stanhope and the Tomb of His Daughter Mary,” from Marble Silence, Words on Stone: Florence’s English Cemetery, The City and the Book III International Conference 3–5 June 2004, online.
  17. Caroline Dakers, Clouds (Yale University Press, 1993), p. 213.
  18. Elise Lawton Smith, Evelyn Pickering de Morgan and the Allegorical Body (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), p. 18.
  19. Susan P. Casteras, Colleen Denney et al., The Grosvenor Gallery: A Palace of Art in Victorian England (Yale University Press, 1996); “About Evelyn De Morgan née Pickering,” The De Morgan Centre.
  20. Jane A. Munro, “‘This Hateful Letter-Writing’: Selected Correspondence of Sir Edward Burne-Jones in the Huntington Library” Huntington Library Quarterly 55 (1992), p. 98, note 28.
  21. Obituary, The Annual Register: A Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad 1908 (London 1909), p. 133.
  22. Elise Lawton Smith, Evelyn Pickering de Morgan and the Allegorical Body (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), p. 18; Delia Gaze, Maja Mihajilovic, Leanda Shrimpton, Dictionary of Women Artists (Taylor & Francis, 1997), p. 450.
  23. A.M.W. Stirling, A Painter of Dreams (John Lane, 1916), pp. viii and x.
  24. Gertrude is sometimes identified erroneously as the sister of John Roddam; she is in fact another niece, the eldest child of his brother, Sir Walter. See “New acquisitions at Cannon Hall Museum: Bronzes by Gertrude Spencer-Stanhope Barnsley,” Metropolitan Borough Council; Charles Tiplady Pratt, A History of Cawthorne (Barnsley 1882), p.36; and article on Gertrude Spencer-Stanhope.
  25. ArtMagick Exhibition Listings, retrieved August 21, 2008.
  26. "John Roddam Spencer Stanhope's Thoughts of the Past". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved March 6, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Julian Treuherz, review of the exhibition Heaven on Earth: The Religion of Beauty in Late Victorian Art at the Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham, Burlington Magazine 137 (1995), p. 46, where the painting is reproduced in black-and-white.
  28. Sotheby’s Belgravia April and May 1978 Sales, Decorative Arts 1870–1940, Burlington Magazine 120 (1978), p. xxviii.
  29. Elaine Shefer, “The ‘Bird in the Cage’ in the History of Sexuality: Sir John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 1 (1991), p. 475, note 48. Shefer compares the work to Millais’s Dropped from the Nest, “but with more erotic overtones.”
  30. “A Checklist of Pre-Raphaelite Works of Art in the Huntington Library and Art Collections,” Huntington Library Quarterly 55 (1992), p. 251.

External links

Media related to John Roddam Spencer Stanhope at Wikimedia Commons