Watercolour on heavy paper, 33.3 cm x 25 cm (oval), signed lower left "E. Tayler". Provenance: Probably Abbott and Holder, 1973. A torn cutting transferred from an old backing board shows an entry from a typescript list: "TAYLER, Edward, Fl. 1849 - 1885 / 132. A dark-haired beauty - head portrait. A ravishing watercolour. Ova..." . The remainder of the printed text is lost. A handwritten annotation says: "Bought 12. 5. 73".
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Described on his death in 1906 as the "father of present-day miniature painters", Edward Tayler was a portrait and figure painter as well as miniaturist. In addition to portraits, he painted idealized watercolour depictions of young women designed more to embody moods and sentiments than portray individualized sitters. Tapping into the Victorian predilection for allegory and sentiment, these works typically combined aesthetic refinement with a spirit of introspection and contemplation. The resulting images are not only consummately painted but also exquisitely capture the essence of Victorian taste.
The present work - a classicizing bust-length depiction of a dark-haired young woman with a loose garment draped over one shoulder, eyes averted and lowered in a pose of demure reflection - falls into this allegorical category. It displays the highly-accomplished hatching and stippling technique that Tayler carried over from his miniature work. Although in the recent past the watercolour has gone under the name of "A Dark-Haired Beauty", a title such as "Pensive Thoughts" or "Contemplation" conveys the intention of the artist more accurately.
Many of Tayler's contemporaries would readily have recognized that the antecedents of the female type depicted in this watercolour lay in ancient sculpture, and specifically the Roman marble bust known as Clytie, one of the stars of the Townley Collection acquired by the British Museum in 1805. The sideways tilt of the lowered head, the pensive expression, the bared shoulder, the centrally parted rippling hair and the strands of hair falling loosely around the sides of the neck - the similarities are unmistakable. Tayler has left an additional clue to the work's link with antiquity in the form of a small anthemion design that appears to be embroidered into the fabric of the neckline. It may also be a visual reference to a specific detail of the marble Clytie's tunic whereby the fabric is gathered together into palmette-like groups of folds by small brooches positioned along the arms. But this is in no sense a rendering in two dimensions of the Townley Clytie: the watercolour merely strives to convey the general Classical spirit of the renowned sculpture. Tayler reverses the composition of the bust, with the subject facing right from the standpoint of the viewer instead of left. Additionally, the line of the drapery and the oval cropping of the composition modestly conceal the prototype's revealing décolletage and bared breast, throwing a Victorian veil over Clytie's more brazen charms.
Tayler, who was born in 1828, exhibited at the Royal Academy in the years 1849-1905, having established a practice as a miniature painter in London after training with his uncle, the watercolourist Frederick Tayler. He came to the attention of Queen Victoria and the Prince and Princess of Wales (later to become Edward VII and Queen Alexandra). The artist also obtained the patronage of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Hesse and Prince and Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. There are examples of his miniature work in the Royal Collection today. In later life, he was a founding member and treasurer of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
www.royalcollection.org.uk website, description of miniatures by Edward Tayler of Queen Alexandra when Princess of Wales and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VII
www.britishmuseum.org website, description of marble bust of "Clytie"
H.L. Mallalieu, The Dictionary of British Watercolour Artists up to 1920
The Art Journal 1906
The Studio 1906