Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914) Oil on Canvas
Our oil on canvas, attributed to Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914), depicts in sepia tones a neoclassical boudoir scene of females escorting a nude male toward a nude female in bed. Signed in lower left corner. Stretcher measures 17 by 23 inches.
There is a noticeable restoration with inpainting to what may have been a tear running horizontally across the face of the female in bed, and there may be other restorations. The canvas has been relined and revarnished, brown tape along the edges has degraded and begun to separate and decay.
The size, neoclassical subject and palette of this work is very similar to a work by Hughes that sold for 8,365 GBP ($13,318) in lot 281 of Christie's sale of The Forbes Collection of Victorian Pictures and Works of Art, on February 18, 2003. That painting, Byram's Tryst, (titled erroneously according to Christie's), measured 23 3/8 x 17¼ in (59.4 x 43.8 cm) and depicted a nude male and female figure in a bath. According to Christie's, the work is reminiscent of Hughes's illustrations to The Nights of Straparola, a collection of folk tales and fables by the obscure Italian author Gian Francesco Straparola (d. 1557), translated by W.G. Waters and published in 1894. The original of one illustration was sold by Christie's in New York on October 29, 1991, in lot 15. Many of the stories are rabelaisian and thus the book was considered offensive to Counter-Reformation sensibilities. Hughes's illustrations for the book reflected this tendency to a remarkable degree, and thus Christie's theorized the work may have been conceived for the project, but rejected as too salacious. They further pointed out that Byram is not an Italian name, and the title could have been changed or the name misspelled by a prior owner.
Further research has revealed two engravings produced for The Nights of Straparola contain stylistic elements seen in our painting. In the picture depicting Doralice in the King's Chambers, from First Night, Fourth Fable, the bed features a canopy with identical shape to the one in our painting. And in the engraving from Second Night, First Fable, can be seen a neoclassical armchair of the same design seen in our painting.
Edward Robert Hughes was the nephew of Arthur Hughes and an assistant to William Holman Hunt. He began his artistic career among the Pre-Raphaelites, and the majority of his work is executed with meticulous observation of nature and minute details associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement.