Scene from 'Don Quixote' (Part II, Chapter 31)
late 18th century-early 19th century (painted)
Height: 13.5 in estimate, Width: 10.75 in estimate
Oil painting, 'Scene from Don Quixote (Part II, Chapter 31)', Thomas Stothard
Bequeathed by Henry Spencer Ashbee, 1900 Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, "Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860", (Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990), p. xx. Henry Spencer Ashbee (1834-1900) was the founder and senior partner of the merchants Charles Lavy and Company of London, who specialised in silks. He was elected Fellow of the Society of Arts 1877, and travelled around the world 1881. He was the author of numerous articles, particularly on bibliographical subjects. He collected the finest library concerning the life and work of the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes outside Spain, and his bequest to the V&A of watercolours and over 40 oil paintings includes many illustrating Don Quixote. Ashbee's library also included humorous books, and most notoriously a vast collection of erotica, which he catalogued under the title The Index of Forbidden Books. His library was left to the British Museum. Historical significance: Thomas Stothard (1755-1834) was a highly prolific painter, book illustrator and designer. After his father's death in 1770 he began his working life apprenticed to a Huguenot silk weaver. At the completion of his apprenticeship in 1777 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, and there struck up life-long friendships with the sculptor John Flaxman and with William Blake. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1778 until his death in 1834, and from 1778 also began to produce illustrations for various publishers and magazines such as the Ladies' Magazine. He sometimes exhibited the original designs for such illustrations at the Royal Academy exhibitions. In his day he was highly respected as a history painter in oil, but the V&A collections of drawings and watercolours reflect his reputation during the 19th century predominantly as an illustrator, as well as a designer of a multitude of objects such as silver salvers to funerary monuments. As the Dictionary of National Biography notes, Stothard took 'advantage of the opportunities afforded by publishing and the industrial arts, while maintaining a reputation in the more respectable reaches of high art'. For example Stothard exhibited works on a grander scale than was his norm for Bowyer's 'Historic Gallery' (1790-1806). But many of the oils now in the V&A are on a modest scale and are perhaps designs for printed illustrations, rather than 'finished' history paintings. Stothard played a respected part in the art world of his day, and from 1812 until his death at the age of seventy-nine he held the post of librarian of the Royal Academy. This painting was catalogued in 1900 as depicting Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the Duke's castle (Cervantes Don Quixote, Part II., chapter 31). However, as noted on the Departmental file for this painting, "After comparison with the chapter (31) cited above, it is not clear that the picture illustrates the episodes related therein". The painting appears to show Don Quixote in a public chamber, lit by candelabra, taking a woman by the hand, as if preparing to dance, while Sancho Panza stands legs akimbo, behind him to the right. Above in a balcony is a male figure, holding out his left arm; but the figure is too indistinct to make out his gesture. The central three figures are backed by a frieze of secondary characters whose gestures are similarly hard to read. It seems more likely that this scene depicts chapter 62 in which Don Quixote is invited to a dancing party where he is tired out by dancing with two ladies of a "mischievous and frolicksome turn". This could well describe the two ladies Stothard depicts standing closest to Don Quixote in this picture. Perhaps surprisingly Miguel de Cervantes novel Don Quixote was hugely popular throughout the 19th century. Many oil paintings in the V&A collection depict scenes from the play, by artists such as William Powell Frith R.A., Sir John Gilbert R.A., P.R.W.S., Sir Edwin Landseer R.A., Charles Robert Leslie R.A. and John Massey Wright. Written between 1605-15, it was the story of an adventurous Spanish knight and his squire. This painting by Stothard, along with museum number 1840-1900, shows that the taste for images of Cervantes pre-dates the Victorian era when it was at its height.
Bequeathed by Henry Spencer Ashbee
Location: In Storage