Oil on canvas; monogrammed and dated 1871
13 ½ x 12 ¾ inches
WH Doeg, and by descent to his granddaughter Mrs DM Headey;
With Sotheby's 17.3.1971 lot 128;
J S Maas & Co Ltd;
JS Maas and Co, Victorian Paintings, Drawings and Water-Colours, 1971, no 37
It is hard to place this picture chronologically amongst Poynter’s oeuvre, as is so often the case with this artist, who in early life designed in collaboration with William Burges. The idea for it seems to have started life as a design for a decorative scheme, one of a set of tiles for the Grill Room of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The theme is of Proserpine gathering flowers in the Vale of Enna, from Milton’s Paradise Lost: ‘that fair field /Of Enna, where Proserpine, gathering flowers, /Herself a fairer flower, by gloomy Dis /Was gathered’ (Book IV, lines 268-71).
There is a preparatory watercolour in the V&A dated 1868, where she is clearly gathering daffodils, with the sea in the distance behind her (in our version she is gathering poppies, with woodland behind). In Poynter’s Royal Academy version of 1869, a larger painting (whereabouts unknown), she is also gathering daffodils. In another small version exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877, she was said also to be picking daffodils. That version belonged to HRH Princess Louise, having been commissioned by Queen Victoria, who had admired the 1869 version, but missed buying it. The Princess owned that and seven other small paintings by Poynter of goddesses and women from legend and antiquity, which all derived from designs for the V&A scheme. There appears to be no trace of these pictures. Unless ours is the ex-Princess Louise version (it is possible that the reviewer in The Morning Post who described the flowers as daffodils was mistaken), then ours is therefore another, fourth version, probably dating from around 1878.
Poynter loved to play with light; it flows under the trees, backlighting the composition, and edges the profile of the body leaving the cloth of the robe diaphanous. The zing of red in the flowers punctuates the cool greens and creams.