Masterpieces of European Painting from Dulwich Picture Gallery
March 9 through May 30, 2010
Sir Peter Lely (1618–1680)
Nymphs by a Fountain
Oil on canvas
Fairfax Murray Gift, 1911
A Dutch artist who moved to London in 1641 and would become the preeminent portraitist at Charles II’s court after 1660, Lely was also a talented painter of mythologies set in Arcadian landscapes. It is not known for whom this sophisticated multifigured composition was painted. The work has been dated on stylistic grounds to around 1650, the year after the execution of Charles I and the establishment of the Commonwealth in England — hardly a propitious time for such a courtly and erotic subject.
In many ways a series of studies of the female nude, Nymphs by a Fountain represents a group of sleeping figures in various states of undress, clustered at the foot of a dolphin sculpture with attendant putti — a symbol, since Ovid’s day, of impatient love. It would be tempting to associate this nocturnal scene with an episode from the life of the huntress-goddess Diana, but neither the goddess nor any of her attributes are depicted. In a more general way, the painting is a metaphor for expectant desire — the dormant maidens quickening the arousal of the unseen spectator.
The exhibition, in the Frick’s Oval Room and Garden Court, is co-organized by Colin B. Bailey, Associate Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator at the Frick, and Xavier F. Salomon, Arturo and Holly Melosi Chief Curator at Dulwich. A fully illustrated catalogue, written by Dr. Salomon, features an essay on the origins of the collection at Dulwich as well as comprehensive entries on the nine works.
Principal funding for the exhibition is provided by Christie's and Melvin R. Seiden.
Additional support is generously provided by John and Constance Birkelund, Mr. and Mrs. Walter A. Eberstadt, Fiduciary Trust Company International, Barbara G. Fleischman, Francis Finlay, and Hester Diamond.
The accompanying catalogue is made possible by Jon and Barbara Landau.
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.