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"Lost" painting, the Ionian Dance by Sir Edward John Poynter, rediscovered after 100 years in hiding
Sir Edward John Poynter, PRA RWS (1836-1919), The Ionian Dance Motus doceri gaudet Ionicos, Matura virgo, et fingitur artibus. Oil on canvas, 38.5 x 51cm. Estimate: £300,000-400,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- The Ionian Dance by Sir Edward John Poynter, director of the National Gallery and President of the Royal Academy of Arts, will be offered for sale on 10th July at Bonhams’ 19th Century Paintings sale, estimated at £300,000-£400,000.

In wonderful condition and contained within the original tabernacle frame, the painting has been rediscovered after almost 100 years out of the spotlight. Last seen on the market in 1915, the painting is one of the most important works by Sir Edward Poynter. While the image of The Ionian Dance is known through an 1895 engraving, the re-emergence of the original painting at auction will be the first time that the work has been seen for generations.

The intimate scene brings to life lines form an ancient Greek poem by Horace. The central figure in the translucent gown is a young girl who has been exiled from Greece and the Ionian islands. She performs a native dance for her bejewelled Roman mistress, seen in the emerald dress reclining on the sofa. The richly painted background and tessellated marble floor, reflecting the dancing girl’s feet, demonstrate Poynter’s exceptional skill as a painter. The subject matter is painted in the classical style which was highly fashionable at this time.

1863 had seen the re-discovery of the buried city of Pompeii and for the first time excavations exposed magnificent murals, artworks and the preserved remains of the city’s inhabitants. The city had been discovered once before in 1599 by an architect who stumbled across frescoes of such frequent sexual content that they were hastily covered over again and no more of the city was touched. After the 19th century re-discovery, artists were heavily influenced by the ancient Roman culture that had been tragically wiped from history.

The Ionian Dance (1895) hails from the artist’s most successful period, painted one year after Poynter was appointed Director of the National Gallery and one year before he was elected President of the Royal Academy. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1895 to high acclaim. The Times declared it, “one of the most happily conceived of his classical pictures” while other publications described the work as ‘a gem’, likening it to the great works of master painters Titian and Alma-Tadema. In 1902 The Ionian Dance was one of a number of paintings selected to represent the best of British Art at the Federal Exhibition in Melbourne that year, and was applauded by the Australian press and public alike.

The painting was purchased by the notable collector Robert English direct from the artist. Robert English was the son of a brick maker who made his fortune in the South African diamond business, later merging his interests with De Beers. The painting remained in his collection until his death in 1914. It was subsequently sold in his estate sale in 1915 and has remained in private hands since then.

Poynter was educated in the south of England but spent winters in Madeira and Rome due to ill health. In Rome he met and was influenced by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Frederic Leighton. In 1871 Poynter became the very first professor at the Slade art school University College London. As director of the National Gallery 1894-1906, he oversaw the opening of the Tate Gallery. In 1886 Poynter married the famous beauty Agnes MacDonald whose family was highly connected. Her sister Georgiana was married to the artist Edward Burne-Jones, her sister Alice was the mother of Rudyard Kipling and her sister Louisa was mother of Stanley Baldwin, three times Prime Minister of the U.K.

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