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Dreams of Glory
Signed and dated 'CHARLES SPENCELAYH/1900' bottom left, oil on canvas
30 x 20 in. (76.2 x 50.8cm)
Sotheby's, New York, sale of May 28, 1981, lot 300.
Acquired directly from the above sale.
The Forbes Collection, Florida.
"Childhood in Victorian England: From the Forbes Magazine Collection," Denver, Colorado, September 6-28, 1985, no. 31; and also The Forbes Magazine Galleries, New York, New York, December 3, 1985-May 10, 1986; and also Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, November 12, 1986-January 4, 1987; and finally Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, February 11-May 3, 1987 (traveling exhibition).
Susan P. Casteras, Victorian Childhood: Paintings Selected from the Forbes Magazine Collection by Christopher Forbes, N.H. Abrams, New York, 1986, pl. 3, pp. 10-13 (illustrated p. 12 as pl. 3).
Jackie Wullschläger, Inventing Wonderland: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J. M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A. A. Milne, Methuen, London, 2001, p. 132 (illustrated).
Debra N. Macoff, The Return of King Arthur: The Legend Through Victorian Eyes, H.N. Abrams, New York, 1995 p. 128 (illustrated).
Joseph A. Kestner, Masculinities in Victorian Painting Scholar Press, Aldershot, 1995, p. 193-194.
Susan P. Casteras, The Defining Moment: Victorian Narrative Paintings from the Forbes Magazine Collection, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, 1999, p. 119.
Collections Mutations, Éditions Autrement, No. 169-170, 1997, p. 130.
Charles Spencelayh studied at the Kensington School of art, later becoming a renowned portrait and figure painter whose mastery in oils, etchings and miniatures was celebrated by many. He exhibited a large quantity of his works at the Royal Society of Artists, the Royal Miniature Society, as well as the Royal Academy.
Dreams of Glory was painted in 1900, during the Boer War, an international conflict between the British Empire and the South African Republic (Republic of Transvaal) and the Orange Free State. The canvas depicts a sleepy boy, dreaming of military glory. At the time, such naive visions of war honors were a common theme amongst artists, sometimes even encouraged by the British Empire in response to specific campaigns or fights in which it was involved, such as the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and the Boer War. As Joseph Kestner explains, it was also “part of the underlying super-masculinized behavior and cult of heroism so characteristic of Victorian ideology”.
The painting is consistent with Spencelayh’s militiae works, which often explore the relationship between generations, through the lens of a grandparent or a grandchild. As Susan Casteras comments, “In this painting the sole subject is a sleeping boy, a little soldier who presumably dreams of victory and the glamour and excitement of combat. In one hand he holds a drumstick, while near the pillow lies a drum of the sort that young drummer boys beat for the troops marching off to battle. The child’s fantasies have materialized above his head in a group of soldiers with guns, and it has been suggested that the round bedstead finial looks like a small globe or world perhaps symbolizing the global strength of the British Empire in military as well as other matters.”
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