The Ever Reigning Queen, ca. 1880
Henry Hugh Armstead RA (1828 - 1905)
RA Collection: Art
On free display in Dame Jillian Sackler Sculpture Gallery
Venus, goddess of love, is depicted as the 'Ever Reigning Queen', standing on a scallop shell as dolphins carry her across the sea. The relief's combination of a naturalised female nude with classical subject matter, themes of love and beauty and its decorative composition pre-empt the New Sculpture movement, which emerged in Britain in the late 19th century.
This marble relief was presented to the RA by Henry Hugh Armstead as his Diploma Work in 1881 (the frame was added to meet RA requirements for Diploma Works). Armstead originally offered another relief sculpture, the Dead Leander, but as this had already been exhibited at the RA in 1875 it was not eligible as a Diploma Work. Letters from Armstead to the Secretary of the Academy indicate that the artist, who was elected as a Member in 1879, began work on The Ever Reigning Queen between June and November 1880.
The sculpture was exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1881, the same exhibition famously depicted by W.P. Frith in his Private View at the Royal Academy. Armstead was also on Council and the Hanging Committee for that year. Despite being a Diploma Work, however, this sculpture seems to have attracted very few notices apart from that of the Art Journal critic who complained that the work was 'spoilt by the exceeding ugliness of the queen'.
Several preparatory drawings for this work exist in the RA Collection (see RA 04/2129 and 04/3457) . In 04/3457 the figure of Venus, turned slightly to the left, resembles that in Frederic, Lord Leighton's Antique Juggling Girl (ca. 1873; Private collection), which Armstead could have seen at the Royal Academy annual exhibition of 1874. The inscription beneath the drawing, 'The Queen of the Air', is probably an early title for the work referring to the billowing drapery around the goddess.
Art Journal, 1881, p.231
1118 mm x 914 mm
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