The Wallace Collection

Inv. no. P376
Inv. no. P376
Treasure of the Month - February 2018

Edwin (Henry) Landseer, The Arab Tent, c.1865-66

Landseer’s magnificent painting is one of the first artworks visitors see when they enter the Wallace Collection. Its prominent position in the entrance Hall reflects its important history. The painting was purchased by Sir Richard Wallace in 1878 from the Prince of Wales, for the immense sum of £6,300, making it one of the most expensive artworks bought by the Wallace Collection’s founders. During autumn 2017, the painting was off display for conservation treatment. This month, we celebrate its return in a wonderfully renewed state. 2018 also marks 200 years since Sir Richard Wallace’s birth. Our ‘Treasure of the Month’ series this year focuses on artworks collected by Sir Richard, including this magnificent painting.

Landseer was the leading animal painter of the Victorian era. He was greatly admired by Queen Victoria who considered him ‘the cleverest artist there is.’ Born in 1802, into an artist family in Marylebone, London, Landseer was a child prodigy who excelled at representing animals early on. In 1815, he began studying with the history painter Benjamin Robert Haydon who encouraged him to dissect animals and study their anatomy. That same year, Landseer first exhibited at the Royal Academy at the ripe age of 13. His wealth and fame increased quickly, becoming a Royal Academician in 1831. Landseer’s powerful compositions, gift for narrative, and ability to portray animals realistically contributed to his success. His final years were overshadowed by alcoholism and mental illness. He died in London in 1873.

The Arab Tent is Landseer’s finest painting of horses. A monumental, white Arab mare and her brown foal lie on an Eastern carpet.  Further up, another pair, consisting of two Persian greyhounds with their eyes closed, rest languidly on a dark rug and cheetah skin. Above, two monkeys lie among palm fronds. The monkey on the left wears an earring and clutches an orange. A human presence is suggested by the Turkish smoking brazier on the left and the Chinese jar with two pipes on the right. The animals inhabit an Arab tent, identifiable by its striped pattern and wooden fitting. The painting is a rare example of Landseer responding to fashionable Orientalist themes, and is the only English Orientalist painting at the Wallace Collection.

Soon after it was painted, the picture was shown at the Royal Academy in 1866, after which it was bought by the Prince of Wales. The latter subsequently lent it to several exhibitions before selling it to Sir Richard Wallace in 1878. In buying this painting, Sir Richard was fulfilling his father’s wishes to own ‘a pleasing and good picture’ by Landseer without blood on all the animals.  

During the recent cleaning of the painting, the yellow, discoloured varnish was removed. The beautiful modelling of the animals and the varied textures represented are now much more apparent. The condition of the paint itself is excellent with some isolated areas of heavy, raised cracks, which were slightly toned down. X-rays show that the mare was first placed slightly higher up.

Gallery Talks

Wednesday 7 and Friday 23 February at 1 pm with Lelia Packer, Curator of Paintings, Miniatures and Manuscripts, in the Hall.