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Virgin and Child

Alexander Munro (Inverness 1825 – Cannes 1871)

Category

Art / Sculpture

Date

1855 - 1865

Materials

Plaster

Measurements

315 x 247 x 53 mm

Collection

Carlyle's House, London

NT 263516

Summary

A plaster relief of the Virgin and Child, by Alexander Munro (1825-1871). Set within a recessed arched space, the Virgin is shown at half-length, wearing a heavy cloak, and holding with both her hands the right hand of the Christ Child, who stands on the fictive ledge, dressed in full-length tunic, looking outwards towards the spectator. The sculptor’s ‘AM’ monogram at bottom centre. Within a gilded frame with velvet surround. Whilst never a full member of the Pre-Raphaelites, Alexander Munro was a close associate who shared many of the group’s ideals. Educated at Inverness Academy, he found a patron in the Duchess of Sutherland, who sent him to London and asked the architect Charles Barry to find Munro work on the Houses of Parliament. In 1847 Munro was accepted into the Royal Academy Schools, where he soon met Gabriel Dante Rossetti, with whom he developed a close friendship, both men sharing a love for poetry and an enthusiasm for the Middle Ages. Munro exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1849 until his death. He enjoyed a moderately successful career, modelling portraits, monuments, historical statues and imaginative compositions, among the latter his best-known work Paolo and Francesca of 1851 (original plaster version at Wallington, Northumberland, NT 584952). The Virgin and Child relief at Carlyle’s House is a quiet, introspective piece which, with its stiff draperies and intense, silent figures, is somewhat reminiscent of Rossetti’s early religious works, his paintings of the Annunciation and the Girlhood of the Virgin Mary (both Tate, London). The relief was acquired by the National Trust in 1996, to replace another version that had formerly been in the possession of Thomas and Jane Carlyle, hanging in Mrs Carlyle’s bedroom. The relief had been sold at the auction of much of the contents of Carlyle’s house at Sotheby’s in June 1932 (Catalogue of Printed Books, Autograph Letters, Literary Manuscripts, Oil Paintings, Drawings and Engravings, Works of Art, China, Furniture &c. formerly the Property of Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881, Sotheby’s London, 13-14 June 1932, lot 284, part, ‘A Plaque in plaster of The Madonna and Child, partly coloured, 10 in….’). It was acquired by a descendent, by whom it was lent to Carlyle’s House for many years. The version of the relief acquired by the National Trust came from the collection of the man of letters Sir Edward Strachey (1812–1901). Strachey’s father, also Edward (1774-1832) was a friend of Carlyle; in 1824 the two men, together with Strachey’s sister-in-law Kitty Kirkpatrick, visited Paris together (Thomas Carlyle, Reminiscences, New York 1881, pp. 130-35). According to the dealer Joanna Barnes (email communication, 6 February 2018, she acquired the Munro relief in April or May 1994 from ‘a dealer called Adrian Tilbrook. […] by the time I knew him I think he was based in the country and trawled the small country auctions. He used to arrive in Mason's Yard in an old Bedford van from time to time with nineteenth-century items he had discovered. I bought several pieces from him over the years.’ Jeremy Warren 2018

Full description

Whilst never a full member of the Pre-Raphaelites, Alexander Munro was a close associate who shared many of the group’s ideals. Educated at Inverness Academy, he found a patron in the Duchess of Sutherland, who sent him to London and asked the architect Charles Barry to find Munro work on the Houses of Parliament. In 1847 Munro was accepted into the Royal Academy Schools, where he soon met Gabriel Dante Rossetti, with whom he developed a close friendship, both men sharing a love for poetry and an enthusiasm for the Middle Ages. Munro exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1849 until his death. He enjoyed a moderately successful career, modelling portraits, monuments, historical statues and imaginative compositions, among the latter his best-known work Paolo and Francesca of 1851 (original plaster version at Wallington, Northumberland, NT 584952). The Virgin and Child relief at Carlyle’s House is a quiet, introspective piece which, with its stiff draperies and intense, silent figures, is somewhat reminiscent of Rossetti’s early religious works, his paintings of the Annunciation and the Girlhood of the Virgin Mary (both Tate, London). The relief was acquired by the National Trust in 1996, to replace another version that had formerly been in the possession of Thomas and Jane Carlyle, hanging in Mrs Carlyle’s bedroom. The relief had been sold at the auction of much of the contents of Carlyle’s house at Sotheby’s in June 1932 (Catalogue of Printed Books, Autograph Letters, Literary Manuscripts, Oil Paintings, Drawings and Engravings, Works of Art, China, Furniture &c. formerly the Property of Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881, Sotheby’s London, 13-14 June 1932, lot 284, part, ‘A Plaque in plaster of The Madonna and Child, partly coloured, 10 in….’). It was acquired by a descendent, by whom it was lent to Carlyle’s House for many years. The version of the relief acquired by the National Trust came from the collection of the man of letters Sir Edward Strachey (1812–1901). Strachey’s father, also Edward (1774-1832) was a friend of Carlyle; in 1824 the two men, together with Strachey’s sister-in-law Kitty Kirkpatrick, visited Paris together (Thomas Carlyle, Reminiscences, New York 1881, pp. 130-35). According to the dealer Joanna Barnes (email communication, 6 February 2018, she acquired the Munro relief in April or May 1994 from ‘a dealer called Adrian Tilbrook. […] by the time I knew him I think he was based in the country and trawled the small country auctions. He used to arrive in Mason's Yard in an old Bedford van from time to time with nineteenth-century items he had discovered. I bought several pieces from him over the years.’ Jeremy Warren 2018

Provenance

Sir Edward Strachey, 3rd Baronet (1812–1901); by descent at Sutton Court, Stowey, Somerset. Adrian Tilbrook. Acquired by Joanna Barnes Fine Art Ltd., London, April/May 1994. Bought from Joanna Barnes in 1996, to replace the stolen cast from Carlyle’s own collection.

Credit line

National Trust Collections (Carlyle's House)

Marks and inscriptions

Front, centre bottom: Artist's monogram, entwined A and M.

Makers and roles

Alexander Munro (Inverness 1825 – Cannes 1871), sculptor

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