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Edwardian Pre-Raphaelites, The Art of John and Mary Young Hunter

8th June - 28th July 2000

A Song without words, by John Young Hunter, 1906

A Song without Words (d.1906)
John Young Hunter
Oil on canvas
42 x 72 in
107 x 183 cm
Inscribed lower left, 'J Young Hunter, 1906'
Exhibited: London, Royal Academy, 1906, (8), Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, 1908,
Literature: Royal Academy Pictures, 1906, p.84, Chester, 1909, p. 501

Whilst the exact literary source of A Song without Words remains obscure, its derivation within Hunter's work is clear. In 1903 he exhibited Never closed a Minuet courtlier (untraced, Fine Arts Society, 1903, no. 26), a work which contains all of the essential ingredients of the present picture, with the exception of the bowing male figure. The piano player in the earlier work, the same girl as that in Mary Young Hunter's By the Fireside (no.27), has been replaced by an elfin child propped up on cushions. There is undoubtedly a recollection here of Edwin Austin Abbey's The Two Sisters, 1882 (Yale University Art Gallery), which also contains a piano, parallel to the plane of the picture. However, the demure young women in Abbey's work have not been invited to dance. Young Hunter's 'Song..' begins when the Regency buck has proffered flowers which lie strewn at the feet of his lady and he has persuaded her to remove her mask.

As he abandoned Pre-Raphaelite sources, Young Hunter looked to others from within his background for inspiration. In this case the theatrical distancing between the protagonists is derived from the work of John Pettie whose Cardinal Wolsey (Sheffield City Art Galleries) portrays an incident in which an obsequious bowing courtier is ignored by the proud cardinal. The drama in the picture is intensified, as here, by the gloomy space which falls between the figures.

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