John Melhuish Strudwick
John Melhuish Strudwick was a Victorian painter, and he was also a Pre-Raphaelite artist. He was born in Clapham, London in 1849. His skills as an academic were not very good, and neither were his skills in art, according to his teachers at the Royal Academy schools. In the 1860s he gleaned some good advice from John Pettie, the Scottish painter, whom Strudwick met in London. He was able to improve his painting style by studying Pettie’s techniques, and submitted, albeit years later, a Scottish themed painting called Auld Robin Gray at an exhibition by the Royal Society of British Artists in 1873.
Strudwick’s uncle was artist John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope; during the 1870’s Strudwick would work with Spencer-Stanhope, and after that, with Edward Burne-Jones, from whom he learned to draw faces. His style changed the most in that decade, and he gained much needed support from his wealthy patrons like George Holt and William Imrie, Liverpool shipowners. He followed the lead of other artists by exhibiting at New Galleries and Grosvenor Square, regularly presenting his detailed paintings in which he had used a merger of Renaissance and medieval styles. Strudwick’s choice of subjects were mainly that of legendary or symbolic themes, with the use of ornate accessories and luxurious fabrics, especially draperies. Unfortunately his particular attention to the smallest detail would slow his production quite severely.
Strudwick lost his patronage with the shipowners, partially due to the upheaval in the art movements at the turn of the 20th century, and probably because of lukewarm reviews by art critics, like Frederic George Stevens, who had little appreciation for Strudwick’s work. He gave up painting his last work, which was to be called When Sorrow comes in Summer Days, Roses Bloom in Vain, leaving it unfinished, as if in silent protest against the turn of events in his life. His career ended with a sad air of hopelessness, but he did not give up on life, as some others may have done. He lived on for many decades with his family - his wife, Harriet Reed and his daughter, Ethel - and he remained a charming and kindly old man to young artists, according to his obituary in The Times in 1937.
Two of Strudwick’s paintings gained prestige in the auction house in the late 20th century. Thy Music, faintly falling, dies away, Thy dear eyes dream that Love will live for aye", which originally belonged to William Imrie, changed hands in the 1970s when Sir Tim Rice bought it, and again in 1987 when P.C. Withers took ownership. In 1993 during a Christie’s auction Strudwick’s painting titled The Gentle Music of a Bygone Day was sold for BP276,500. Other fine examples of Strudwick’s work from his later years as a painter are Circë & Scylla (1886), Acrasia (1888), In the Golden Days and Oh Swallow, Swallow... (1894).