The Search for Beauty

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The Search for Beauty
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J C Webb after Edwin Long
The Search for Beauty
London, August 7th. 1888
Engraving on India paper
610 x 870 mm
A large, very finely engraved decorative engraving after the Victorian artist Edwin Long. He was born in Bath, had an early and precocious talent for drawing, studied at the RA Schools from 1849, and also was a student under John Phillip, who encouraged him to travel to Spain. This he did, visiting the country regularly between 1857-73. He was much affected by the work of Murillo, and painted scenes of Spanish life, as well as portraiture. However, in 1874 he visited Egypt and Syria, and this was the start of his career as an Orientalist painter. He developed a rich, exotic style, strong in detail and often on canvases of large size, allowing him to show long processions, enormous palaces or sweeps of mountains on an epic scale. His best years were in the 1870s-80s, when he was a popular, successful artist specialising in biblical stories and life in ancient Egypt. He became ARA in 1876 and RA in 1881. The following year, his rather overdone Babylonian Marriage Market sold for 6000 guineas - at that time the highest price ever paid for the work of a living artist. The painting shows a wife auction, where the custom was for beautiful girls to be auctioned to the highest bidders, and the money so collected used as an enticement or dowry to marry off ugly girls. In the picture, the most beautiful girl is on the block, while the remaining twelve, in order of decreasing pulchritude, are arranged across the whole breadth of the canvas as if for appraisal by the viewer. This sort of slightly voyeuristic picture is most characteristic of Long. His larger pictures also tend to the narrative, while maintaining a careful grace of composition. As well, he painted single ideal girls under titles such as 'India', 'England: the Rose' etc., and painted portraits including that of Henry Irving.