A statue of a Roman soldier stands on a stone plinth, his arms and right leg decapitated and his chest smeared in what appears to be blood. The plinth stands within a recess, over which an arch resting on two columns once loomed. In Pryde’s painting this architectural monument, like the statue itself, is partially destroyed, leaving only broken remains.
This is one of several versions of this subject painted by Pryde. The violence and destruction of the First World War inspired the sense of loss and doom in the painting. The figures in the foreground of the composition could be refugees. This painting was acquired in 1919 by Annie, Lady Cowdray (1862–1932), a renowned philanthropist and one of Pryde’s most enthusiastic patrons, after she visited his studio in 1919.
Born in Edinburgh, James Pryde spent most of his life in London. He attended Edinburgh’s School of Art from 1880 and later took life classes at the Royal Scottish Academy. He studied briefly at the Académie Julian, Paris. In 1890, he lived with his sister, Mabel, who was married to art student, William Nicholson. For a decade, Pryde and Nicolson, working as ‘The Beggarstaff Brothers’, produced innovative poster designs. From 1900, Pryde returned to painting, with solo exhibitions in London in 1911 and 1933. Despite exhibiting in group shows, by the end of his life Pryde’s reputation had declined. Suffering ill health and despair over the early death of his daughter, he spent the last years of his life in hospital, dying in 1941.
Purchased from the Fine Art Society, February 1990
Purchased from the artist by Annie, Lady Cowdray (1862-1932) in 1919, for £850; by descent to Gertrude Mary, Lady Denman (daughter of Cowdray); with the Leger Gallery by 1948; from whom purchased by the Leicester Galleries, London; from whom purchased by (Frederick Alfred) Milo Cripps (later 4th Baron Parmoor; 1929-2008) on 31 January 1961; by whom sold through Sotheby's, London, ‘Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture’ sale, on 11 November 1987 (Lot 46); from which sale purchased by the Redfern Gallery, London, (possibly via art dealer James Kirkman); from whom acquired by the Fine Art Society, London, in November 1987; from whom purchased by the Government Art Collection in February 1990
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