National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 11 (VI:1), 1968

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Canova's Statue of a Dancer

by Hugh Honour

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4

When Josephine's collection was dispersed after the Restoration of 1815 the Dancer and other statues that Canova had carved for her were sold en bloc to the Emperor of Russia. On 6 February 1816 Quatremère told Canova of the sale, saying that it was a tragedy for France. (15) In the meantime Canova had begun another Terpsichore which he sold to Sir Simon Clarke; and a few years later he carved for him a statue of a Dancer. These were...replicas with variations" of the two statues first shown in 1813.

Simon Houghton Clarke was the younger son of Sir Simon Clarke, 7th Baronet, who had enriched himself by a very prudent marriage with the daughter and co-heiress of a Jamaica planter, Philip Houghton. In 1798 he succeeded his eider brother as 9th Baronet and in 1814 he married the daughter of another Jamaica planter who appears to have been his kinsman. He met Canova for the first time in Rome probably in 1802, during the brief Peace of Amiens. At this time Canova was working on, or had recently completed, his statues of the two boxers, Creugas and Damoxenus, now in the Vatican Museum; and he informally agreed to execute replicas for Clarke. But, as Clarke remarked in a later letter, the war prevented this. (16) In 1814, soon after peace seemed to have been restored, Clarke wrote to remind Canova of his promise but saying that he would prefer to have a statue of Venus, to stand in a little temple made after the model of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, in the garden of his house, Oak Hill, near East Barnet in the northern suburbs of London. (17) Canova replied on 8 October offering statues of Ajax, Hector or Terpsichore, all of which were in a fairly advanced state. (18) On 7 January 1815 Clarke wrote to say he would like the Terpsichore. (19)

Canova met Clarke again when he went to London in November 1815, immediately after he had secured the return to Italy from the Louvre of the works of art removed by Napoleon. Among his papers there is a letter from Clarke, dated 16 November, inviting him to Oak Hill on the following Sunday. (20) Canova's diary of his London visit notes. "fra le tanti belli quadri" in the "Galleria del Sig.e S. Clarke..' a painting of Venus by Paolo Veronese previously in Palazzo Colonna. (21)

The Terpsichore (fig. 4) was completed in the following year. On 11 October 1816 Clarke wrote to Canova, in the deferential tone normally adopted by the artist's patrons: "Je vous remercie bien pour la grace que vous m'avez fait de me permettre de posseder votre statue de Terpsichore et pour avoir eu la bonté d'obtenir la permission de Capitaine Oakes de l'envoyer ici dans la Frigate Abondance." (22) Canova had apparently asked that the statue should be put on public show in London before being immured at Oak Hill, and Clarke gladly agreed. (23) It was therefore included in the 1817 exhibition of the Royal Academy at Somerset House, together with the statue of Hebe (now at Chatsworth) that he had carved for Lord Cawdor. On 4 May the Duke of Bedford wrote to tell Canova that he "had the satisfaction to see your Hebe and Terpsichore placed in the Sculpture room and to hear them universally praised and admired." (24) On 27 May Clarke wrote to him:

Le Publique a très bien accuellie vos belles statues. Ils ont fait une grande sensation, et, je crois, fera une époque dans notre Sculpture. On sente a present le defaut de negligence dans la composition et dans l'execution, qui sont ordinaire dans nos ouvrages, surtout dans celles de Flaxman, homme de beaucoup de reputation chez nous. Pour moi je ne puis pas vous offrir trop de remercements pour la grace que vous m'avez fait de donner la Terpsichore, que je conte d'être la plus belle statue drapée du monde. La Drapérie est si naturelle, si elegamment plieé, et si bien executée, que je ne pense pas vous faire un compliment en disant, que, a mon avis, rien parmi les antiques ou modernes ne l'approche pas. La Tête, les Bras, les Mains, les pieds, et toute la nude est fait aussi a mievelle. C'est la Chair aussi bien inimité en marbre, que Titien la fait en Peinture.

Clarke ended his letter by recalling the promise Canova had made him when they first met: "Quand j'étois a Rome vous m'avez fait la grace de me promettre deux de vos admirables statues. Le cruel Guerre entre l'Angleterre et la France qui commencoit dans ce temps la, ne me permettoit pas à croire que je pouvois jamais les avoir envoyer dans mon Pays. A present il n'y a pas de tels obstacles....Vouliez vous la bonté de m'accorder une autre Statue? Le sujet est a vous a choisir." (25) Canova replied on 3 July agreeing to carve another statue for him, but without naming the subject. A year later, on 17 July 1818, Clarke wrote Canova a gentle reminder about the second statue, saying again how delighted he was with the Terpsichore which he had placed on a scagliola plinth made for it by Brown. (26)

Four years passed before the second statue for Clarke was completed. Clarke's agent in Rome, G. G. De Rossi - through whom the payments to Canova were made - apparently sent news of progress. And on 30 August 1822, Clarke again wrote to Canova. "Mon cher Mons.r Le Marquis Canova," he began, "Je vous remercie mille fois pour la Statue admirable que vous avez eu la bonté de faire pour moi. On me dit que c'est une de vos belles choses, une replique, beaucoup amelioré, de la Statue d'une Bacchante ou Nymphe, fait auparavant pour L'Emperatrice Josephine Bonaparte, et a present dans le Museum de sa Majesté l'Empereur de la Russie. Notre ami, Mons.r De Rossi dit que c'est executé avec la plus grande delicatesse, de sort, que c'est une ouvrage digne de votre incomparable ciseau." Fearing that it might be damaged in transit if shipped during the winter months, he told Canova that, if it had not already been sent off, he would prefer it to remain in Rome until the following summer. He ended by remarking: "votre santé j'espère est bonne, quoique Mons.r Rogers qui est retourné d'Italie, me dit que vous n'avez pas la force d'autre fois." (27)

The statue had in fact been despatched and on 17 October Clarke wrote briefly to announce its arrival in England. (28) But Canova had died in Venice just four days before the letter was sent. From this moment the history of the two statues is difficult to trace. Clarke died in 1832. His collection of paintings was sold at Christie's on 8 and 9 May 1840, but Canova's statues were not included in the sale. (29) They may well have been disposed of earlier. But they remained together and there can be no doubt that they are identical with those which were in the house of Mr. Edmond de Rothschild, Exbury, until they were bought by Messrs. Wildenstein a few years ago. The statue of Terpsichore which is signed and dated 1816 is now in the Cleveland Museum.

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