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image P50

Francis Danby (1793 - 1861)

Scene from the Merchant of Venice: Belmont - in the Garden of Portia's House.

1827-28

Oil on canvas

Height: 69.8cm, sight size
Width: 89.1cm, sight size

Museum number: P50

Curatorial note

This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1828. It depicts a scene from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice featuring Lorenzo and Jessica seated in the garden of Portia’s House:
“How sweet the Moonlight sleeps upon this bank,/Here will we sit and let the sounds of music/creep in our ears—soft stillness of the night/Become the torches of sweet Harmony/Sit Jessica, look how the floor of Heav’n/is thick inlaid with patterns of bright gold.

Soane commissioned this painting from Danby via Sir Francis Chantrey as a charitable gesture when Danby was in severe financial difficulties—and paid him £152 10s for it. Chantrey wrote to Soane that the first instalment ‘came at a most fortunate moment—indeed, I have reason to think it may be the means of keeping him sinking.’

In 1832 the picture was hanging on the staircase at 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, on the west wall between the first and second floor. However, by the time that Soane was writing his final Description of his house in 1834-35, it had moved to the Picture Room, where it hangs today. Its prominent place on the staircase had been given instead to Soane's own framed triumphal bridge designs (see SM P): this exchange was probably made after the passing of the Soane Museum Act of Parliament in 1833 and was perhaps one of the rearrangements made by Soane with his own posthumous reputation in mind.

In 2012 this painting was moved from its post-war position in the North Drawing Room, where it hung above the fireplace, and restored to the place it occupied in the Picture Room at the time of Soane's death. Seeing it there, inside one of the moveable planes on the north side, places it almost next to Calcott's Passage Point, perhaps deliberately creating a contrast between Calcott's depiction of sunshine and Danby's depiction of moonlight. This position enables this Danby painting to be viewed under particularly good lighting conditions. In order to instal it in its final position a recess was cut into the plane into which the picture frame neatly slots (this was rediscovered in 2012).

Provenance help-art-provenance

Commissioned by Soane in 1828.

Literature

Soane, Description, 1830, p.23 and 38
Soane, Description, 1835, p. 16
Francis Danby, Tate Gallery and Bristol City Art Gallery Exhibition Catalogue, 1988, pp. 103-104
Thornton, P. and Dorey, H. A Miscellany of objects from Sir John Soane's Museum, 1992, p. 122
New Description, 2007, p. 79

Exhibition history

Francis Danby, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, 5 November 1988 - 22 January 1989; Tate Britain, London, 15 February - 9 April 1989
Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1828


If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk