SOLD George Woolliscroft Rhead 1855-1920. Sacrifice to Neptune. A Pre-Raphaelite masterwork. SOLD


George Wooliscroft Rhead 1855-1920
Sacrifice to Neptune
Oil on canvas, 36 x 80 inches, 92 x 204 cms
Exhibited at the New Gallery, 1904.

Studio Magazine 1896-97 Winter Edition, p. 279; related Illustration p. 282
The New Gallery, 1904 catalogue, Illustrated.

George Wooliscroft Rhead was described as a Pre-Raphaelite artist in Percy Bate's 1890 publication; "English Pre-Raphaelite Painters", along with Ricketts, Shannon, Holliday and others of the Birmingham School.
Few paintings by the artist appear on the market. He was member of the Society of Painter Etchers and Engravers, creating hundreds of illustrations and prints which provided the major part of his income. Records state that a number of his paintings and engravings were exhibited at the important venues, including the Dudley Gallery (6), Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts (2), The International Society (2), The Liverpool Walker Art gallery (16), The London Salon (6), The Royal Academy (19), The Royal Society of Painter Etchers and Engravers (75)
He married the Scottish artist Annie French.

A suggestion as to interpretation of the masterwork painting, "Sacrifice to Neptune" by G W Rhead.
The search for new life, for unexplored continents of the human psyche, has always been the goal of art and literature. The Sea is often the metaphorical landscape and vehicle for this purpose. In modern literature, last year’s Booker Prize shortlisted "On Chesil Beach", is artfully staged on an uncertain isthmus between the worlds of men and fishes. Iris Murdoch used it beautifully in The Sea, The Sea (Booker winner, 1978). In Offshore (Booker winner, 1979) Penelope Fitzgerald delivered an intriguing variation on this theme of the world’s margin. Set on a flotilla of Battersea houseboats her novel explores the idea of a liminal psyche, of characters who belong neither on land nor at sea. Populated with humans out of their depth and fishes out of water, Fitzgerald’s is a luminous and clever microcosm of the crisis of identity we are immersed in in the 20th century. These are 20th century margin-walking novels where the ocean is a mirror in which one sees one’s life reflected. In this glass the mundane becomes mysterious, the yearnings of the heart are magnified, and the precariousness of human life is exposed. Greco-Roman myth is suffused with stories of the Sea. It is these ancient intrigues that the artist draws upon for his inspiration for "Sacrifice to Neptune". In his art, water and the undersea is a place where the machinations of the spirits are played out.

The themes within the painting that intertwine like a Shakespearean script are Authority, Retribution, Vanity, Love, Trust, Innocence, Beauty, Renaissance. Rhead draws inspiration from the ancient Greco-Roman story of Perseus and Andromeda. She was forcibly offered as a sacrifice to calm Neptune's rage caused by her parents, Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the King and Queen of Ethiopia, who had proclaimed that their child Andromeda was more beautiful than all the daughters of Neptune. To appease him and calm the storms and floods that were engulfing the Kingdom, the price was her sacrifice. She was bound to a sea rock and as she faced certain death from Neptune's monster Cetus, Perseus flew from the heavens and turned the sea beast to stone by shining the glare of Medusa's eyes toward it. In the ancient Myth Perseus marries Andromeda, but her mother is still dissatisfied with marriage - even to the half-God son of Zeus.

Perhaps Rhead presents us with a different equation. In true Pre-Raphaelite form, he introduces us to a parallel world with familiar but alien forms symbolising aspects of human sentiment. There are echoes of compostions by Burne-Jones' The Depths of the Sea, and Millais' Ophelia.


The looming predators to the right, open mouthed, threatening and consuming. To the left is Neptune surrounded by his daughters, the nerieids, playing music, a figure to the lower left, a languishing reflection of vanity. Denoting his authority, molluscan-skinned Neptune is flanked by attendant sea lions. His stern overbearing glare is directed at the central figures. A mer-babe is held aloft to delight in the view of the shimmering spectacle of a shoal of fish following Andromeda down into the depths. The infant is blissfully unaware of the the threat to beauty and love.

The central figure of Andromeda is pale and lapsing into unconsciousness as she is transported to Neptune by Perseus, her half god lover metamorphosed.

With alliegance to neither the immortal nor the mortal world, he is offering up the young beauty to Neptune. Should she be immortalised as a mermaid, Perseus will have her forever, the sacrifice will be made, and the mortal lands will be spared the deluge.

In the painting, beauty and love are offered up as a sacrifice to satisfy a vengeful god. The destruction has arisen from insult from the mortal to the spiritual world. The paradox is that a human expression of love, the pride of a parent for their child, is the very cause of discord.

We cannot know but only wonder about the outcome in Rhead's painting. The central figure is still alive, with air bubbles emerging from her mouth. Perhaps this is Andromeda's dream, and she will awaken, alive and safe. Perhaps Rhead has depicted all of our dreams about love that can both rescue us or drown us. Although in a Victorian idiom, the ideas in the painting are today and forever, resonant.

please enquire
92.00 cm
204.00 cm