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"The Fortune Teller" | Henry Nelson O'Neil ARA (Russian/British, 1817 - 1880)

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Executed in oil on canvas, signed lower left "H. O'Neil" and dated illegibly "18...2"
Item # 105KPZ14Z 

Seated on the edge of the bed, two sisters shrink in fascination before their eerie guest, the mysterious visitor seated before the glow of the fire and offering them a glimpse of the future. O'Neil steeps the scene in tension with the heavy atmosphere of the elusive and supernatural. The fire seems to extend from the hearth through the fortune teller's arm as her outstretched hand glows in the flame. The full moon is glimpsing through the window and almost seems to cast the impossibly long harsh shadows throughout the room, these cool at first and then warmed by the light of the fire. The right seated sister is fragile and perhaps even unwell while the other gives her strength with an arm wrapped around her waist; there is a story captured in the scene beyond a simple visitation, one of heartache or of physical ailment that may be the reason for the late night visit.

The surroundings are as brilliantly rendered as the exquisite figures with diaphanous silk hanging from the rafters, heirloom jewels on the side table and a Jacobean chair in the background. The work is signed lower left in a tidy red script "H. O'Neil" and dated somewhat illegibly "18...2".

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1817, Henry Nelson O'Neil specialized in paintings of literary and historical genre subjects. He came to England with his family in 1823 and in 1836 began his studies at the Royal Academy of Art, sending his first painting there for exhibition in 1838. During the early days of his career, he traveled throughout Italy with Alfred Elmore, his friend and fellow painter; they joined with a group of artists in the 1840s opposed to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood calling themselves "The Clique". Like many of his fellow "Clique" associates, including Augustus Egg and William Frith, his emphasis was capturing the everyday experience that immediately surrounded him with "modern life" painting.  He is best known for his contemporary paintings of Eastward, Ho! (1857), now in the Museum of London, and its follow up Home Again (1859) depicting the British response to the Indian Mutiny, two works that defined the trajectory of his career and firmly grounded his reputation. In 1860, he was elected to be an Associate of the Royal Academy. It is interesting that despite exhibiting over one hundred paintings with the Royal Academy, he was never elected as a full member. He died in London on March 13th of 1880 and was buried at the cemetery at Kensal Green.

Measurements: 28" H x 36 1/8" W [canvas]; 34 7/8" H x 42 7/8" W x 3 3/8" D [frame]

Condition Report:
Professionally conserved in the last two decades. Light overall surface craquelure with a sturdy canvas. Edge wear to extreme edges where frame rubs. A few specks of discoloration in the varnish upper right corner. Very faint dimple to upper left corner. Not lined. Under UV examination, retouching is present to areas of craquelure, most predominantly in the garment of the fortune teller; inpainting just above her outstretched hand (mid-mid quadrant); inpainting immediately behind the two seated girls, the figures themselves appearing to be free of any retouch; light touch ups to the left of the left seated girl's face; other scattered touchups include specks along the floor boards, the extreme edges of the painting and a small spot to the beam above the seated girls; a more full examination is somewhat obscured by the fresh varnish. Old frame, perhaps the first frame for the work; frame with shrinkage cracks, gilt losses and overpainting as expected; one larger spot of gesso loss along top edge bordering the painting. Painting presents beautifully and is ready to hang.