Parisina's Sleep - Study for Head of Prince Azo
Accession number: 1906P716
Black chalk, with ink wash, on grey paper.
Width: 310 mm
Height: 432 mm
This is one of three studies in the Birmingham collection for the painting 'Parisina's Sleep' (now lost). They were made in 1842 when Brown was living in Paris. The picture was based on a poem of the same name by Byron which tells the tale of Prince Azo who executed his wife, Parisina, after discovering her adulterous affair with his illegitimate son, Hugo. The scene Brown chose to depict is the one in which Prince Azo first hears Parisina talk of Hugo in her sleep. In his rage he contemplates murdering her. The painting was rejected from the Paris Salon ion 1843 but it was exhibited at the British Institution two years later where it received some admiration. In February 1845 Brown wrote to his first wife Elisabeth describing the painting's success:'I went to the British Institution yesterday, as it was varnishing-day ... . They have not hung my sketch [for 'The Ascension'], but Parisina looks very well, as it has got a good light. ... I saw Mr. and Mrs. MacIan, a Scotch artist and his wife, whom I met at Mr. Etty's. He was in perfect rapture with Parisina; said the price I asked was perfectly preposterous, fifty guineas. He said it was worth six times as much.' (W. M. Rossetti, Pre-Raphaelite Diaries and Letters, 1900, p. 53)By 18 May he was able to reassure her that:'Our prospects seem brighter than ever. It may be kind of excitement, but I feel sure that in a few years I shall be known, and begin to be valued, and in the meantime I shall be increasing in reputation daily. The artists seem to be pleased with the picture now exhibited [Parisina], as I hear from divers models; and this (as it was never painted to suit public taste) is as much as I can wish: all the artists seem to notice it.' (Pre-Raphaelite Diaries and Letters, p. 56)This study is for the head of Prince Azo and reveals Brown's interest in the emotional drama of the scene. In this drawing he focuses on capturing the intensity of Azo's rage. The maniacal expression he gives the prince suggests that he was influenced by the work of Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) whose specialised in dark scenes of emotional turmoil such as 'Lady Macbeth sleepwalking (Shakespeare, Macbeth, V, i)' (c 1784, oil on canvas, Louvre). LM
This drawing is thought to be of the character of the Prince in 'Parisina's Sleep' by the poet Lord Byron (1788-1824). The Prince is portrayed as a dramatic fiendish character in this drawing, this is reflected in the poem's lines: 'he did not wake her then But gazed upon her with a glance Which, had she roused her from her trance Had frozen her sense to sleep again.'
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