In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book IV, lines 786 ff., Gabriel charges the “two strong and suttle Spirits” Ithuriel and Zephon to search the garden, chiefly the bower of Adam and Eve, and find and seize some infernal spirit seen escaped the bars of Hell. Direct to the bower, “him there they found, Squat like a Toad, close at the eare of Eve” (ll. 799-800), stirring up phantasms and dreams, auguring the serpent’s perfidy in Book IX.
“Him thus intent Ithuriel with his Spear
Touch’d lightly; for no falshood can endure
Touch of Celestial temper, but returns
Of force to its own likeness: up he starts,
Discovered and surpriz’d. As when a spark
With sudden blaze diffus’d, inflames the Aire:
So started up in his own shape the Fiend.
Back stept those two fair Angels, half amaz’d
So sudden to behold the grieslie King;
Yet thus, unmovd with fear, accost him soon.”
Book IV, ll. 810-822
Scott’s composition continues a pictorial tradition evident in Fuseli’s Satan fleeing from the touch of Ithuriel’s spear, ink and wash drawing, 1776 (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; precursor of the 1779 painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780). In comparison with Fuseli’s Ithuriel and Zephon fearlessly accosting Satan in beginning flight, Scott captures Milton’s imagery of the sudden start of Satan into his own shape, “discovered and surpriz’d,” and the two fair angels’ backward step in half amazement. Pointon, op. cit., p. 148, 151, remarking on Blake’s Adam and Eve Sleeping, watercolor, 1808 (illustrating the toad at Eve’s ear, ll. 799-800; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), observes that “… the episode immediately following this (‘Satan Starting at the Touch of Ithuriel’s Spear’) was one of the most popular of all the Paradise Lost illustrations with eighteenth-century [sic] artists. It was treated by Burney, Scott, Runciman, Fuseli, Westall and Romney...” (a list which Pointon herself supplements with Barry’s drawing at p. 128, fig. 122).
The title of this large finished drawing is given by Gray’s catalogue (op. cit., p. 42). The drawing was also known to Pointon and the Irwins, in each case in the collection of Walter Brandt. Pointon assesses (p. 115) that “David Scott’s undated drawing of ‘Satan Starting at the Touch of Ithuriel’s Spear’ (collection of Mr. Walter Brandt, London) is closely dependent on Fuseli and Runciman…,” referring to the latter’s drawing (The Poetical Circle, op. cit., no. 91, ink, chalk and wash drawing, signed “ARunciman 70”), which Runciman may have shown his kindred colleague Fuseli in Rome, for the painting Satan in the Garden of Eden exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773. The Irwins state of Scott (op. cit., p. 443, fn. 52): “His Miltonic subjects include an eerie green and brown Belated Peasant from Paradise Lost, Bk I [ll. 781-4], where the man dreams of fairy elves at midnight (1842; National Gallery of Scotland), and a lively watercolor of Satan Fleeing at the Touch of Ithuriel’s Spear (undated, Walter Brandt collection).”
A dating of this sheet to circa 1841-2, at Scott’s pinnacle of inventive maturity, can be supported by several references: thematically, to The Belated Peasant (1842, R.S.A. 1843, no. 417, now National Galleries of Scotland, NG 2072: Scott’s only obviously Miltonian piece in the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition records); compositionally, to the central panel of Wallace the Defender of Scotland (1843, R.S.A. 1844, no. 20, now Paisley Art Galleries; the cartoons, 1842) and the signed and dated study for The Duke of Gloster entering the Water-gate of Calais - The Traitor’s Gate, wash drawing, signed “David Scott / Fecit 18th Novr 1841” (R.S.A., Edinburgh); and stylistically, to the wash drawing for The Traitor’s Gate, above, and the 1841 drawings for The Pilgrim’s Progress, particularly Christian Enters the Valley of the Shadow of Death (ill. Gray, no. 21). Of Scott’s drawing style Gray says (p. 29), with particular aptness for the present sheet: “Scott was fond of sketching with the brush and a rather liquid tint, which readily responded to his rapid hand, the line being sensitive and of easily varied thickness and depth.”
Gray (p. 42) records this drawing as belonging to Alexander Woodcock, M.D., Surgeon, R.N. (1810-85), Anstruther. Woodcock founded the Picture Gallery in Anstruther as a museum in 1866 and also owned two early Scott oils, The Hopes of Genius Dispelled by Death, Scott’s first, prophetically titled exhibition picture (Royal Institution 1828, no. 235), and Fingal and the Spirit of Lodi (R.S.A. 1829, no. 167). More recently the sheet was in the collection of Walter Augustus Brandt, London (d. 1987), the merchant banker brother of photographer Bill Brandt who had a discerning taste in British drawings and who also owned the 1770 Runciman drawing of Satan Starting referenced above.
On the occasion of the 1949 centenary exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland, the editor of The Burlington Magazine (op. cit.), applauding the chance to estimate the scarcely-known Scott anew, found him “certainly worth reconsidering.” This assessment is hardly surprising. Three decades earlier, William Darling McKay, R.S.A. (then Secretary; Librarian 1896-1907) offered the Academy’s opinion: “The Academy as reconstituted by the award of Hope and Coburn [of which Scott was a recipient in 1829] included almost all the artists of ability practicing in Scotland. … Of some fifty names which appear on the roll of members before 1840, one at least, David Scott, possessed genius of a high order.” (The Royal Scottish Academy, 1826-1916, op. cit., p. lvi.) And three decades later, the Irwins (p. 263) would elaborate on the evolution in the nineteenth century of the tendencies embodied in Runciman, Fuseli and Blake: “In the visual arts in Scotland the most important contributor to this development was the painter David Scott (1806-1849). Emerson admired his genius and Rossetti praised his independence and lack of compromise. De Quincey and Haydon were among his friends and visitors. He was one of the most fertile and imaginative British artists of the nineteenth century, but he died as a comparatively young man at the age of forty-two, frustrated, leaving no pupils, and disappearing into oblivion.”
The original sheet has a fold, visible center left, a small missing piece in the margin center right, and tears particularly in the lower right quadrant. These early faults were restored when the sheet was laid down on card bearing a collector’s stamp lower right verso. Indistinct pencil notation in the bottom right margin (perhaps an early inventory number). Archivally mounted in an APF frame of period style, overall 32 x 27-1/8 in.
The Burlington Magazine, vol. XCI, no. 555 (June 1949), p. 153, Editorial, “David Scott.”
Gray, John M., David Scott, R.S.A. and his Works, with a catalogue of his paintings, engravings, and Designs, Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1884 (this drawing at p. 42).
Irwin, David and Francina, Scottish Painters: At Home and Abroad 1700-1900, London: Faber and Faber, 1975 (this drawing at p. 443, fn. 52).
The Poetic Circle: Fuseli and the British (exhibition catalog, Australia, New Zealand, April-November, 1979), Florence: Centro Di, 1979.
Pointon, Marcia R., Milton and English Art, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970 (this drawing at p. 115).
The Royal Scottish Academy, 1826-1916, compiled under the direction of Frank Rinder, Glasgow: J. Maclehose and sons, 1917.
Alexander Woodcock (d. 1885), Anstruther (according to Gray)
Possibly his sale, Edinburgh 1887
Walter Augustus Brandt, London (d. 1987)
Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd, London, December 15, 1987, sale 3747, lot 70 (as “Guardian Angels defending Adam and Eve from Satan”)
with Richard L. Feigen & Co., New York (as “Guardian Angels defending Adam and Eve from Satan”)
Charles Evans, New York (d. 2007)
Christie’s, New York, April 2, 2008, sale 1980, lot 104 (as “Guardian Angels defending Adam and Eve from Satan”)
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