# 34554

LEE, Sydney Williams (1841-1917)

Manuscript letter from architect Sydney Williams Lee to artist John Seymour Lucas, March 1879, with an offer to purchase “The Gordon Riots”, the painting which was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales at the Melbourne Exhibition in 1881.

$275.00 AUD

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Manuscript in ink on wove writing paper, octavo bifolium (179 x 112 mm), [4] pp, written on the first side only; headed ‘4 Burston Road, Putney. March 5th 1879’; signed at the foot ‘Sydney W. Lee’; the note is addressed ‘My dear Lucas’ (John Seymour Lucas, English historical genre painter, 1849-1923); Lee offers to buy the artist’s latest painting, The Gordon Riots, for the sum of £300; the letter is in fine condition.

Lucas completed The Gordon Riots, 1780 – an oil painting measuring 126 x 184 cm – in 1879. The paint had barely dried on the canvas when architect Sydney Williams Lee sent this letter, acting as an intermediary for a friend, offering the artist £300 for the painting, with copyright and frame included – a sum approximately equivalent to £35,000 in today’s money. Lee mentions that his friend previously purchased Lucas’s Ambuscade (i.e. An Ambuscade, Edgehill).

The architect was a close personal friend of the artist: he had designed Lucas’s purpose-built South Hampstead studio, and Lucas had named his son Sydney, born in May 1878, after his talented friend. It seems certain that Lee viewed The Gordon Riots as soon as the painting had been framed, but presumably he would also have seen it while it was a work in progress and still on the easel.

It is not entirely clear whether Lee was successful in acquiring the picture on behalf of his anonymous friend in 1879, but considering that Lucas had been delighted to receive an identical sum of money from Lee for Ambuscade just a year earlier (which was, at the time, the highest price for which Lucas had ever sold a painting, according to his sales book), and that Lucas had already broached the subject of the possible sale of his new painting for around the same figure – as is made apparent by Lee’s choice of words in this letter: ‘Should you still be desirous of obtaining a Purchaser for your Picture of “The Gordon Riots” at £300 …’ – there is every possibility that the sale went through.

What we do know, however, is that in the following year both paintings – The Gordon Riots and Ambuscade – were shipped to Australia to be exhibited at the Melbourne International Exhibition, which was held from 1 October 1880 to 30 April 1881. This would tend to indicate that the two paintings were owned by one and the same person – and that they were despatched to the colonies in an act of speculation. Sure enough, during the exhibition, in March 1881, The Gordon Riots was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and it has remained in that collection ever since. A quick search of the Gallery’s accession records will no doubt reveal the identity of the vendor and the price paid for the painting – whether that figure was far in excess of £300, would be fascinating to learn.