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 Benjamin Walter Spiers  (fl.1875 - 1893)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom      Known for: painting

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Ad Code: 3
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from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Sotheby's New York:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Benjamin Walter Spiers' interiors overflow with prints, drawings, leather-bound books, painted porcelain, musical instruments, arms and armor, atlases and globes and other everyday and esoteric objects.  While seemingly jumbled, leaning towers of dusty volumes, sliding piles of worn prints, and abandoned musical instruments are the result of brilliant planning by the artist (as demonstrated by grid marks and notations made in the margins of A Bachelor's Breakfast).  The incredible level of illusionistic detail, from the fine embroidery of the Turkish Ottoman textile thrown over the chair in the present work, to the brand name legible on the cigar box of A Bachelor's Breakfast, draws the viewer's eye -- and offers tantalizing biographical clues about the elusive artist himself.

Though art historian Christopher Wood considers Spiers "one of the most remarkable painters of still-life in English Art," virtually nothing is known of his life (Wood, p. 124).  As suggested by labels on the back of many of his works, the artist lived in London at 70 Hereford Street, Bayswater and later at "Longwood" on Acol Road, West Hempstead.  Spiers' birth and death dates are unknown, with only his Royal Academy and Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolor exhibitions from 1875 through 1893 marking moments in his lifespan.  He may have been related to the architect Richard Phene Spiers and brother to Walter Spiers, curator of the Sir John Soane Museum.  Without a written biography, the artist lives both through his compositions and the objects illustrated. It is assumed, that Spiers not only owned many of the objects he painted, but held his collection in high regard (a point made particularly clear by a composition entitled Chez Moi exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1886) (Wood, p. 124).  While the collections depicted in Spiers' work seem extreme, they are not dissimilar from many of the nineteenth century.  From the 1860s on, "china-mania" was followed by a vogue for unusual examples of silver, furniture and a myriad of decorative objects.  By the 1870s the "curiosity shops" of Wardour Street in London's Soho were frequently visited by treasure hunters, like Spiers himself, hoping to find a rare antique among humble pottery and bric-a-brac.  Many such shops were "buyer-beware," as forgeries or items of misleading provenance were frequently mixed among the finer things (as demonstrated by some of the arms and amour of Spiers' work, which appear to be fashionable reproductions of sixteenth century Zischagges or Spanish revival swords) (Deborah Cohen, Household Gods, The British and Their Possessions, New Haven, 2006, p. 150).  While Spiers' compositions clearly celebrate the art of collecting, they may also gently caution against true obsession.  Though not a literal interpretation, the titles of some of his works come from writer William Makepeace Thackeray's "The Cane- Bottomed Chair, or "The Domestic love Song" published in Punch in 1847.  The "ballad" mixes sentiment and satire in its telling of a man living in rooms "crammed in all nooks/ with worthless old knickknacks and silly old books" and "old armour, prints, pictures, piles, china (all crack'd), old rickety tables, and chairs broken-backed."  His landlady's lovely daughter Fanny visits and sits upon his favorite "cane-bottomed chair"; after she refuses his advances, the seat becomes the object of his overwrought affection "like a shrine of a saint, or the throne of a prince."

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