1893 Silverpoint Drawing of Nymphe by Charles Prosper Sainton


A very fine Victorian framed photogravure drawing of a reclining Nymphe on the banks of the stream, signed by the artist Charles Prosper Sainton in 1893.

The detail of the face is stunning and the ethereal effect of the drawing is due to the technique of Silverpoint, where instead of graphite, the artist uses a silver metal point, which leaves a silvery line. Sainton was one of the principal practitioners of the demanding medium of metal-point during its short-lived revival in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (until this time it had hardly been used since the early 16th century). He exploited metal-point’s capacity to express romanticised prettiness in soft, silvery tones. Technically brilliant, Sainton builds lines in a disciplined way, almost as an engraver would create areas of tonality through a system of parallel lines, hatching and cross. The contours of the body are not defined by any lines, which would give it a hardness, but by contrasts with the background and shadows. The effect is technically brilliant. The photogravure has a dry stamp from the Joseph Nathan Burlington Gallery.

Charles Prosper Sainton (1861-1914) was a portrait, figure and landscape painter and silver point artist. He was the son of the violinist Prosper Philip Sainton, Professor of the Royal Academy of Music in London, and the singer Helen Dolby. Charles Prosper Sainton was educated at Harrow, then attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London for a period of five years. There he was taught by Alphonse Legros, Slade Professor from 1876 to 1893, an early champion of the metal-point revival. After leaving the Slade, Sainton went to Florence where he studied with the watercolourist Michele Gordigiani. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887 and at the Paris Salon in 1888.

In 1888 Sainton exhibited a small number of silver-point drawings at Dowdeswell & Dowdeswell in London. The following year he exhibited nearly fifty silver- and gold-point drawings. In 1889 the Dowdeswells encouraged him to travel abroad, and he made a caravan journey through France, starting at Dieppe and travelling to Rouen, Valence, Nevers, Lyon and Nice, remaining on the Riviera.
In January 1891 he exhibited 100 drawings, both metal-point and watercolour, also at Dowdeswell’s; further exhibitions of his work were held at the Burlington Gallery and, in 1895 and 1896, at the Fine Art Society. Sainton was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours in 1897 and a member of the Royal Miniature Society in 1904.

Sainton’s metal-point drawings attracted Royal patronage. He showed them to Princess Alexandra in October 1993, at which point she seems to have acquired a silver-point on copper of a female figure playing a mandolin (Royal Collection; RL S 639). He might also have taught the silver point technique to the Princess. In an article devoted to Sainton in The Artist in 1897 described his work as follows: ‘We would claim for him that he is as classical as any one of the classic artists, as poetical and as true, and his conceptions of beauty are of a very high order, and are adequately given forth. It is the purity of his finished works, their simplicity and the spiritual delicacy of their composition that appeal so strongly to our admiration and peoples our world of thoughts with fancies that are as delightful as they are welcome.’ In actual technique the charm largely consists in the fact that the shadows only are represented, the cold gleam of the paper giving all the light of the figure.’

Size: 35 x 28 cm (13 ¾ x 11 inches) Size Frame: 53 x 45 x 2 cm (21 x 17 ¾ x ¾ inches)
Weight: 2265 g