Sir Edward Poynter, Bt., P.R.A. 1836 - 1919
Study for fresco at St. Stephen's, Dulwich
Photo: R.A.
© Royal Academy of Arts, London
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Study for fresco at St. Stephen's, Dulwich, 1871-1872
Oil on canvas, 470 X 405 X 18 mm
Purchased from A.J. Stirling, 13 November 2003
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This oil sketch is for Poynter's fresco 'The Trial and Martyrdom of St. Stephen' (1873), at St. Stephen's Church, Dulwich, London.

The church is dedicated to the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death in Jerusalem a few years after the Crucifixion. It was built in the late 1860s and consecrated on 28th November 1868. The architect was Charles Barry junior who developed the idea of the fresco in correspondence with the church's vicar, the Reverend John Clark. Barry subsequently discussed the commission with Poynter who offered to paint it for the sum of £300. Poynter began preparatory work for the composition in 1871 but did not start painting the fresco itself until Autumn 1872 at which time he seems to have painted the border and the upper section. Poynter's method was to make small preparatory drawings for each figure, as well as compositional studies, which were then enlarged into full-scale cartoons from which he painted the fresco. Cold weather prevented progress during much of the winter of 1872 but Poynter continued work in Spring 1873. The fresco was certainly finished by 4th September 1873 when Poynter received a cheque from the donor, a Mr Palmer.

As Stephen Wildman has pointed out, Poynter based the composition of the upper panel on Ingres's 'Martyrdom of St. Symphorien' of 1854 and studies for this painting also bear similarities to Poynter's preparatory work for his fresco.

Related works:

The Royal Academy Collections also holds an album of studies for the St Stephen fresco. In addition, the British Museum owns five chalk studies, for figures in the lower section of the fresco. There is another study for a figure in the lower section in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A reduced scale pen and ink cartoon for the martyrdom scene is owned by St. Stephen's Church, Dulwich, and a similar but much larger cartoon of the same scen was auctioned at Christies on 10th March 1995.

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