Patience on a Monument Smiling at Grief. 1884. Oil on panel, 50 x 423/4 inches (127 x 118.6 cm). Private collection. Click on image to enlarge it.

Decorated initial P

atience on a Monument, Smiling at Grief is one of Stanhope’s principal paintings from the 1880s. Simon Poë has commented on both its composition and colouring: “The compositional structure of the painting is exciting…Stanhope’s representation of space and his use of perspective are non-naturalistic, perhaps – in a reference to the early Renaissance paintings that he loved – deliberately anachronistic, and faintly theatrical…The arrangement of the figures is masterly, static but dynamic…The beautifully worked-out swirls of drapery elaborate this structure. The character of Stanhope’s drapery falls somewhere between the monumental folds of Burne-Jones’s and the life-of-its-own weightlessness of Leighton’s…The painting’s colour harmonies are exquisite.” Although Stanhope had once stated that his teacher G. F. Watts ”is very fearful of influencing me in any way” the influence on this painting is most certainly Watts if one considers its rich Venetian colours and the monumentality of the figures, which are sculpturesque in nature and suggestive of Michelangelo. The figures of Grief and Patience are reminiscent of the Sibyls from Michelangelo’s the Sistine Chapel. Watts revered Titian, Michelangelo, and the Elgin Marbles, which were perhaps the prime influences on Watts’ style. Stanhope’s picture also appears to be influenced by quattrocento Italian painting in addition to symbolist works by Watts.

The title of the painting is derived from Act II, scene 4 of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and echoes Viola’s speech to Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, “She sat like patience on a monument, Smiling at grief.” As Poë points out Stanhope does not paint the scene from the play but merely borrows Shakespeare’s metaphor for the purpose of this allegorical painting. Stanhope had long been a great admirer of Shakespeare. In a letter of September 1852 Stanhope had written: “I have seen nothing of the Prinseps lately. I have none the less got on very happily with the assistance of gentle Will Shakespeare, whom I read regularly at breakfast and dinner, when I find it acts as a first-rate digestive pill” (Stirling 309-10). The model for Patience is supposedly Marie Stillman. The background of the picture was painted in the Villa Palmieri, in a garden described by Boccaccio in The Decameron. William Lindsay, the twenty-fifth Earl of Crawford, had purchased the Villa Palmieri in 1873 and had recently died in 1880. Poë speculates, “that Patience on a Monument, with its reference to the strength of women’s love for men, was intended as a tribute to Lord Lindsay and his grieving widow and that this was why it was painted in her garden.”

The Painting’s Reception

When this work was exhibited it the Grosvenor Gallery in 1884 it received mixed reviews. F. G. Stephens in The Athenaeum was not impressed by the lack of spontaneity in the figures: “Mr. Spencer Stanhope’s ‘Patience on a monument smiling at grief’ (211), which, although beautiful in its way, and made delightful by the delicacy, taste, and care expended on the limbs of two somewhat tame symbolic figures, whose expressions are weak, not to say lachrymose, is as devoid of energy as it well can be. While we accept its conventionalities, we must object to their lack of spontaneity” (604). The critic of The Academy also found fault with Stanhope’s contribution and its unclear symbolism:

Mr. Spencer Stanhope sends ‘Patience on a Monument smiling at Grief’ (211), an eccentric example of the pseudo-quattrocentist school, in which the extraordinary angularity of the forms and draperies is not redeemed by real intensity of feeling or insight. His interpretation of the well-known lines has at any rate the merit of novelty, if it cannot be otherwise commended. The melancholy lady (or patience?) sits on a mortuary monument in an Italian garden, decorated with statues of dubious shape, smiling sadly on an embodied figure of Grief lying prone at her feet. Surely here is a strange confusion of the poet’s meaning. [337]

The Art Journal also was not impressed writing, “here ‘Patience,’ as depicted by Mr. Spencer Stanhope, is ‘on a monument, smiling, in the most aggravating manner possible, ‘at grief’”(190).


The Grosvenor and the Water-Colour Societies.” The Art Journal New Series 46 (1884): 189-91.

Poë, Simon: “Made in Italy: Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s Patience on a Monument, Smiling at Grief.” The Oscholars. Ravenna 2. October 2009. Web. 8 May 2022.

“The Grosvenor Gallery.” The Academy 25 (May 10, 1884): 336-37.

Stephens, Frederic George. “The Grosvenor Exhibition”, The Athenaeum, no. 2950 (May 10, 1884): 603-04.

Stirling, A. M. W: A Painter of Dreams, and other Biographical Studies. London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1916.

Last modified 8 May 2022