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The Sleepy Eye that spoke the melting Soul
The Trustees of the British Museum
James Wilson after Wilson
The Sleepy Eye that spoke the melting Soul
Between 1748 and 1766
Mezzotint
350 x 249 mm
13 3/4 x 9 3/4 in.
2010,7081.3243
E3
A girl in a low-cut bodice sits three-quarter to the left, in front of a table with a few books, arms folded in her lap and a shawl drawn from her frilled cap to her lap. She looks sleepily through the shawl to our right, smiling. A clock is dimly discernible in the upper right corner.
The Hon. Christopher Lennox-Boyd; acquired 2010 with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Friends of the British Museum, the Art Fund, Mrs Charles Wrightsman, the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, and numerous individual donors
Lettered below the image with the title, reference 'Pope', and 'Richd Wilson Pinxt / Wilson Fecit / London Printed for Robt Sayer at the Golden-Buck, opposite Fetter Lane, Fleet Street.'
The subject is derived from Alexander Pope, Imitations of Horace, Book II, Epistle i, (1st edn 1735) lines 147-154, describing the luxury and excess of the Court of Charles II:
'Then Marble, soften'd into Life, grew warm,
And yielding Metal, flow'd to human form:
Lely on animated Canvas stole
The sleepy Eye, that spoke the melting soul.
No wonder then, when all was Love and sport,
The willing Muses were debauch'd at Court:
On each enervate string they taught the note
To pant, or tremble thro' an Eunuch's throat.'
It has been suggested that the model was Wilson's only sister, who lived with him in his early days in London and became attendant to Lady Sundon and later Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Caroline.
Nothing is known of the original painting. Constable suggested that this mezzotint might have been made at the time when Wilson was in touch with the engraver Faber, through the engravings after his portrait E5 George III as Prince of Wales.
Chaloner Smith, vol. 4, p. 1618 (no cat. no.); WGC, commentary under pl. 8b, illustrated as pl. 8c