Thoughts of the Past

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Thoughts of the Past
John Roddam Spencer Stanhope - Thoughts of the Past - Google Art Project.jpg
Artist John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
YearExhibited in 1859
Mediumoil on canvas
Dimensions86.4 cm× 50.8 cm(34.0 in× 20.0 in)
Location Tate Britain, London

Thoughts of the Past is an oil painting on canvas by English Pre-Raphaelite artist John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, first exhibited in 1859 and currently housed at Tate Britain.



Known as one of the "second-generation" of Pre-Raphaelites, Stanhope was among Dante Gabriel Rossetti's mural-painting party at the Oxford Union in 1857, together with Arthur Hughes, John Hungerford Pollen, Valentine Prinsep, Ned Burne-Jones and William Morris (nicknamed Topsy). He was a founder member of the Hogarth Club, a direct descendant of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. [1]

This painting, with his depiction of a prostitute remorsefully contemplating her life, showed a subject typical of the Victorian era. Works such as Thoughts of the Past and Rossetti's Found (1855) allowed the genteel gallery-going public to sympathise with societal problems - from a safe distance. It was pictures such as William Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience (1854), illustrating a married man and his mistress, which were regarded as threatening to Victorian family life. [2]

Stanhope painted Thoughts of the Past in a studio just above one owned by Rossetti. Although his model is recognisably Pre-Raphaelite, the background of his painting hints at his own individual, artistic style, which was yet to emerge. [3] The river, boats and bridge owe more to the conventional style of the art in the Royal Academy than to that of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.see image detail below

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Detail of left-side background (possibly the Thames docks in London) John Roddam Spencer Stanhope - Thoughts of the Past detail02.jpg
Detail of left-side background (possibly the Thames docks in London)
  1. A.M.W. Stirling, "The Life of Roddam Spencer Stanhope, Pre-Raphaelite, a Painter of Dreams," in A Painter of Dreams and Other Biographical Studies (London: Lane, 1916).
  2. T. Hilto, The Pre-Raphelites, Thames and Hudson (1970). Cf. also Elaine Shefer, "The 'Bird in the Cage' in the "History of Sexuality: Sir John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt," Journal of the History of Sexuality 1 (1991), p. 475, note 48.
  3. Elise Lawton Smith, Evelyn Pickering de Morgan and the Allegorical Body, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (2002).

Further reading