Inscribed: ‘H.R. Newman 1877’.
As a young artist in his native New York, Newman was influenced by Ruskin’s writings. He moved to Europe in 1870, finally settling in Florence, where Ruskin met him in 1882. This watercolour predates their first meeting, but is of a subject recommended by Ruskin, an arcade of wall tombs to the left of the façade of Santa Maria Novella: “untouched in its sweet colour and living weed ornament,” he wrote in the fifth part of Mornings in Florence (1876), it cried out to be painted “stone by stone.” In only the following year, Ruskin was shown a drawing by Newman of the front of the church, and wrote an enthusiastic letter of praise, suggesting this further picture: “I wish you could do those three old arches . . . If they are still uninjured, there’s nothing lovelier in Florence.”
Newman executed several further works for the St. George’s Guild Museum, but Ruskin was apparently reluctant to part with this watercolour, commissioning T.M. Rooke for another version in 1886, now at Sheffield.