George H Hay, RSA RSW (British / Scottish 1831-1913); "The Student's Dream" (1857); oil on canvas; initialled and dated lower right; signed with address (3 Kings Place [Edinburgh]) and titled on label on stretcher; mounted in a good reproduction gilt wood and composition frame; 46 x 42cm (18.25 x 16.5ins) sight (visible painting) size (65.5 x 59.5cm (25.75 x 23.5ins) outside frame size).
EXHIBITED: This painting was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) in 1857, no.394.
In researching the subject, we came across the following poem in The Ladies Companion Vol VII, (William W. Snowdon, New York, 1837:94):
THE STUDENT'S DREAM
His nadir goal the sun has passed / and hushed is every cradled blast;/ Yet still, beseiged by well-conn'd tomes,/ O'er classic land the student roams./ Illum'd by Cynthia's hueless beam,/ His marcid cheeks with fulgence gleam,/ While bending o'er the learned page,/ He scans the lore of gifted sage./ Though features wan and tabid brow, sate dire consumption's vampire now,/ His sinking limbs ambition stays / And fame prospective lends her rays / To cheer the heart, to ease the pain,/ And points the way to glory's fane.
Low burns the lamp. His eyes grow dim,/ And phantom shapes before him swim,/ While Somnus comes his own to claim,/ And brighten hopes of deathless fame./ He drops his head upon his breast,/ And, pillow'd there, partakes of rest./ Then dreamy forms of beauty rise,/ And fairer scenes and bluer skies:/ He sees his fondest wish attain'd,/ And proud renown's high acme gain'd.
Now graced his brow a wreath of flowers,/ By maidens cull'd in green-leaf'd bowers./ And long-drawn plaudits wake to praise/ The beetling rocks of other days./ A fairy form, of witching eye,/ Returns his smile and shares his sigh-/ Without a tear, without a groan,/ And every form of bliss his own,/ He revels on the sweets of earth,/ And drinks th' unmingled cup of mirth.
The charm dissolves. He slow unseals/ His languid eye, and thus reveals/ His garret-room,/ by art ungraced,/ But, here and there, with cobwebs laced-/ He feels his vitals fast consumed,/ And yet his hopes are all relumed./ Disease, and want, and famine stare-/ Without one friend his woes to share;/ Gone are his dreams all clear and bright,/ O'er all around sits ebon night./ But trampling on the present ills,/ No fear his kindling ardor chills:/ He turns the lore-fraught page again,/ while sleep regales the sons of men.
The authors name is just given as "Allan".
Even if it was not the inspiration for this painting, the poem above helps to illuminate its meaning. In his dream, the student has his hand ready to receive a crown of laurels, almost certainly symbolic of a master's degree, from a beautiful being. This may be Apollo, who is often represented wearing a laurel crown and, among other things, was the god of intellectual inquiry.
CONDITION: Excellent. Ready to hang. Lined probably late 19th or early 20th century. Light craqueleure. No restoration apparent under white light. The varnish layer fluoresces under ultraviolet light making it hard to see more but we don't think there has been more than a few spots of very minor retouching at the most.
BIOGRAPHY: George Hay was born in Leith, Edinburgh on the 21st of June 1831. He studied under Roert Scott Lauder (1803-1869) together with William Quiller Orchardson(1832-1910), William McTaggart (1835-1910) and Hugh Cameron (1835-1918). Hay specialised in narrative paintings, his subjects often inspired by Sir Walter Scott's Waverley Novels. He became an Associate Member of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) in 1869 and a full member in 1876, appointed Secretary of the Academy in 1881 and 1907. In 1878 he was a founder member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours (RSW). He is recorded as living at several addresses in Edinburgh, including 3 Kings Place, from where he exhibited from 1856 to 1864, 16 Picardy Place (1865-1787), 12 Queen Street (1876-1882), 63 Queen Street (1883), 9 Castle Terrace (1884) and 7 Ravelston Terrace (1885-1926). he exhibited 132 works at The Royal Scottish Academy between 1856 and 1913 (and two further works were exhibited posthumously in 1926). His work "Caleb Balderstone's Ruse" is part of the Diploma Collection at the Royal Scottish Academy.