Briton Riviere was a successor to Landseer (1802–1873; see MMA 1990.75), his most popular works showing either biblical or classical subjects in which animals feature prominently. When exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1876, the present painting was accompanied by the following verses from book 16 of the Odyssey: "Then drew she nigh, in shape a stately dame, / Graced with all noble gifts of womanhood: / None save Odysseus saw her; for to few / Of mortal birth the gods reveal themselves. / But the dogs knew her coming, and with whine / And whimpering crouched aloof."
While Riviere’s work elicited an enthusiastic response from the writer for the 1876 Art Journal, another critic described it scathingly as "an utterly mistaken composition" (Armstrong 1891). What they saw was significantly different from what we see today: in 1892 Shaw-Sparrow noted that Athena "glides" over the arid plain, and so she appeared (in reverse to the picture) in an engraving published three years earlier in the Art Journal (see Additional Images, fig. 1). While the surface affords no evidence of the change, the figure of the goddess that was originally there emerges clearly in an x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 2). This figure must have been reworked and the background modified while the canvas belonged to Lord Faringdon, in 1893–94, as indicated by the inscribed date. The repainted Athena would seem to illustrate Kestner’s analysis of Riviere’s females as "fierce and retributive" (Joseph Kestner, Mythology and Misogyny: The Social Discourse of Nineteenth-Century British Classical-Subject Painting, Madison, Wis., 1989, p. 235).
[2012; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): B. Riviere 1876–93–4
Edmund Crompton Potter, Rusholme House, near Manchester (until 1884; his estate sale, Christie's, London, March 22, 1884, no. 50, for £997.10.0 to Agnew for Henderson); Sir Alexander Henderson, 1st Baronet, later Lord Faringdon, London (1884–d. 1934; his estate sale, Sotheby's, London, June 13, 1934, no. 125, for £16 to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1934; sold to the Maharajah of Tagore]; the Maharajah of Tagore (from 1934; sold to Miles); [Roy Miles, London, until 1980; sold to Manney]; Richard Manney, New York (1980)
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1876, no. 496 (as "Pallas Athene and the herdsman's dogs").
Glasgow. location unknown. "International Exhibition of Industry, Science, and Art," 1888, no. 177 (as "Pallas Athenæ," lent by Alexander Henderson).
Canning Town, East London. Public Hall and Free Library. "West Ham Free Picture Exhibition," April 9–?, 1900, no. 147 (as "Pallas Athene and the Herdsman's Dogs," lent by Alex. Henderson, Esq.).
"The Royal Academy Exhibition: Concluding Notice." Art Journal, n.s., 15 (September 1876), p. 262.
W. W. Fenn. "Our Living Artists: Briton Rivière, A.R.A." Magazine of Art 2 (1879), p. 255.
F. G. Stephens. Artists at Home. New York, 1884, p. 71.
"Art Sales." Times (March 24, 1884), p. 7.
"Pallas Athene and the Herdsman's Dogs From the Picture by Briton Riviere, R.A." Art Journal (September 1889), p. 267, ill. opp. p. 249, publishes an engraving of it, in which the dogs, in reverse, are identical, while the figure and background differ.
Walter Armstrong. Briton Riviere (Royal Academician): His Life and Work. London, 1891, pp. 16–17, 30.
Walter Shaw-Sparrow. "The Collection of Mr. Alexander Henderson." Magazine of Art 15 (1892), pp. 16–17.
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 297–98, no. 140, ill. (color).