The Hours

Artist: Samuel Shelley (British, London 1756–1808 London)

Date: 1801

Medium: Ivory

Dimensions: 5 1/2 x 4 1/4 in. (140 x 109 mm)

Classification: Miniatures

Credit Line: Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900

Accession Number: 26.168.71

Not on view
The Artist: Born in Whitechapel, London, Shelley began to exhibit in 1773. His ambitions extended beyond portrait miniature painting to imaginative figure subjects. His feeling that the latter works were not sufficiently appreciated by the Royal Academy led him to become one of the founders of the Old Water-Colour Society in 1804. In his day he was considered a near rival to Richard Cosway (see 62.49 and 24.80.499) for miniature portraits.

The Miniature: Shelley filled many sketchbooks with designs for historical and literary subjects of this kind, and a study of The Hours in pen and brown ink is in The Met (30.124). At the top the artist inscribed the drawing “past,” “present,” and “to come”; at the upper right he wrote a page number that reads either 103 or 107; and at the lower right he commented "either in oil or / compn. to Diana in min.t.” He apparently contemplated making either an oil painting or a miniature and if the latter, with a companion piece representing Diana.

Shelley first used the subject in a miniature shown at the Royal Academy in 1788 as number 285, The Hours (after Gray). It seems likely that this exhibit should be identified with an oval miniature belonging from 1899 to Henry Walters and now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (38.75; 4 1/8 x 3 3/8 in. [106 x 85 mm]). The design was engraved by Nutter (in the same format, but more tightly cropped) as the frontispiece to Thomas Gray’s "Ode to Spring" in Charles Taylor's The Cabinet of Genius (London, 1788). The rubric beneath reads “The HOURS. Fair Venus' Train.”

Shelley returned to the theme in 1801, showing the present miniature at the Royal Academy as number 793. He titled it The Horae, Eunomia, Dice and Irene; or the past, the present, and the coming hour. Its companion piece was number 804—The Parcae; or, the Fates drawing the thread of human life—whose present whereabouts is unknown. Shelley's work, particularly the present miniature, played a significant role in the development of the style of Edward Greene Malbone (1777–1807), the distinguished American miniature painter. In 1801 he wrote to Charles Fraser of Charleston, South Carolina, from London that he thought Cosway and Shelley the best English miniaturists to copy and continued, "I am painting one now which I shall bring with me. It is ‘The Hours: the past, present, and the coming’.” The American artist's enlarged copy (6 5/8 x 5 5/8 in. [168 x 142 mm]), signed and dated Edwd G. Malbone / August 1801, has belonged since 1854 to the Providence Athenæum, Rhode Island. When in the Huntington collection, Shelley's miniature was thought to be a copy of Malbone's rather than the reverse.

The back of the original gilt bronze and red enamel frame is glazed to reveal the artist's inscription in ink on parchment: [D]esigned & Painted by / Samuel Shelley / N° 6 George Stree[t] / Hanover Squ[are].

[2016; adapted from Reynolds and Baetjer 1996]
Inscription: Signed (lower left, in scratched letters): S.Shelley
Collis P. Huntington, New York (by 1897–d. 1900; life interest to his widow, Arabella D. Huntington, later [from 1913] Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, 1900–d. 1924; life interest to their son, Archer Milton Huntington, 1924–terminated in 1926)
London. Royal Academy. April 27–June 13, 1801, no. 793 (as "The Horæ, Eunomia, Dice, and Irene; or the past, the present, and the coming hour").

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Four Centuries of Miniature Painting," January 19–March 19, 1950, unnumbered cat. (p. 6).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 5, 1996–January 5, 1997, no. 155.

A Catalogue of Miniatures in the Collection of Collis P. Huntington. [New York], 1897, unpaginated, ill., calls it a copy after Malbone's version of the subject (Providence Athenæum, Rhode Island).

Ruel P[ardee]. Tolman. "Malbone's 'Hours'." Antiques 18 (December 1930), pp. 508–9, fig. 2, calls Malbone's version an enlarged copy after Shelley's miniature and "an improvement . . . not only in placement, but in character"; refers to Shelley's drawing (The Met, 30.124) as the first idea for this subject, followed by a miniature (possibly the one in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore) for the Nutter engraving, and finally this miniature; cites Malbone's letter to Fraser in which he mentions that he is working on his version of "The Hours," and Fraser's observation that he had "always understood the composition to be Malbone's".

Ruel Pardee Tolman. The Life and Works of Edward Greene Malbone, 1777–1807. New York, 1958, pp. 27, 188, calls the Baltimore work a replica of this miniature and refers to the Nutter engraving as being after another unspecified composition of the same subject by Shelley.

Graham Reynolds with the assistance of Katharine Baetjer. European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 11, 142, no. 155, colorpl. 155 and ill. p. 142, identify the Baltimore miniature as the one included in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1788 and as the composition engraved by Nutter; state that the MMA miniature had a companion piece when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1801: "The Parcae; or, the Fates drawing the thread of human life" (current whereabouts unknown).