Rivière, Briton (1840-1920; English)
A Roman Holiday 1881
Oil on canvas, 99.5 x 178.2 cm
Purchased, 1888
National Gallery of Victoria (p.313.2-1)

The subject, loosely based on Byron’s Childe Harolde (as noted in NGV 1894), has been given Christian overtones, the martyr/gladiator drawing the sign of the cross in the sand with his sword.

A Roman Holiday reportedly excited considerable comment among the Melbourne public viewing it at the 1888 Centennial Exhibition, where another sword-and-sandals painting with a Christian theme, by Karl von Piloty (Beneath the Arena 1882, now in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery) received even more enthusiastic attention, and a gold medal (see Eichberger).


AR 1888, p.36; NGV 1894, p.10 (I.La Trobe Gallery, no.8; ill.); NGV 1905, p.12 (I.La Trobe Gallery, no.20; ill.) [£1,575] 

There are useful comparative comments on the present painting in Dagmar Eichberger, “Rediscovering Beneath the arena – a major work by Karl von Piloty at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery,” Art Journal of Victoria 36 (1996): available online as: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/rediscovering-beneath-the-arena-a-major-work-by-karl-von-piloty-at-the-ballarat-fine-art-gallery/