Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Joan of Arc - Sotheby's

signed with monogram and dated 1864 l.r.
watercolour and bodycolour over pencil
31 by 30cm., 12¼ by 12in.
ESTIMATE 250,000-350,000 GBP

Coming up for auction at Sothebys

(from Rossetti's notebook of 1879-1880)
From the mid 1860s Rossetti painted a series of depictions of passionate heroines that contrasted with the passive women that he had painted in earlier works. Thus he chose subjects of confrontational, powerful women whose
actions were ultimately dangerous; the woman who caused the fall of an entire city Helen of Troy of 1863 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg), a powerful sorceress Sibylla Palmifera of 1866 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), Adam's demon first wife Lady Lilith of 1867 (Delaware Art Museum) and the cause of all mankind's ills Pandora of 1871 (private collection). The subject of Joan of Arc was a character that Rossetti depicted as a sensual warrior-maid in a battlefield tent decorated with Fleur de Lys motifs. Her eyes are turned towards heaven and she is kissing the Sword of Deliverance as she makes her final prayers before battle. It was a counterfoil to the contemporary My Lady Greensleeves (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University) in which a woman is in the act of winding her pennant around a knight's helmet. That they were designed around the same time demonstrates Rossetti's love for subjects in which the themes of women, beauty and battle are interwoven. Helen of Troy fits into this category, with Cassandra of 1861 (British Museum) and the series of pictures illustrating the story of St George and Princess Sabra of 1861 and 1862 (Birmingham City Art Gallery). The cold shining armour and chainmail gives an added contrast to the warm flesh,
embroidered tunic and cascading hair.

The present picture has been described as a replica of an oil painting of the same subject entitled Joan of Arc Kissing the Sword of Deliverance painted in 1863 (Musée des Beaux Arts de Strasbourg) however it is more accurate to describe it as a variant as it differs considerably from the oil. Although Rossetti appears to have been pleased with the oil painting, a year after its completion he designed a new composition, reversing the pose and tilting her head Heavenward (Tate) a pose that he would return to many years later for one of the attendants in his famous Astarte
Syriaca of 1877 (Manchester City Art Gallery). Commissioned by his patron Ellen Heaton of Leeds for theconsiderable sum of £105, Rossetti considered the 1864 Joan of Arc; 'superior in expression and colour to the oil picture'. The present version, also dated 1864, is a smaller replica of the Heaton picture, commissioned in October
that year by Louisa, Lady Ashburton. Lady Ashburton was famous for her friendship with many of the greatest luminaries of the period including Landseer, Carlyle and Browning and as a liberal patron of the arts. She already owned a replica of Rossetti's The Meeting of Dante and Beatrice in Paradise painted in 1863 and in 1864 during one of her visits to Rossetti's studio she asked him to paint Joan of Arc and a version of Venus Verticordia for her (the latter picture was sold to another collector). Joan of Arc was already hanging at Lady Ashburton's house by Christmas
of that year when it was seen and admired by Lady Ashburton's close friend Pauline, Lady Trevelyan. The Ashburton house Seaford Lodge had only recently been built at Seaford in Devon and was being decorated in the fashionable Aesthetic style with etchings by Whistler and tiles and stained glass supplied by Morris and Co. Louisa Ashburton was a woman of strong character and it is perhaps significant that she bought a painting of a willful and defiant heroine.

It is difficult to be certain about which of Rossetti's models Joan of Arc depicts. At this time there were a number of women that posed irregularly for Rossetti, including Aggie Manetti, Ellen Smith, Ada Vernon and a Mrs Knewstubb, the wife of his studio assistant. His brother William Michael Rossetti suggested that a German woman named Mrs Beyer posed for Joan of Arc but did not record which version she posed for and others stated that the model was Aggie Manetti, the Scotswoman that Rossetti painted several times. It is likely that the 1864 pictures depict an ideal of female beauty formed from an amalgamation of the features of several women. 

A notebook used by Rossetti in 1879 and 1880, contains a draft of an unpublished poem and in 1882, a few days before he died at Birchington-on-Sea Rossetti completed another painted replica of Joan of Arc (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) a weak and mannered painting that lacks the subtlety of the two pictures from 1864. This was the last picture that Rossetti finished, proving his enduring fascination for the subject.

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