Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Study for 'Found'

pencil with pen and ink
8¾ by 7½ in
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 85,250 GBP

Simeon Solomon, to whom given by the artist;

This dramatic and expressive drawing was made as a preparatory study for the head of the young woman who shrinks from the sight of her childhood sweetheart, a drover from the countryside, who recognises her as she works as a prostitute on the streets of London. The painting, which was Rossetti's single attempt at a moral modern life subject of the type that Holman Hunt and Ford Madox Brown were making in the early 1850s, was begun in 1854 to the commission of Francis MacCracken. Abandoned in the mid-1850s, it was then recommissioned by James Leathart in 1859. Rossetti was still working on it in the last years of his life, but was unable to bring the flawed composition to a resolution. Both Edward Burne-Jones and H. T. Dunn worked on the subject after Rossetti's death in 1882. The painting is now in the Bancroft Collection at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.

Although the present drawing has a complete and most interesting provenance –having been given to Simeon Solomon, then ceded by Solomon to Frederick Hollyer in settlement of a debt, and then passed to James Gray the first director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – it has not appeared in the Rossetti literature. It is closely related to a drawing of the girl's head (although slightly more raised and with eyes open, whereas in the present drawing we see her nearly in profile and with head downcast) now in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Surtees catalogue number 64 O). In each case Rossetti has emphasised the dark shadow cast by the girl's face as she presses against the brick wall. In the Birmingham drawing he pays attention to her hair, revealed as her bonnet falls to the back of her head, while in the present instance the bonnet is indicated by broader elliptical strokes of chalk.

The model for the present drawing is not identified. Rossetti is supposed to have made drawings from a girl who was an unnamed friend of Ford Madox Brown when first working on the composition. Surtees has made the suggestion that the face shown in the Birmingham study for the prostitute's head was that of a maid servant employed in the household of Alexander Munro. In 1859, when Rossetti resumed work on the subject, Fanny Cornforth became the model, and it is her features that we recognise in the painting as it exists now.
CSN (Sotherby's)

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