Monday, October 31, 2011

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Portrait of William Michael Rossetti, half-length, seated, turned to the right with his head in profile

Price Realized

signed with monogram (centre right)
pencil, on paper
10 5/8 x 8 5/8 in. (27 x 21.9 cm.)

Mrs Gabriele Rossetti and by descent to
William Michael Rossetti and by descent in his family to the present owner.

Many of the following pictures (Christie's Dec 2010) all belonged to William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919), the younger brother of the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and have descended through his family to the present owner. Indeed two portrait drawings are by William Michael himself, and one by his wife, Lucy, the elder daughter of Ford Madox Brown. William Rothenstein, who painted William Michael's portrait (National Portrait Gallery) in 1909, recalled in his reminiscences, Men and Memories (1931), how his sitter's house in Primrose Hill, 3 St Edmund's Terrace, 'was full of paintings and drawings by Dante Gabriel and Ford Madox Brown ... he [also] had countless small drawings by his brother put away in drawers, which he would bring out from time to time'.

However, in a few cases the ownership of the drawings can be traced back to members of the Rossetti family from whom William Michael evidently inherited them. Lot 1, for example, was lent by his mother to Dante Gabriel's memorial exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1883. She also owned the strange drawing by 'Peppino' Maenza of Dante Gabriel, and both this and the even earlier portraits of the Rossetti children by Filippo Pistrucci are recorded as having belonged to Christina Rossetti after her mother's death in 1886. Lastly, the drawings by H.T. Dunn and Lizzie Siddal (lots 18-21) were undoubtedly owned by Dante Gabriel. The Dunn is almost certainly the watercolour that G.P. Boyce recorded being shown by Rossetti in November 1869, and the Siddals would have been among the works by his wife that Rossetti clung to so devotedly following her tragic death on 11 February 1862. Indeed the two most substantial drawings were possibly among the examples of her work with which he hung the drawing-room on moving to 16 Cheyne Walk the following October.

We are grateful to Virginia Surtees for her help in preparing the following catalogue entries. References to 'Surtees' indicate her book The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Catalogue Raisonné, Oxford, 1971.

Lot Notes
William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919) was Dante Gabriel's slightly younger brother. Though a civil servant by profession, he was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, formed in 1848, edited its short-lived journal, The Germ, and remained closely connected with the movement as eye-witness and analyst. Indeed, without his indefatigable chronicling, our knowledge of Pre-Raphaelitism in general, and the Rossetti family in particular, would be infinitely the poorer.

As a prolific art-critic, editor and literary historian, William Michael also made a significant contribution to the wider culture of his time. Oscar Wilde paid tribute to his 'great literary influence and eloquent pen'. The writer and his wife Lucy, the elder daughter of Ford Madox Brown, have been the subject of a recent biography by Angela Thirlwell (William and Lucy: The Other Rossettis, Yale, 2003).

This fine drawing is undated but Marillier, followed by Virginia Surtees, assigned it to 1846, two years before the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, when the sitter was seventeen. It shows the influence of Gavarni and other French illustrators on the artist at this time.

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