Sunday, June 17, 2012


Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Price Realized
June 2000 Christie's

signed with monogram and dated 'DGR/1869' (lower right) and inscribed 'PANDORA' (upper left)
pastel, on two joined sheets
37 x 26 in. (94 x 66 cm.)

According to Hesiod, Pandora was the means by which Zeus brought misery upon the human race in revenge for the iniquity of Prometheus in stealing fire from heaven. Created from clay by Hephaestus (Vulcan), she derived her name from the fact that each of the gods gave her some gift which was destined to wreak havoc among men; Aphrodite endowed her with beauty, Hermes with boldness and eloquence, and so on. These deadly blessings were enclosed in a casket, and Pandora was conducted to earth. There she became the wife of Prometheus' brother, Epimetheus, who forgot his sibling's advice never to accept a gift from Zeus; and in due course she opened the casket, releasing its fatal contents and bringing the Golden Age to an end. Only hope remained inside. The early Church saw a parallel between the story of Pandora and that of the Fall of Man, and she was often seen as a pagan counterpart to Eve.

Rossetti wrote a sonnet on the theme to accompany his design, publishing it in his Poems of 1870:

What of the end, Pandora? Was it thine,
The deed that set these fiery pinions free?
Ah! wherefore did the Olympian consistory
In its own likeness make thee half divine?
Was it that Juno's brow might stand a sign
For ever? and the mien of Pallas be
A deadly thing? and that all men might see
In Venus' eyes the gaze of Proserpine?

What of the end? These beat their wings at will,
The ill-born things, the good things turned to ill,
Powers of the impassioned hours prohibited.
Aye, hug the casket now! Whither they go
Thou mayst not dare to think: nor canst thou know
If Hope still pent there be alive or dead.

The present drawing is one of two finished studies which Rossetti made in 1869 for an oil painting completed in 1871 (private collection; Surtees 224, pl. 318). The other drawing (Surtees 224A, pl. 319) was acquired by Alexander Henderson, later 1st Baron Faringdon, in the mid-1880s, and is still at his Oxfordshire country house, Buscot Park (now National Trust). Both drawings are somewhat smaller than the painting, and opinion has differed as to which is the earlier. H.C. Marillier, in his early monograph, is ambivalent on the subject, and indeed seems to contradict himself, while Mrs Surtees, in her catalogue raisonné of 1971, refers to the present drawing as a 'replica' of the one at Buscot. Whatever the case, they cannot be more than a few months apart, each being dated 1869. They vary slightly in detail. In the Buscot version, the position of the right hand and the drapery of the sleeve are different, while the head is tilted slightly more forward. The casket, moreover, has feet, making it reminiscent of a medieval chasse. The painting differs slightly again, apparently taking ideas from both drawings and introducing new ones; the figure wears bracelets on her right wrist, and the casket's lid is studded with jewels.

In addition to these three full-scale and highly finished versions, there are three related sketches and studies (Surtees 224C-D and 224 R.I.B), as well as a large chalk drawing of 1879 (Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University; Surtees 224 R.I., pl. 321) and a study for it (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight; Surtees 224 R.I.A.). The Fogg drawing differs considerably from the earlier treatments, and exhibits the somewhat oppressive mannerisms of the artist's late style (Fig. 2).
The subject was ideally suited to Rossetti's genius, allowing him to create one of his most brooding images, laden with a sense of doom and impending fate. The design as we see it here in its full early splendour seems to claim a place in a wider context than British art or Pre-Rapaelitism, finding its true milieu in mainstream European Symbolism. Rossetti's friend and admirer A.C. Swinburne, himself an ardent internationalist, described it in appropriately symbolist terms. It was, he wrote, 'among his mightiest in its godlike terror and imperial trouble of beauty, shadowed by the smoke and fiery vapour of winged and fleshless passions crowding round...her fatal face and mourning veil of hair' (Essays and Studies, 1875). A rather less subjective but still evocative description is given by Esther Wood in her book Dante Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, a pioneering study of 1894. 'The sorrow of his great Pandora is the sorrow of a goddess over her own infirmity. She has opened the mystic casket which she was given to keep sealed, and now she stands helpless before the witness of her deed. The potent spirits are escaping from her box, and she can never undo the mischief she has done'.

The model for Pandora was Jane Morris, with whom Rossetti was currently deeply in love. The wife of his friend and business associate William Morris, Jane had been born in Oxford in 1839. She was of humble parentage, her father being a stablehand living and working in Hollywell. Rossetti and his follower Edward Jones (later Burne-Jones) had 'discovered' her at the theatre in the autumn of 1857, when they and a group of fellow artists were living in Oxford, painting murals in the debating-chamber of the newly-built Union. Struck by her remarkable looks, Rossetti had asked her to sit, and she was soon posing for the figure of Queen Guinevere in his mural, part of a cycle with Arthurian themes. They already seem to have been mutually attracted. Rossetti, however, was engaged to Lizzie Siddal, and it was William Morris, another follower at work in the Union, who had fallen in love with Jane and married her in April 1859. They settled at Red House, Upton, in Kent, designed for them by their friend Philip Webb. The furnishing of this seminal building, so significant for the future development of the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements, led directly to the foundation of the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., 'fine-art workmen', in 1861. Morris was the director, Rossetti a partner, and Jane's skill as a needlewoman was put to good use.

In May 1860 Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal were finally married after a long and tortured engagement, but in February 1862 Lizzie died from an overdose of laudanum, possibly committing suicide, and Rossetti established himself in the large romantic house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, which was to remain his home until his own death twenty years later. The Morrises remained at Red House until 1865, when, with two young daughters, they left the country and settled in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, in order for Morris to be nearer his work. In fact they were now living literally 'over the shop'. The firm was flourishing, having scored a great success with its stand at the International Exhibition at South Kensington in 1862, and Morris was deeply involved with the Earthly Paradise, the great cycle of narrative poems with which he made his name when it was published at the end of the decade. But his marriage was in difficulties. Jane had never really loved him, marrying him at least partly for his wealth and social position, while Morris, though fond of her, was too emotionally reserved and too wrapped up in his work to be an attentive husband. With Rossetti now a widower, the stage was set for a renewal of the intimacy engendered when Jane was sitting for him in Oxford in 1857.

There were signs of Rossetti's rekindled infatuation as early as the summer of 1865, when he invited Jane to Cheyne Walk to pose in the garden for a famous series of photographs (Fig. 1). The same year saw her sitting to him for drawings, and by 1868 he was working on a formal portrait, in which she poses in a blue silk dress (Kelmscott Manor), as well as number of more imaginative compositions - Mariana (Aberdeen Art Gallery), Reverie (private collection), Aurea Catena (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University), and Le Pia de' Tolomei (Museum of Art, University of Kansas). Jane continued to model for Rossetti almost until his death. She appears in such further roles as La Donna della Fiamma (1870; Manchester Art Gallery), Silence (1870; Brooklyn Museum), Proserpine (versions 1872-82; Tate Gallery and elsewhere), and Astarte Syriaca (1877; Manchester), and she inspired his last major picture, The Day Dream (Victoria and Albert Museum), commissioned by Constantine Ionides in 1879. The affair is also documented in the couple's surviving correspondence, for long under embargo in the British Museum, but opened in 1964, fifty years after Jane's death, and eventually published in 1976. Between 1870 and 1874 they contrived to spend considerable amounts of time together in the country, mainly at Kelmscott Manor, the sleepy old house on the upper Thames of which Rossetti and Morris took a joint tenancy in 1871. Morris was an indulgent if not complacent husband, determined to put a civilised face on things whatever his inner torment. As for Jane and Rossetti, their liaison apparently remained at the level of a passionately romantic attachment rather than a physical relationship. At least Jane later maintained that she never quite 'gave herself' to her lover, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary she must be believed.

Pandora was a fairly early fruit of the affair, the drawings slightly post-dating the group of works of 1868 and the painting being completed shortly after those of 1870. The subject does not have the personal significance that is sometimes read into Proserpine, in which the wife of Pluto is seen immured in her gloomy palace in Hades from which she is only allowed to escape for short intervals. Even Silence seems an appropriate role for Jane, a woman who was nothing if not enigmatic, a mystery to her husband, her lover, her circle of friends, and to us. Yet the image of the troubled goddess, 'sorrowing over her own infirmity' and the havoc and misery she is causing, was perfectly attuned to Jane's idiosyncratic and rather formidable type of beauty - her moody, soulful expression, her stately, statuesque bearing, her pale colouring, and that most striking of all her features, the thick, dark, tightly-waving hair, falling in great loops over her temples.

Jane Morris's beauty was essentially romantic, and in Pandora Rossetti does nothing to weaken or reduce its impact. Yet the picture's subject places it well within the context of the classicism which emerged so strongly in British art in the 1860s. We tend to think of this phenomenon in terms of such artists as Leighton, Poynter or Albert Moore, who later became great exponents of the classical revival; but just as they had all experienced Pre-Raphaelite influence early in their careers, so the Pre-Raphaelite circle was profoundly affected by the classical values that gained currency in the 1860s. During this period, when everyone was mixing both socially and professionally and the cross-currents were of a bewildering complexity, Rossetti treated many classical subjects in addition to that of Pandora. Proserpine is another, rather later example, while in a third, Venus Verticordia (1864-8), he deliberately adopted a motif on the grounds that 'the Greeks used to do it'. Parallels are not difficult to find in the contemporary work of such fellow artists as Madox Brown, Burne-Jones and Frederick Sandys, and there are literary comparisons, too. Morris, whose first volume of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere (1857), had been unremittingly medievalist, chose a classical theme for his next volume, The Life and Death of Jason (1867), while The Earthly Paradise (1868-70) carefully balances stories drawn from classical and northern sources. Meanwhile Swinburne was making his contribution in Atalanta in Calydon, the verse drama he published in March 1865 and described as 'pure Greek' in form and spirit.

Our drawing appeared in two important early exhibitions, the Rossetti memorial exhibition held in 1883, a year after his death, at the Royal Academy (where, ironically, he had never shown in his lifetime), and the much larger exhibition mounted by the New Gallery in 1897. The drawing also has an interesting and distinguished provenance. It was bought direct from Rossetti by the wealthy India merchant and Liberal member of parliament for Glasgow, William Graham. Graham was a Scot of strict evangelical faith whose religious convictions did not preclude a passionate love of beauty. He was not only an avid collector of the work of Rossetti and Burne-Jones but a passionate admirer of early Italian painting, an enthusiasm that Gladstone acknowledged when he made him a trustee of the National Gallery in 1884. Unlike his rival colletor F.R. Leyland, who was only interested in major works and tended to think of them as part of a decorative ensemble, Graham was a true connoisseur, as fond of unassuming pictures in which he detected some special beauty as he was of great 'machines'. Burne-Jones was deeply touched when Graham went up to one of his pictures and kissed a passage that particularly appealed to him. Rossetti, though he sometimes found Graham a hard bargainer (he was not a Scot for nothing), admitted that he was his only patron 'who was worth a damn'.

In her autobiography Time Remembered (1933), Graham's daughter Frances, by then Lady Horner, recalled visiting Rossetti as a young girl. 'My father', she wrote, 'used to take us a great deal to different artists' studios, and we went to Rossetti most Saturday afternoons. He was the first man of genius I had ever known well, and it was a great excitement going to his home in Cheyne Walk. The dining-room was dark, with oak, and convex mirrors, there was blue china everywhere, and Rossetti used to come out to us in slippers, and a sort of dressing-gown, and show us into his studio...(He) would talk, or sometimes read poetry to us with a deep booming voice that seemed to come up from his boots...My father bought a great many of his pictures, or at any rate had the refusal of most of them'.

We catch another glimpse of these occasions in Rossetti's letters to Jane Morris, which contain several references to versions of Pandora. On 21 July 1869 he wrote that 'Graham saw the Pandora yesterday and was so delighted with it that I shall certainly make this one do for his uncle and begin the full-length one...when you can sit again'. The version which 'delighted' Graham was evidently the oil finished in 1871, which was indeed brought by his uncle, John Graham, who had a small collection. It may have been on the same visit that Graham saw the present drawing and expressed a wish to have it. As for the full-length painting, Rossetti was still talking of his determination to paint this as late as 1877. It never materialised, although it remains interesting evidence of the importance he attached to the design.

Graham's enormous collection was dispersed at a five-day sale at Christie's in April 1886. It included some of the most important Pre-Raphaelite and Italian old master paintings now in museums in England and America. Pandora came up on the second day and was bought for 110 guineas by Charles Butler, who was also to acquire the oil version at John Graham's sale, held at Christie's almost exactly a year later. A Far East commodity broker, Butler had similar tastes to Graham, collecting both Italian old masters and the Pre-Raphaelites. Many of his Italian pictures were later brought by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The drawing did not come onto the market again until the 1960s, when it was acquired through the Stone Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, by the artist L.S. Lowry (1887-1976). There is nothing unusual about an artist collecting. Indeed in England the practice has a long and honourable tradition going back to Van Dyck via Ricketts and Shannon, Rossetti himself, Lawrence, Reynolds, Lely and others. But there can never have been a greater discrepancy between the collector and his treasures as there was in the case of Lowry, the painter of bleak views of industrial Salford, populated by 'matchstick' figures, who was obsessed with the voluptuous and soulful heroines of Rossetti. 'These (pictures)', wrote David Bathurst in an article entitled 'Talking to Lowry' published in the Christie's Review for 1964-5, 'he collects with an insatiable zeal. Few things can drag Lowry away from the north of England but, as he says himself, "I'd be on the 11.58 tomorrow if you had another like the one I bought in April. I have nightmares sometimes that Christie's are going to hold an entire sale of Rossettis"'. At that date he owned twelve examples, and he was to acquire more. Mrs Surtees' catalogue lists sixteen, and since this was published five years before his death, it may well not reflect the full extent of his eventual holdings. Lowry's most important Rossetti, the one mentioned in the interview above, was the prime version of Proserpine, which, by a curious coincidence, had also belonged to Charles Butler. It was sold again at Christie's on 27 November 1987 (lot 140) for £1,300,00, a figure which long remained a world record for a Victorian picture.

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