A stellar collection of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian drawings and paintings will be presented for auction at Christie’s, this summer. One of the very best collections in private hands with museum-quality works, some of which have not been seen for decades will be offered as part of the Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art sale on 16 June 2015. This beautiful collection features 45 works and is expected to realise in the region of £2 million. Leading the collection is one of eight works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Beatrice: A Portrait of Jane Morris (estimate: £700,000-£1 million, illustrated above left). The collection presents the opportunity for both established and new collectors alike to acquire works at a wide range of price points with estimates ranging from £1,000 to £700,000.
Harriet Drummond, International Head of British Drawings & Watercolours, Christie’s: “Christie’s is delighted to be handling this important and breath-takingly beautiful collection of paintings and drawings brought together by a couple of anglophile art lovers, who combined their passion for the aesthetic of the Victorian Period with the discerning eye of the connoisseur collector. It is the art of this Victorian era celebrating beauty through its depiction of largely female figures, from the monumentality of ‘Desdemona’ to the intimacy of ‘Fanny Cornforth, asleep on a chaise-longue’ that so strongly influenced our idea of beauty today.”
With the recent re-emergence of interest in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, led by Tate’s Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition in 2012, this collection represents many of the ‘Stunners’ who inspired their paintings and made their work truly ‘romantic’, including eight beguiling works by Rossetti. The fine selection of works on paper is led by Rossetti’s impressive life-size study for the protagonist in Desdemona’s Death Song (estimate: £500,000-
800,000, illustrated above right). Modelled by Alexa Wilding, the composition is based on Shakespeare’s Othello, and shows the hauntingly beautiful Desdemona preparing for bed on the fatal night she is murdered by her estranged husband. These women informed the paintings they modelled for and introduced a new concept of female beauty to the Victorian public. It is the art of this period – startling realism, intimacy and feminine beauty – that indelibly defines our images of nineteenth-century England, and transformed British art forever.
It is clear that the two collectors have focused on drawings, most of which exemplify the romance, imagination, and soul of the Pre-Raphaelites, their contemporaries and the artists they influenced. Alongside the seven drawings by Rossetti himself, are three by Edward Burne-Jones, four by Simeon Solomon, two by Frederick Sandys, and an example by Charles Fairfax Murray, Evelyn De Morgan and Emma Sandys. Proud Maisie by Sandys is one of the artist’s most popular subjects and this present composition is charged with sexual tension and raw emotion
(estimate: £50,000-70,000 illustrated left). The model for Proud Maisie was Mary Emma Jones, an actress who had ten children with Sandys and was his principal muse, inspiring countless works which celebrate her distinctive profile and luxuriant tresses.
Three of the Pre-Raphaelites’ contemporaries who celebrated classicism – Frederic Leighton, E.J. Poynter, and William Blake Richmond – are also present. Poynter’s painting of Judith (estimate: £80,000-120,000, illustrated right) depicts the story when the Hebrew heroine saves her people by seducing and beheading Holofernes. Exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1881 and still in the original tabernacle frame, it is a magnificent study of character and intent, this painting has not been on the market for three decades.