A sketch by the leading Pre-Raphaelite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, goes under the hammer at Bonham’s in their 19th Century European, Victorian and British Impressionist Art sale,which takes place on 21 January at their New Bond Street location.
Portrait of Jane Morris is a pen and ink drawing dating from 1873 and is estimated at £20,000-30,000. It depicts the love of Rossetti’s life in a private moment, reclining on a couch and reading a book. With her voluptuous lips, penetrating eyes, strong bone structure and cascade of dark hair, Jane Morris became the embodiment of Pre-Raphaelite beauty whose striking features shine out from many of Rossetti’s more important works of art. Known to her friends and family as Janey, she is best remembered as the wife of William Morris who became Rossetti’s muse and lover and modelled for him as well as others within the Pre-Raphaelite circle; in her own right she was also an accomplished linguist, musician and a renowned embroiderer within the Arts and Crafts movement who took an active role in the family business of Morris and Co.
According to William Michael Rossetti, his brother first spotted Jane at a theatre in Oxford in Autumn 1857 whilst he and his friends Edward Burne-Jones, Morris and others were working on the Oxford Union murals. Struck by her singular beauty they persuaded Jane to model for them. Jane and Dante Rossetti’s love was probably not consummated until 1866 or 1867, but by that time Rossetti had developed an overwhelming passion for his model and muse. This poignant drawing of Jane was executed in January 1873, almost certainly at Kelmscott Manor, a grand Thames-side Cotswold residence of which Morris and Rossetti became joint tenants in June 1871. Whilst there in 1873, Rossetti made a number of studies of Jane of which the present example encapsulates their intimacy and the artist’s virtuosity as a draughtsman.
Rossetti died in 1882, and the following year Rossetti’s former housekeeper, model and mistress Fanny Cornforth and her husband John Bernard Schott staged an exhibition of his works at what was known as the Rossetti Gallery, on Old Bond Street, where the present lot was first shown to the public. The records remain mute as to what happened to the present portrait after it was shown at the Rossetti Gallery, and even when Virginia Surtees published her Rossetti Catalogue Raisonné in 1971, the location of Jane Morris’s likeness was unknown. Its recent reappearance is therefore a significant rediscovery since we now know that during the last century it was owned by the American collectors John Hudson and his wife Olivia Poole and has remained in their family until now.