Oxford

Rossetti: Pre-Raphaelite muse pictures at auction

Picture of girl sewing
Image caption Lachesis: Study of Jane Morris seated in a chair sewing (1861) is being sold at Christie's

For a young group of painters later to achieve fame as the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, the summer of love came in 1857.

It was in that summer Dante Gabriel Rossetti met his muse, Jane Morris, who was Jane Burden at the time, and who came to embody the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of beauty.

And at the same time she met her future husband, Rossetti's friend William Morris.

For Harriet Drummond, curator at Christie's: "The enduring popularity of Pre-Raphaelite images is underlined by the popularity of the images we see today reproduced on cards, calendars, posters and book covers."

After passing down generations of his family, one of Rossetti's paintings of Jane Morris is now up for auction for the first time.

Proserpine, unfinished, was painted nearly two decades after they met, when they had become lovers.

Sitting alongside it in the auction is a far earlier picture.

Placing the two next to each other charts the tumultuous development of the relationship between painter and muse.

'Kiss her feet'

Over the summer of 1857 three Oxford undergraduates, Rossetti, Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, shared rooms in George Street.

They spent a hedonistic summer painting the Oxford Union debating chamber.

Rossetti and Burne-Jones spotted Jane at the theatre and asked her to become one of their models, who they nicknamed "stunners".

Image caption Proserpine, unfinished (1872) is said to show a more voluptuous image of Jane Morris

Ms Drummond said: "It was over one summer holiday. They're literally at the beginning of their careers."

Rossetti was already engaged to Lizzie Siddell, another great pre-Raphaelite beauty.

Jane married his friend William Morris, later to gain fame as a socialist writer and artist.

The poet Swinburne, also at Oxford, wrote of her: "The idea of his marrying her is insane.

"To kiss her feet is the utmost man should think of doing."

But after Siddell's death, Rossetti and Jane Morris began an affair that spanned most of her life.

Voluptuous lips

At the top of a Rossetti painting of Morris, he wrote in Latin: "Famous for her poet husband, and famous for her face, may my picture add to her fame."

The two pictures now at auction recall her fame again.

In the 1861 drawing, Rossetti depicts Morris as Lachesis, one of the three mythological fates, spinning the thread of life.

The auction house said it could be seen "as a hidden allusion to her power to determine his destiny on both personal and artistic levels".

By the time of the painting from 1872, never before sold, Rossetti's depiction of his lover as Proserpine was far more sexualised.

"You see the distinctive voluptuous lips.

"It's not a finished study - you can see the blue underdrawing, showing his technique", Ms Drummond said.

'Queenly' manners

The woman in the pictures represented a triumph of re-invention.

She was born Jane Burden in St Helen's Passage off Holywell Street in Oxford, now marked with a blue plaque.

She was the daughter of a stableman who worked at Symond's Livery Stable.

Her mother was illiterate - a far cry from Morris' later fluent French and Italian, coupled with a notoriety for having "Queenly" manners.

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