'The design is 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 around the casket in spires of flame-lit and curling cloud round her fatal face and mourning veil of hair.' (Algernon C. Swinburne, Essays and Studies, 1875, p.90)
'The figure is clad in a long robe of Venetian red, and is holding the fateful casket, from which issues a red smoke, curling all round her and forming behind into clustering shapes, like flame-winged seraph curses. Pandora herself wears a look of distant brooding melancholy rather than of surprise or grief.' (Henry Currie Marillier, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1901, p.118)
'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 house prohibited.
Aye, clench 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.'
D.G. Rossetti. 1870
One of the artist's favourite pictures, Pandora is the most important Pre-Raphaelite painting to be seen at auction in the last twenty years, not only due to its monumental size but because of the significant place it takes in the pantheon of the artist's images of the woman who defined the vision of his mature work, Jane Morris. Painted in 1871 it was among Rossetti's first paintings of the dark brooding beauty of Jane, the woman described as possessing 'a face created to fire his imagination, and quicken his powers - a face of arcane and inexpressible meaning.' (William Michael Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Family Letters, 1895, Vol. I., p.244) Pandora has not been offered for sale for almost half a century and has only been in the possession of three families since it was painted. Although it has rarely been seen in public, the painting has a distinguished exhibition history and it is among his most easily recognised images. It is one of the few pictures exhibited during Rossetti's lifetime, having been shown at the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts in 1872 against the artist's wishes. It was included in the artist's memorial show at the Royal Academy in 1883 and an important exhibition at the New Gallery in 1897 but was not seen again for more than seven decades, when it was shown in the exhibition of Rossetti's work at the Royal Academy in 1973, the exhibition that did much to re-establish Rossetti's position in British art after a period of neglect and derision. In 1990 it was shown to an appreciative Japanese audience in a large touring show and in 2003 it was a highlight of the Rossetti exhibition in Liverpool and Amsterdam.
The legend of the Titaness Pandora was told by Lemprière in his dictionary of classical mythology, to which Rossetti often referred; 'She was made from clay by Vulcan, at the request of Jupiter, who wished to punish the impiety and artifice of Prometheus by giving him a wife. When this woman of clay had been made by the artist . . . all the gods vied in making her presents. . . . Jupiter, after this, gave her a beautiful box which she was ordered to present to the man who married her; and by the commission of the god, Mercury conducted her to Prometheus. The artful mortal was sensible of the deceit and . . . he sent away Pandora. . . . His brother Epimetheus . . . married Pandora, and when he opened the box which she presented to him, there issued from it a multitude of evils and distempers which dispersed themselves all over the world. . . . Hope was the only one who remained at the bottom of the box, and it is she alone who has the wonderful power of easing the labours of man, and of rendering his troubles and sorrows less painful in life.' Rossetti also used Heywood's History of Women as a source for the myth; '... she was by Jupiter sent to Prometheus with all the mischiefs that are, included in the boxe: which he denying gave it to Epimetheus; who taking off the cover and lid, and perceiving all these evils and disasters to rush out at once, he scarse had time to shut it againe, and keep in Hope, which was the lowest and in the bottome.' (T. Heywoode, Tunaiken - or Nine Books of Various History Concerning Women, 1624, p.32) Both versions of the story of Pandora were based upon Hesiod's account of the myth, which explains that Pandora's name (meaning 'the gifted') was derived from the gifts given to her by each of the Olympian gods, all of which were destined to wreak havoc among men. Aphrodite bestowed great beauty upon Pandora, whilst Hermes' gift was boldness and eloquence. Her opening of the gift given to her by Jupiter, brought about the end of the Golden Age and for the early Church, the story of Pandora was a pagan counterpart to the story of Eve and the Fall of Man.
'No myth is more familiar than that of Pandora... the first woman, the beautiful mischief; she opens a forbidden box, out comes every evil that flesh is heir to; hope only remains.' (Dora and Erwin Panofsky, Pandora's Box, The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol, 1991, p.3)
For Rossetti, the image of Pandora opening the casket and unleashing winged spectres, may have had some personal significance as in October 1869 - around the time that he designed the painting - he was persuaded to open his wife Lizzie's grave to remove a manuscript of his poems from her coffin, thus unleashing terrible torments for himself. In the original myth Pandora's gift was a vase rather than a box, but Rossetti chose to depict the more recognisable cassonne or marriage-chest and on the side he inscribed 'Nascitur Ignescitur' (born of flames). The box itself appears to have existed until at least 1965 when it was offered with Pandora at a sale at Christie's - sadly it has now been lost. Rossetti and Lizzie had decorated another small jewel casket together (The Society of Antiquaries of London, Kelmscott Manor) which later became the possession of Jane Morris, the model for Pandora.
'Her face was at once tragic, mystic, passionate, calm, beautiful and gracious - a face for a sculptor, a face for a painter - a face solitary in England.' (William Michael Rossetti, 1895)
Jane Morris (née Burden) was born in Oxford in 1839, the daughter of a laundress and a stable-hand living and working in Hollywell. She was ‘discovered’ by Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones at a theatre performance in the autumn of 1857 around the time that Rossetti and a group of fellow artists were painting murals of Arthurian subjects in the newly-built Union debating-chamber. Rossetti asked Jane to pose for the figure of Queen Guinevere in his mural. Although they were mutually attracted Rossetti was already engaged to Lizzie Siddal and therefore not free to pursue a romantic relationship with Jane Burden. In April 1859 Jane married Rossetti's friend William Morris, with whom she had two daughters. After a protracted engagement Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal were finally married in May 1860, but in February 1862 she died from an overdose of laudanum. As a widower Rossetti was now free to pursue a romantic attachment to Mrs Morris. Between 1871 and 1874 Jane and Rossetti spent considerable amounts of time together at Kelmscott Manor, the romantic old house on the upper Thames in Oxfordshire which Rossetti and the Morrises rented together as a retreat. William Morris indulged his wife’s affair with Rossetti, which probably never crossed the boundary from intense romantic attachment to anything more physical. Although evidently fond of Jane, William Morris’s many interests and business responsibilities left little time for his wife and she probably never really loved him having married him for the financial stability that he offered and because Rossetti was not free. She was undoubtedly flattered by Rossetti’s attention and agreed to be his muse following Lizzie’s death. Her remarkable beauty was to be the catalyst for a new type of woman in his art, soulful, enigmatic and other-worldly and as Henry James famously stated after meeting her in 1869; ‘It’s hard to say [whether] she’s a grand synthesis of all the pre-Raphaelite pictures ever made – or they a keen analysis of her – whether she’s an original or a copy. In either case she is a wonder'. Recently her unconventional beauty has been described; 'The firm planes and sharp angles of her face seemed forged in defiance of conventional prettiness. Her eyes - a deep slate gray, ringed by thick lashes and defined by strong brows - were bold yet brooding. No trace of coy, calculated femininity clouded her gaze... With her pale ivory complexion, crowned by an aureole of dark, crisply waved hair, she seemed both ethereal and earthly, an exotic presence in Victorian England, in contrast to the bland standards of beauty favoured in her day.' (Debra N. Mancoff, Jane Morris, The Pre-Raphaelite Model of Beauty, 2000, p.1)
'Through his art, Rossetti courted her and worshipped her... He painted her as medieval queens and classical goddesses. Her sultry features graced his portraits of the beautiful women of poetry, theatre, and ancient mythology. Seen in biographical terms, these stunning pictures chart the course of the painter's longing for Jane's love and affection... she appeared as the spirit of desire denied; like Pandora, the human emissary of the Greek gods, she unleashed peril but protected hope.' (ibid Mancoff, p.3)
It was around 1865 that Jane’s face became an important, reoccurring image in Rossetti’s art, in a series of sensitive and beautiful chalk drawings (a fine example was sold in these rooms, 15 June 2000, lot 39). Around 1866 Rossetti began his first painting of Jane, a fairly formal portrait of her dressed in a blue silk gown (Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire). This was completed in 1868 and it seems that while Rossetti was working upon this portrait he painted a second variant which was adapted into Mariana (Aberdeen Art Gallery) depicting Shakespeare's heroine from Measure for Measure. Pandora was the first oil painting of Jane which began its existence as a symbolic depiction of Jane rather than a portrait. Before this Jane had only posed for chalk drawings, including Reverie (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), Aurea Catena (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University), La Donna della Fiamma (Manchester City Art Gallery) and Silence (Brooklyn Museum, New York) none of which cast her as a specific character. It is significant that Rossetti chose to paint Jane as Pandora, identifying himself with Prometheus (the first man to whom Pandora/Jane was attached) and William Morris as Epimetheus (Jane/Pandora's unhappy husband). It would also be possible to regard Pandora as a depiction of a destructive femme fatale unleashing all of the horrors into the world. It is the case that in later years Rossetti's infatuation with Jane (or at least with the image of Jane as he perceived it through the veil of obsession) would have a destructive, tormenting intensity. However in 1868 when Pandora was begun, Jane's influence as a muse was largely energising, inspiring and positive. Thus we can regard the images of Pandora as depicting a woman who has awakened and freed spirits into the world; a guardian goddess who holds Hope between her hands.
In 1878 when Rossetti's mind was altered by drug use and by his increasing mental instability, he drew Jane again as Pandora in a large Mannerist chalk drawing (Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University) and a study for it (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight). This was at a time when Rossetti was considering painting another full-length oil version of the subject (the painting never materialised). In these later drawings, Jane's features had been distorted and exaggerated, creating a wonderfully monstrous image of destruction and threat. Although the images of 1869 and 1870 depicted essentially the same composition and subject as those from 1878, the images presented two visions of womanhood that were entirely at odds with each other.
Rossetti’s earlier depictions of Jane as Pandora may be regarded as his assertion of the eminence of her beauty above all other women – Pandora was the first woman and therefore her beauty was unrivalled. We may also see in the symbolism of Pandora’s mythology, Rossetti’s belief that Jane Morris had released his previously incarcerated passions and was the guardian of his hope. Just as Proserpine (painted and drawn in several versions from 1871 to 1882, including oil paintings in the collections of Tate, Birmingham City Art Gallery and a private collection and a chalk version sold in these rooms, 19 November 2013, lot 8) depicted Jane as a woman who had succumbed to temptation and sin by eating forbidden fruit, Pandora also portrayed her as disobediently giving in to temptation - the idea of a rebellious streak in Jane that Rossetti clearly enjoyed and was celebrated in Astarte Syriaca of 1877 (Manchester City Art Gallery) where her beauty had become so exaggerated that it is frighteningly powerful. Jane disliked this depiction of her.
Jane's dark, intense and enigmatic beauty and Rossetti’s genius as an artist, ideally suited depictions of tales drawn from classical mythology with their symbolism and impassioned celebration of beauty, lust and love. He painted images of women which are other-worldly and dream-like, like visions of goddesses rather than real women. With their swan-like necks, Cupid’s-bow mouths and elongated hands, his pictures are symbols of femininity rather than portraits. Jane Morris was not a particularly prepossessing woman in reality but through Rossetti’s imagination she was transformed into an apparition of beauty and splendour, more dramatic and potent than the original. This gives his pictures of Jane a timeless quality. They are very different from mainstream Victorian notions of beauty like those painted by William Powell Frith or George Elgar Hicks. Rossetti’s women are not the archetypical nineteenth century women, pale doll-like and subservient, with hair scraped back severely and their bodies restricted and disguised by corsets and bustles. These images should be regarded apart from the confines of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and find their true milieu in the wider context of European Symbolism.
Fitting Rossetti's art neatly into a particular art movement is not easy because his pictures were highly individual and driven by urges greater than a desire to be fashionable or commercial. However his choice of subjects drawn from classical mythology, certainly reflects his awareness of trends that became popular in the 1860s in Britain with artists of the classical revival in the 1860s which had a far reaching influence upon art, design and architecture. We more readily bring to mind the paintings of neo-classicalism by Frederic Leighton, Albert Moore and Edward Poynter but Rossetti and Burne-Jones had an equally important place in the history of this revival. Indeed of his later paintings, it may be argued that Venus Verticordia of 1864-8 (Russell Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth), Proserpine, Astarte Syriaca and Pandora are among his most impressive productions. Like Leighton, Poynter and Burne-Jones, Rossetti, plundered the archaic tales for subjects, but he painted them in a way that had not been seen before. He painted mythology as though it were reflected in the mirror of his own subconscious where Venus, Pandora and Andromeda were essentially the same - personifications of glorified femininity taken out of the mundane reality of the nineteenth century and cast into a shadowy world were time has stopped and is undefined.
THE VISION OF A GODDESS
Classical subjects had inspired Rossetti for many years. Early examples are the various versions of The Return of Tibullus to Delia from the early 1850s (a version from 1851 offered Sotheby's, New York, 11 December 2003, lot 6 whilst a later example from 1867 was sold in these rooms, 11 June 1993, lot 82) and the elaborate multi-figural composition Cassandra of 1861 (British Museum, London). In 1863 he painted Helen of Troy (Hamburger Kunsthalle), and in 1864 he began Venus Verticordia. These single-figure depictions of classical beauties predicted the format of Pandora but in 1865 Rossetti again attempted to paint a multi-figural Greek myth, Aspecta Medusa. Depicting Perseus showing Princess Andromeda the severed head of Medusa reflected in the water of a fountain, the composition proved problematic for Rossetti and the subject was unsavoury for the patron. Although Rossetti made several beautiful studies for the picture, it was abandoned. It seems that around this time Rossetti was considering other classical narratives for his art and the subject of Pandora was favoured as it offered a strong dramatic subject for interpretation.
The story of Pandora was one that appealed to Rossetti because of its iconographic intensity and because it suggested a woman at the top of the hierarchy of her gender. In his later pictures Rossetti was drawn to the idea of strong, dominant women. Like the narrative of Eve, the story of Pandora is essentially concerned with the creation of the first woman, dominant because of her singularity. Thus Pandora can be linked to the idea of the artist and his creation. This may have relevance in that Rossetti 'created' the image of Jane Morris, a new vision of female beauty that contradicted and challenged traditional notions of feminine attractiveness. It was not Rossetti's only image of the first woman - between 1864 and 1868 he painted Lady Lilith (Delaware Art Museum) the wife of Adam before the creation of Eve of rabbinic scripture. As a demoness who demanded equality, Lilith has become a symbol of the destructiveness of female empowerment but it should also be regarded as a celebration of womanly glory - powerful, beguiling and inspiring. Pandora presents the same image, of a woman whose defiant glare demands attention and whose action is wilful and independent; despite Heywood's suggestion that it was Epimetheus who opened Pandora's box, here it is Pandora herself who commits the act.
The origins of the pose of Pandora can be traced back to a famous series of photographs of Jane Morris taken in the summer of 1865, when Rossetti rekindled his infatuation with Jane. The photographs were taken in a temporary canvas photographer's studio erected in the garden of Rossetti's Chelsea home, Tudor House. This was a time when Rossetti began to concentrate upon a series of chalk drawings of Jane Morris and the photographs were taken to aid his studies when Jane was not available to pose. One of the photographs shows Jane full-length, standing with her back to the tent and her hands clasped at her waist. It was this photograph that suggested the pose of Pandora but it was four years before he made drawings of the subject.
In December 1868 Rossetti is recorded as working on 'some crayon heads of Mrs. Morris as Pandora' (W.M. Rossetti, 1903, p.337). The first of these is almost certainly an oval drawing at Manchester City Art Gallery, whilst the other is probably an identically sized and shaped drawing at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford which has become erroneously linked to Astarte Syriaca. Both of these drawings are presently included in the exhibition Rossetti's Obsession - Images of Jane Morris, at Cartwright Hall.
Two highly-finished half-length studies of Jane holding Pandora's box are dated 1869 but were probably begun soon after completion of the Bradford and Manchester head drawings. The first of these was acquired by Alexander Henderson, later 1st Baron Faringdon, in the mid-1880s, and remains at his country house in Oxfordshire, Buscot Park (National Trust). A replica of this drawing (Christie's, 9 June 2004, lot 200) which varies slightly in its details, was bought by William Graham, the wealthy India merchant and Liberal member of parliament for Glasgow. On 21 July 1869 Rossetti wrote to Jane 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... it is a favourite of mine.' The version that had been seen by Graham was the present oil painting which Rossetti sold for the considerable sum of 750 guineas to John Graham, uncle of William Graham. As with many of Rossetti's projected ideas, he did not make a full-length version.
For Pandora Rossetti clad Mrs Morris in one of the loose banyan-style dresses for which she became well-known; her choice of clothing was remarkable as she rejected the contemporary fashions for corsets, lace and embroidery, in favour of voluminous gowns with little adornment. Pandora's only jewellery are bracelets (presumably meant to signify wedding gifts), one of which was a studio prop seen again in Veronica Veronese, the triple portrait of Jane's daughter May entitled Rosa Triplex and in an altered state in A Vision of Fiammetta.
The first owner of Pandora was John Graham, who owned other important works by the Pre-Raphaelites, including Millais' Sir Isumbras at the Ford (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) and examples of the work of Holman Hunt. The artists who appealed to him most belonged to an older generation, Turner, Linnell, Landseer, Etty and their contemporaries and he also bought paintings by Gainsborough and Reynolds. He made his wealth in western Scotland as a founding partner in the family business, W.& J. Graham & Co.. The company manufactured cotton, imported dry goods from India and traded in port wine. George Redford described him as '...a very well-known figure at Christie's for many years, a spare, contented-looking man in black frock coat and necktie, wearing a soft felt hat, always ready with his invitation, "Ye are welcome to Skelmorlie, happy to show ye "the peectures".' Pandora hung at Graham's home in Ayrshire, the imposing Skelmorlie Castle with the oil version of Venus Verticordia (Russell Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth) and The Two Mothers (Sudley Art Gallery, Birkenhead). When he died in 1887, Pandora was bought by Charles Butler who had bought one of the chalk versions from William Graham's sale a year earlier. Butler was a Far East commodity broker, with similar collecting tastes as Graham. Many of his Italian Old Master pictures were bought by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. He owned several paintings by Rossetti including a head study of Jane Morris as Beatrice (private collection) and most significantly the prime version of Proserpine (private collection) Rossetti's other great depiction of Jane Morris as a classical goddess. He also owned the monumental A Vision of Fiammetta (private collection), almost certainly bought as a pendant to Pandora; they share a fiery colour scheme and similar composition and the radiant winged figure floating in the halo of the figure in A Vision of Fiammetta recalls the presonifications of Pandora's torments.
In 1966 Pandora was bought by its present owner from The Stone Gallery in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The gallery was a remarkable one as it specialised in work by the then neglected Pre-Raphaelites and pictures by L.S. Lowry. Lowry was an enthusiastic collector of Rossetti's work and bought many pictures by him from Tilly Marshall, the proprietress of The Stone Gallery, including one of the chalk versions of Pandora which hung in his bedroom. When the drawing was sold in 2000 it broke the artist's auction record, selling for £2,643,750.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale