LONDON AND NEW YORK – On 20 May the Metropolitan Museum in New York will open their exhibition, The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy, with an aim to "...direct fresh attention toward the Metropolitan's little-known holdings in this important area." Among the museum’s rarely-seen Pre-Raphaelite pictures is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Study for Mariana, a chalk drawing of Jane Morris executed in 1868, which began as a portrait of the beautiful wife of Rossetti’s friend William Morris and was only later connected to the tragic heroine of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, when the artist made an oil painting based upon the drawing, now at Aberdeen City Art Gallery. Both pictures were created as alternative designs by Rossetti as he worked upon a fairly conventional portrait of Mrs Morris known as The Blue Silk Dress (now owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London and on display at Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire). Rossetti’s attraction to his best friend’s wife was becoming more apparent to all, including her husband who did little to oppose it, but until this time he had only made drawings of Jane in celebration of her dark, brooding beauty. In 1868 his infatuation for her made him determined to paint her in glorious colour as a sign of how important she had become as a muse to him. The first of these were the moody The Blue Silk Dress and Mariana, but his next picture captured the fiery passion that he felt for Jane, dressed as the Titaness of classical mythology Pandora who unleashed all the torments of the world – symbolising the fire of passion and inspiration that Jane reignited in Rossetti following the death of his wife who famously died of an overdose of laudanum. This year marks the centenary of Jane’s own death but the smouldering intensity of the face that gazes out from Rossetti’s Pandora is undiminished.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pandora. Estimate £5,000,000–7,000,000.
Two weeks before the opening of the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum and only 20 minutes' walk away at our galleries on York Avenue, Sotheby’s will exhibit Rossetti’s Pandora for the very first time in America, before it returns to London to be included in the British & Irish Art auction on 22 May. Pandora was bought by the present owners forty-five years ago and has only rarely been seen in public. It is the most important Pre-Raphaelite picture to appear at auction in recent history and is likely to ignite great excitement in America, where Rossetti’s work has always been appreciated, even in the first half of the twentieth century when the Rossetti’s work was derided in Britain but collected by the likes of Samuel Bancroft in Delaware and Greville Winthrop in Harvard in whose museums masterpieces such as La Bella Mano and Lady Lilith, The Blessed Damozel and Il Ramoscello are now among their treasures.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A Christmas Carol, signed with monogram and dated 1867. Sold at Sotheby's London during the Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale for £4,562,500.
The popularity of Rossetti’s work is at an all-time high at the moment following Sotheby’s sale of Proserpine (another depiction of Jane Morris) and A Christmas Carol last year for £3,274,500 ($5,275,495) and £4,562,500 ($7,463,602) respectively. This has also been mirrored by public interest rekindled by recent international blockbuster exhibitions like Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde in London, Moscow and Washington, D.C. last year.