Lot 25
  • 25

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
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  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • the loving cup
  • signed with monogram and dated 1867 l.l. and inscribed on a label attached to the backboard: The Loving Cup / Watercolour / D. G. Rossetti

  • watercolour


Alexander Shannan Stevenson, by whom purchased in August 1867;
By descent to Mrs Nancy Thompson, née Stevenson;
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 21 November 1989, lot 29;
Private collection;
Anonymous sale, Christie's, 26 November 2003, lot 17;
Private collection


London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, Pictures, Drawings, Designs and Studies by the late Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1883, no. 51 (lent by A. S. Stevenson);
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, Royal Mining, Engineering and Industrial Exhibition, 1887, no. 766 (lent by A. S. Stevenson);
London, New Gallery, Pictures Ancient and Modern by Artists of the British and Continental Schools, including a Special Selection from the Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1897, no. 52;
Takamatsu, City Museum of Art; Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art; Himeji, City Museum, Himeji, City Museum, Symbolisme en Europe, 1996-97, no. 40


Athenaeum, no. 2396, 27 September 1873, p. 407;
William Sharp, Dante Gabriel Rossetti - A Record and a Study, London, 1882, p. 192, catalogue no. 170;
H. A. Kennedy, 'The Pre-Raphaelite Movement', The Artist, January 1898, illustrated p. 37;
H. C. Marillier, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: An Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life, London, 1899, pp. 148, 248, catalogue no. 192;
Virginia Surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Catalogue Raisonné, two volumes, Oxford, 1971, I, p. 116, catalogue no. 201 R. 3


STRUCTURE The sheet is sound. PAINT SURFACE The paint surface is in good clean condition with strong colour and no sign of fading. CATALOGUE COMPARISON The image is less pink than the illustration suggests with a marked tonal difference between the figure's dress and the bronze plates in the background as well as the cup itself. FRAME Under glass and held in the original plaster gilt frame in fair condition; unexamined out of frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

'Douce nuit et joyeux jour,
O chevalier de bel amour'

Rossetti's The Loving Cup shows a beautiful young woman, three-quarters length and wearing a red dress gathered at the waist with a chain and with wide sleeves which reveal a white blouse with frilly cuffs. The model wears a necklace of many strands of silver seed-pearls, while at her right wrist is a matching bracelet. At her neck, and partly concealed by the collar of her dress, she wears red coral beads. Her hair is tied back by a jewel or cameo with attached hanging chains, while on the back of head is wound a piece of dark blue material which then rests around her neck and across her shoulders. In the background is a piece of furniture covered by a piece of embroidered linen with decorations of a Veneto-Byzantine pattern. On a ledge above, and forming the uppermost register of the composition, are four bronze or brass plates decorated with animals and human figures. No precise historical epoch or location is intended or implied, although F. G. Stephens (see below) believed that the subject was set in the fourteenth century. For certain, and as was usually the case with Rossetti, we feel we are far removed from the day-to-day reality of 1860s London.

The woman stands before the viewer and seems to gaze into a space behind his left shoulder, not quite engaging in an exchange of glances but allowing the sense that it is to him that she makes a gesture of loving fidelity - by raising to her lips and drinking from a golden cup. This was a subject of Rossetti's own invention, but he attached to it lines of verse in French, in which the girl promises 'sweet nights and happy days to the knight of her fondest affections'. The source for these is not identified, but is likely to have been in an old French song of the kind that the artist and friends were fond of singing. The motif of pledging affection by drinking from a cup or sharing drafts of magic potion was in his mind at the time. Also in 1867 he painted a watercolour version of a subject previously treated in stained glass, Sir Tristram and La Belle Yseult drinking the Love Potion (Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford), which although retaining something of the medieval character of his watercolour work of the 1850s and arranged in a more archaic style with the forms flattened and spread over the surface of the sheet, shares something of heightened emotion of the present subject.

The prime version of Rossetti's composition The Loving Cup was painted in oil in 1867 (FIG. 1) and belonged to Frederick Richard Leyland. Although untraced at the time of the publication of Virginia Surtees's 1971 catalogue of Rossetti's works, where it appears as no. 201, it has more recently come to light and is now in the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. Three, or possibly four, watercolour variants of the subject were made in a short period after the completion of the original. They seem to have been done from an actual model rather than merely undertaken as copies - because the woman shown in each resembles Ellen Smith rather than Alexa Wilding, who was the model for the oil original. Of the other versions, one which is dated 1867 and which Rossetti sold to John Bibby, a Liverpool shipowner, is in the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow (Surtees 201 R.1). Another, apparently undated but also likely to have been done in 1867, belonged first to Fanny Cornforth and was subsequently sold by Charles Augustus Howell to William Graham, and is now in the National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (Surtees 201 R.2). A further version (but which may in fact have been identical with one of the other versions) seems to have belonged to Theodore Watts-Dunton, or at least appears to have been sold from Watts-Dunton's house The Pines, Putney (Sotheby's, 22 March 1939, lot 71).

The present version should be regarded as the first or second in this sequence of versions (in a letter to Brown of 1873 Rossetti refers to that now in Adelaide, which once belonged to Fanny Cornforth, as 'the 3rd of 3 water-colour replicas (!) I did' (William E. Fredeman, The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Cambridge, volume 6, p. 62)). There are indications that Rossetti used assistants to work on the various versions; Harry Dunn, who Rossetti first employed as a studio assistant in May 1867, is know to have made at least one copy of the subject, as he recalled in his Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti & his circle, Westerham, 1984, p. 16. Virginia Surtees concludes that the Walthamstow version is 'partly attributable to Dunn, though in execution [...] above the usual level of his work' (The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Catalogue Raisonné, two volumes, Oxford, 1971, I, p. 115). The Adelaide version was, according to Rossetti himself writing in the same letter to Brown quoted from above, 'begun by [Walter John] Knewstub'. Although there seems to be no documentary evidence to suggest that anyone else was involved in the production of the present picture, attempting to assess the relative degrees of authorship in the case of works which may have been collaborative is very difficult. It is, however, undoubtedly the case that Rossetti regarded the various Loving Cup versions as essentially his own work, as the account of them as 'water-colour replicas [that] I did' makes clear. 

Alexander Stevenson, the first owner of the present version of The Loving Cup, was born in Glasgow but lived in Tynemouth and had a successful career as a chemical broker and insurance agent in Newcastle. It is not known how Stevenson first came into contact with Rossetti; they may perhaps have been introduced by James Leathart, with whom Rossetti stayed in Gateshead in December 1862 when painting a portrait of Maria Leathart. Leathart and Stevenson would undoubtedly have known each other through the Newcastle-based trade in metals and chemicals, in which they were both involved. Leathart's remarkable collection of works by Rossetti and other progressive artists seems to have spurred other Novocastrians to want to acquire Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic paintings. Stevenson had a further connection with London-based art circles: his daughter was married to F. H. Leyland Stevenson, the grandson of F. R. Leyland. Stevenson apparently saw the present watercolour in Rossetti's house in Cheyne Walk in July 1867, and was smitten by it. The drawing was completed in the course of the summer, and on 28 August Rossetti was in a position to write to ask for payment for it and for a drawn study for Sybilla Palmifera which Stevenson had also bought (Surtees 193B.).

F. G. Stephens described the watercolour in his account of Stevenson's collection as part of his series of articles describing works of art belonging to patrons in the north-east: '"The Loving Cup" sparkles with a joy-suggesting brilliancy. It is full of light, it is clear and vivid in tints and tones, and even a little hard, as often occurs in the effect of bright daylight which is represented. The colour is as emphatic as that which characterizes illuminations of the fourteenth century, - the very age, be it noted, of the romance poetry in view here. The bright carnations of the lady's face, her tender yet cheerful and honest eyes, her youthful yet rich contours, the pure, hardly at all reduced scarlet of her robe, the very precision of the background, and the invariable crispness of the handling of the picture, are all elements in complete keeping with the peculiar motive of the design' (Athenaeum, 27 September 1873, p. 407).

The present watercolour version of The Loving Cup was included in the first published catalogue of Rossetti's work, given as an appendix to William Sharp's biography of the artist of 1882. W. M. Rossetti, in his 1889 Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Designer and Writer, simply referred to 'Various replicas' of the subject. Marillier, in 1899, gave each of the three replicas an entry in his chronological listing of Rossetti's works, placing it second in the sequence.