Lot 5
  • 5

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • Study of Marie Stillman for A Vision of Fiammetta
  • coloured chalk on pale green paper
  • 27.5 by 33cm., 18¾ by 13in.


Christie's, Remaining works of the Painter and Poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Deceased, 12 May 1883, lot 50 as Study for the Head of Mrs Stillman c.1877, sold for £50 8s to 'Knowles';
Mrs V. Pritchard, by whom sold Sotheby's, Belgravia, 5 November 1974, lot 35 and purchased by the present owner


William Michael Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer, 1899, p.101;
Virginia Surtees, Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882 - The Paintings and Drawings - A Catalogue Raisonne, 2 volumes, 1971, vol I., p.149, cat.no.252B


The sheet is original with what appears to be a thin fabric backing. The edges are unevenly trimmed, however, this is hidden beneath the mount. There are artist's pinholes to the corners and centre of all four edges. There is a horizontal line, possibly restoration very close to the lower edge, this is only visible on close inspection. There are four small abrasions to the sheet surface, one to the lower right of the figure's neck and the other three close to the left centre edge. There are some areas of uneven discolouration. There are a few very small foxing marks scattered sparsely throughout. The work is framed under glass in a simple frame and has been examined out of its 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

Around 1881 Rossetti’s studio assistant Henry Treffry Dunn painted a fascinating watercolour of the studio at Tudor House on Cheyne Walk which shows two of Rossetti’s last paintings The Salutation of Beatrice and Proserpine. Displayed on the walls are what appear to be many of the coloured chalk drawings that Rossetti made for his later pictures, presumably the ones which he felt best represented his work and ones for which he felt such an attachment that he did not sell them. Amongst these can be seen a fine drawing for La Donna della Finestra and for Pandora above the fireplace and the head studies for the goddess and her attendants in Astarte Syriaca. Beneath these are three more head studies and the central picture appears to be the present drawing which certainly remained in Rossetti’s possession until his death.

Although a highly-finished work of art in its own right, this beautiful drawing was made as a study for Rossetti’s large oil painting A Vision of Fiammetta of 1878 (private collection) depicting a statuesque woman in a red gown standing among the boughs of an apple-tree. The first reference to the composition in Rossetti’s published correspondence was made on 21 September 1877 in a letter to his brother William; ‘I should also like to go on also when possible with the thing I began from Mrs Stillman.’ (Oswald Doughty (ed.), Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 4 volumes, 1965-7, vol IV., p.1501) In a letter to Jane Morris, Rossetti wrote that he had ‘accomplished the complete head and neck from Mrs Stillman for the Fiammetta subject.’ (British Museum Department of Manuscripts)

The model for A Vision of Fiammetta was Marie Spartali Stillman, arguably Rossetti’s most beautiful model in later years who by this time had become a close friend and protégé (for biographical details, see her self-portrait included in this sale). Although she posed as the subsidiary figures of attendants in several works by Rossetti, including Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice (Walker Art Gallery) and The Bower Meadow (Manchester City Art Gallery) Rossetti found her beauty very challenging to capture and A Vision of Fiammetta is the only painting of her as a singular figure. However, it is a glorious celebration of her, goddess-like in her majesty and haloed by a golden nimbus in which the winged figure of love surrounds her head.

Marie painted her own depictions of Fiammetta in 1876 as The Light Sight of Fiammetta and again in 1878 Fiammetta Singing (sold in these rooms, 15 November 2011, lot 75) only a year after she had posed for Rossetti’s more iconic image. She chose a more literal translation of a subject of Boccaccio’s muse singing among her women-folk, whilst Rossetti painted a visionary scene of Fiammetta as a glorious dream-like apparition of love. Rossetti was never more technically brilliant than when he was using coloured chalks and the present picture is surely among his most accomplished with its soft and sculptural translation of the contours of her face with her high cheek-bones, Cupid’s-bow lips and beguiling golden eyes.

'Behold Fiammetta, shown in Vision here.
Gloom-girt 'mid Spring-flushed apple-growth she stands;
And as she sways the branches with her hands,
Along her arm the sundered bloom falls sheer,
In separate petals shed, each like a tear'
‘Fiammetta – For a Picture’ – from Ballads and Sonnets