(England 12 May 1828–09 Apr 1882)
35.1 x 42.5cm sheet (irreg.); 60.9 x 68.1 x 2.6cm fram
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the main intellectual force behind the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), formed in 1848, which during its brief existence affected a revolution in British painting. The important members were Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. Ford Madox Brown never became a member of the PRB, but acted as mentor and supporter.
The true Pre-Raphaelite period was brief, lasting from the formation of the brotherhood in 1848 until its effective disbanding in c.1852. The movement retained a certain consistency until c.1865, but after this its importance was mainly through its influence on a new generation of painters.
Rossetti exhibited only two oil paintings during the PRB period. Discouraged by adverse criticism he turned almost exclusively to painting in watercolours. It was in this medium that he produced a series of highly imaginative works based on literary and historical subjects, most commonly set in the middle ages.
Rossetti was a highly literary man who read deeply in Shakespeare, Keats, Browning and above all Dante. In 1848 he completed his translation of Dante's 'Vita Nuova', and intended to complete 13 watercolours illustrating episodes from the poet's life. In fact he seems only to have finished a very small portion of them. Today only four are recorded, including the present work.
The picture shows Dante dressed in a full-length red tunic and leaning on a wall frescoed with light blue angels. A small girl wearing a gold coloured dress offers him flowers. Directly behind her is the figure of Beatrice flanked by two dark-haired bridesmaids. Beatrice is walking in a bridesmaid's procession towards the wedding feast. Dante gazes at his beloved as she passes but she looks haughtily at him. When the present watercolour was first exhibited in 1852, the catalogue carried an abbreviated passage from the 'Vita Nuova', describing the subject of the work.
Rossetti's father was a scholar of Dante. The artist often identified himself with the poet whose name he shared. And Beatrice became for him the poetic counterpart of his lover Elizabeth Siddall who by this date was living with him. She was the model for the figure of Beatrice in this watercolour. Later she was immortalised in Rossetti's famous 'Beata Beatrix' which commemorates her tragic and self-inflicted death in 1862 from an overdose of laudanum.
When it was exhibited in 1852 the present watercolour attracted the admiration of the great critic, John Ruskin: "I am very much delighted with a sketch of Rossetti's in the Winter Exhibition Beatrice and Dante - a most glorious piece of colour. The breadth of the blue-green - and fragmentary gold is a perfect feast" (Ruskin to Holman Hunt, 9 January 1853). Such was his admiration that he shortly afterwards acquired a second version of this watercolour painted in1855 which is now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Hirschl & Adler, New York (United States of America), pre 01 Dec 2003, New York/New York/United States of America, Purchased by the AGNSW from Hirschl & Adler 2003
Private Collection, post 08 Jun 1999, Purchased Sotheby's London, 8 June 1999, lot no. 21 (£221,500)
Mrs David Sells (England), pre 08 Jun 1999, England, by descent, later Lady Sells. Sold Sotheby's London, 8 June 1999, lot no. 21
Mr and Mrs Cecil Charrington (England), England, by descent
Mrs Ernest Charrington (England), England, later Mrs Hadley, daughter of Henry Tanworth Wells
Henry Tanworth Wells RA (England, b.1828, d.1903), England, by descent to his daughter Mrs Ernest Charrington
'Enter Dante Gabriel Rossetti' by Peter Raissis, pg.9-12, Look Apr 2004, Apr 2004, 11, 11-12 (colour illus.).
Maris Teresa Benedetti (Italy), Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Florence, 1984, 172-173 (illus.). no. 29
Tate Britain (England), The Pre-Raphaelites, 1984. cat.no. 176
A.I. Grieve, The art of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: watercolours and drawings of 1850-1855, 1978, 17-18.
Royal Academy of Arts (England, estab. 1768), Dante Gabriel Rossetti: painter and poet, 1973. cat.no. 87
Virginia Surtees, The paintings and drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1828-1882: a catalogue raisonné, Oxford, 1971, 17 (illus.). cat.no. 50, pl. 33
Oswald Dougherty (Editor), John Robert Wahl (Editor), Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Oxford, 1965-1967, Vol. 1, 1835-1860: 122.
Tate Britain (England), Loan exhibition of paintings and drawings of the 1860 period, 1923. cat.no. 1
City of Bradford Art Gallery (England), Catalogue of the works of art in the Cartwright Memorial Hall, 1904. cat.no. 92
Art Journal Dec 1899, Dec 1899, 356.
H.C. Marillier (England, b.1856, d.1951), Dante Gabriel Rossetti: an illustrated memorial of his art and life, London, 1899, 150 (illus.). no. 30
New Gallery (England), Exhibition of pictures ancient and modern by artists of the British and Continental Schools: including a special selection from the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The New Gallery, Regent Street, 1897-8, London, 1897. cat.no. 54
William Michael Rossetti (England, b.1829, d.1919), Dante Gabriel Rossetti: his family-letters, 1895, Vol. 1: 173, 179.
'Notes on Rossetti and his works' by William Michael Rossetti, Art journal 1884, 1884, 151.
Burlington Fine Arts Club (England), Pictures, drawings, designs and studies by the late Dante Gabriel Rossettti, 1883. cat.no. 6
Winter exhibition of sketches and drawings, Ernest Gambart, French Gallery, London, 1852–1852.
Pictures, drawings, designs and studies by the late Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1883–1883.
Pictures ancient and modern by artists of the British and Continental Schools: including a special selection from the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, New Gallery, 01 Jan 1898–02 Apr 1898.
City of Bradford Exhibition, City of Bradford Art Gallery, 1904–1904.
International Exhibition, Rome 1911, Exhibition Venue Unknown, 1911–1911.
Loan exhibition of paintings and drawings of the 1860 period, Tate Britain, 27 Apr 1923–29 Jul 1923.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: painter and poet, Royal Academy of Arts, 13 Jan 1973–11 Mar 1973.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: painter and poet, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, 29 Mar 1973–06 May 1973.
The Pre-Raphaelites, Tate Britain, 07 Mar 1984–28 May 1984.
The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite Designs, Studies and Watercolours, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 17 Jun 2011–04 Sep 2011.