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.
Between 1861-62 Rossetti designed a series of six stained glass windows for the firm William Morris & Company depicting scenes from the legend of St George and the dragon. The six window panels are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The cartoons are in the Birmingham City Art Gallery.
Rossetti was subsequently inspired to make meticulously worked-up watercolours after two of the original drawings: 'St George and the dragon' 1863 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), and this work 'The Wedding of St George' 1864.
In the central archway behind a stone parapet St George and Princess Sabra embrace. Directly below them, laid out on a large platter is the bloodied sword and grisly trophy: the head of a slain dragon. Two trumpeters frame the scene symmetrically.
In a letter to the picture dealer, Ernest Gambart (12 April 1864) Rossetti wrote: "I had some slight doubt as to this drawing suiting you, it being a Wedding of Saint George... I thought perhaps your discouraging experience of the dragon might have frightened you off the saint altogether. Nevertheless, I believe this drawing might please you, being one of the best I ever did, full of cheerfulness and very brilliant, I think, in colour and completeness...".
The composition recalls medieval manuscript illuminations. The claustrophic space and insistent two-dimensionality are innovatory for this period in British art and would deeply affect later artists such as Burne-Jones.
Not only is the work unusually colourful, it is also extremely well preserved. Rossetti's early water-colour technique involves the use of a dry opaque watercolour probably bound with gum. The paint is built up, and in places scratched back, to give a depth and intensity uncommon in the medium. This work retains all the brilliance and jewel-like intensity which were admired in Rossetti's early watercolours by contemporaries such as Ruskin.
Part of the appeal of the work is also in its personal subject matter. Rossetti depicted himself as St George. Elizabeth Siddal is shown as Princess Sabra (the watercolour dates from two years after her death). Rossetti's sister, Christina, appears as the queen, and his brother, William Michael, as the king.
watercolour and bodycolour with gum and scraping out over traces of pencil
29.0 x 35.3 cm image; 31.2 x 38.4 cm sheet; 47.0 x 53.5 x 2.5 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.l., "DGR [in monogram] 1864".
Purchased with funds provided by John Schaeffer 2003
Not on display
Shown in 11 exhibitions
Exhibition of drawings and paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1828-1882, Beaux Arts London, London, 1940–1940
Paintings and drawings by the Pre-Raphaelites and their followers, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, England, 04 Jun 1951–07 Aug 1951
The Pre-Raphaelites: a loan exhibition of paintings and drawings by members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their associates:
- Herron Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indianapolis 16 Feb 1964–22 Mar 1964
- Gallery of Modern Art, including the Huntington Hartford Collection, New York, New York 27 Apr 1964–31 May 1964
Victorian paintings, drawings & water-colours, The Maas Gallery, London, London, 08 Nov 1971–26 Nov 1971
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: painter and poet:
British masters, 1850-1950, Macmillam & Perrin Gallery, Vancouver, 1978–1978
Lost paradise: Symbolist Europe, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada, 08 Jun 1995–15 Oct 1995
La era victoriana. Un siglo de pintua Británica, Museo Nacional de San Carlos, Mexico City, 1997–1997
Poets and painters, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, New York, 08 Jun 1997–07 Sep 1997
The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite Designs, Studies and Watercolours, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Jun 2011–04 Sep 2011
Victorian watercolours, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Jun 2017–03 Dec 2017
Emily Ebbs Williams, 1864-1912, England, presented to Emily Ebbs Williams by her husband RH Williams as a wedding present, by bequest to her sister Lady Gosse in 1912
Ernest Gambart, 1864, London/England, [dealer] probably with Ernest Gambart
Lady Gosse, 1912-1928, England, by bequest, sister of Emily Ebbs Williams
G.P Dudley Wallis, 1928
Kerrison Preston, 1940
Beaux Arts London, 1940, London/England
Jerrold Northrop Moore, 1958-circa 1964, New Haven/Connecticut/United States of America, in the collection of Moore until at least 1964
Alister Matthews, 1958
Macmillam & Perrin Gallery, Vancouver, post 1964-pre 1978, Vancouver/British Columbia/Canada, dates unknown
Stuart Pivar, 1978
Hirschl & Adler, New York, 1998, New York/New York/United States of America
Hirschl & Adler, New York, pre 01 Dec 2003, New York/New York/United States of America, Purchased by the AGNSW from Hirschl & Adler 2003
Private Collection, pre 01 Dec 2003, United States of America
Referenced in 20 publications
Peter Raissis, Look, 'Enter Dante Gabriel Rossetti', pg.9-12, Sydney, Apr 2004, pp 9–12: pp 9, 12, col illus cover (detail).
Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 2004 [for the year ended 30 June 2004], Sydney, 2004, p 12.
Important British paintings, watercolours and drawings, London, 14 Jun 2001, pp 82–85, no 31, col illus pp 83, 85 (detail).
King Arthur's modern return, Cha, p 6, New York, 1998, p 87.
La era victoriana. Un siglo de pintura Británica, Mexico City, 1997, p 214, no 59, col illus p53.
Masculinities in Victorian painting, Aldershot, 1995, p 118.
Lost paradise: Symbolist Europe, 1995, no 364, illus.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Florence, 1984, pp 243–44, no 215, illus p 244 (illus.).
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, London, 1975, p 127, illus pl 77.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: painter and poet, 1973, p 53, no 209.
The paintings and drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1828-1882: a catalogue raisonné, Oxford, 1971, p 87, no 150RI.
Victorian paintings, drawings & water-colours, London, 1971, no 103.
Victorian painters, London, 1969, p 141, illus p 141.
Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Oxford, 1965-1967, vol 2 (1861-1870), pp 501–02.
Letters from Graham Robertson, 1953, p 440.
Blake and Rossetti, London, 1944, p 52, illus p 52.
The modern school of art, vol III, London, 1886-1888, p 222.
Love & desire. Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from the Tate, Canberra, 2018, p 43.
Poets and painters, New York, 1997, pp 50, 78, col illus p 4.