A blog about the famous Victorian poet, designer, and Socialist, William Morris.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Two Beatrices: A Companion to the New-Found Rossetti

"The Salutation of Beatrice" and "Jane Morris as Beatrice"
 Left, the newly discovered oil ( 
© Christie’s Images Limited 2012.)
Right, the watercolor via Rossettiarchive.org. [copyright 
DGR 1828-1882: An Exhibition (Tokyo 1990)]

After lying hidden in a private collection in Scotland for the past century, a forgotten oil painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Salutation of Beatrice,” will go on sale at Christie's at the end of May. It features Jane Morris in all of her glory as Dante's love, and it's been hailed as “the finest oil portrait by the artist to come to auction in over 25 years.”

Its appearance resolves some mysteries about Rossetti's work. The first mystery comes from one of Rossetti's letters to Jane, written late July of 1869: “I want much to get the little Beatrice I was doing from you finished,” he wrote, “but the hands are in the way as I think I must alter them and all the models have such vile hands.” When this letter was published in Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Jane Morris: Their Correspondence in the late seventies, the reference to the painting was a bit confusing, because the only likely candidate for a Beatrice from 1869 didn't have hands anywhere in the picture.

A footnote tried to get around the problem : “It is difficult to identify this picture. It may be the Beatrice … which is a replica of the head of the 1870 Mariana ... Having such difficulty with the hands he may have cut down the canvas and kept the head and shoulders” But the dating of the newly emerged painting - 1869 - means that we have a much simpler, and more likely, explanation for this reference.

Another mystery was the purpose of a Rossetti watercolor, "Jane Morris as Beatrice"(Alternately titled “The Salutation of Beatrice”). Some scholars thought that it was a study for an oil painting of a completely different design. We see now that it is obviously the same design as the discovered painting. If the dating of both works is correct, the watercolor was probably a copy of the oil painting.

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