A closer look at an ever-popular section of the collection
The Cecil Higgins Collection has works by all three of the original Brotherhood as well as works by Ford Madox Brown, John Ruskin, Elizabeth Siddal, Frederick Sandys, Arthur Hughes, Simeon Solomon, William Dyce, and Edward Burne-Jones.
Here we will feature all the works across several articles, starting with the core three of Rossetti, Millais and Hunt.
For further research on the Pre-Raphaelites we strongly recommend Birmingham Art Gallery’s Pre-Raphaelite Online Resource
DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI
Rossetti met Elizabeth SIDDAL (1829-62) in 1850 when she was twenty or twenty-one. She had bright copper coloured hair and drooping eyelids and was called 'Gug' or 'Guggums' by Rossetti who drew her innumerable times ‑ 'it is like a monomania with him', Madox BROWN wrote. Eventually they married in Hastings (where this had probably been drawn; see inscription) in 1860, Rossetti described her at this time as 'looking lovelier than ever' but the marriage was not a success.
Siddal, who was herself an amateur painter (see P.400), died in February 1862 probably from an overdose of laudanum. Rossetti was so distraught that he buried his manuscript poems in her coffin but gained permission to disinter them in 1869 as he wished to make a complete edition of all his poems. Unwilling to do this himself, the task was undertaken by his friend and agent Charles Augustus Howell. EJ/JM
DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI (1828-1882):
Fanny Cornforth (study for Fair Rosamund) , 1861. Coloured chalks on paper, 32.2 ´ 25.9 cm, signed: monogram, 1861. Accession no.: P.297
A study for the oil of the same year, (Surtees no.128) in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. Probably based on the ballad Fair Rosamund by Thomas Deloney (?1560-1600).
Rosamund Clifford (c.1139-76) awaits the arrival of her lover, Henry II, in 1174. In the story a secret retreat was built for her in the centre of a maze at Woodstock, near Oxford. She was finally discovered by Queen Eleanor, who had her put to death.
Fanny Cornforth (1824-1906) became Rossetti’s model in 1858. She also became his mistress before his wife’s death, later acting as a sort of housekeeper in Cheyne Walk. She was described by William Rossetti as having 'no charm or breeding, education or intellect'; Swinburne referred to her as a ‘bitch’. She is also noted though for having an affectionate nature, married twice and finally grew so stout that William Bell Scott described her as 'that three waisted creature'. EJ/JM
DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI(1828-1882): Paolo and Francesca, 1862. Watercolour on paper, 31.7 ´ 60.3 cm, inscribed: monogram, 1862 'O lasso', in central panel; inscribed along the foot of the first compartment, 'Quanti dolci pensier Quanto disio', inscribed along the foot of the second compartment, 'Meno costor al doloroso passo!'. Originally on the back of the picture Rossetti had transcribed two verses from the Inferno and added ' Francesca da Rimini (watercolour) D.G. Rossetti Sept.1862'. Accession no.: P.548
Rossetti had this subject in mind from c.1849: a sheet of four sketches on paper show three groups of seated lovers with an open book on their knees whilst the fourth group are standing. The earliest triptych version was acquired by RUSKIN and is now in the Tate Gallery (N03056). This, the slightly enlarged second version was painted for the collector James Leathart; it is reputed to have been one of his favouite paintings, with Leathart likening its colour to ‘jewels’. A third version is in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (No.3266/4). EJ/JM
When I made answer, I began: “Alas!
How many sweet thoughts and how much desire
Led these two onward to the dolorous pass!”
Then turned to them, as who would fain inquire,
And said: “Francesca, these thine agonies
Wring tears for pity and grief which they inspire:
But tell me, in the season of sweet sighs,
When and what way did love instruct you so
That he in your vague longings made you wise ?”
Then she said to me: “There is no greater woe
Than the remembrance of past happy days
In misery: and this thy guide doth know.
But if the first beginnings to retrace
Of our said love, may yield thee solace here,
So will I be as one that weeps and says:
'One day we read, for pastime and sweet cheer
Of Lancelot how he found Love tyrannous:
We were alone and without any fear.
Our eyes were drawn together reading thus
Full oft, and still our cheeks would pale and glow;
But one sole point it was that conquered us.
For when we read of that great lover, how
He kissed the smile which he had longed to win-
Then he whom nought can sever from me now
For ever, kissed my mouth, all quivering.
A pander was the book and he that writ:
Upon that day we read no more therein'.
DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI (1828-1882): Sir Tristram and La Belle Yseult Drinking the Love Potion, 1867. Watercolour on paper, 62.3 ´ 59.1 cm, inscribed: monogram, 1867
Accession no.: P.401
This is the watercolour version of an original cartoon (not traced) for a series of stained glass windows made by the Morris firm for the entrance hall of Walter Dunlop’s house, Harden Grange, Bingley in Yorkshire, 1862. The stained glass panels, including Rossetti’s other design for the series, The Fight with Sir Marhaus, are now in Bradford Art Galleries & Museums.
The subject is taken from Malory’s Morte d’Arthur (c.1450) and was one of the most popular love stories of the Middle Ages.
Tristram travels to Cornwall to seek adventure, where, in his first major feat, he kills Sir Morholt, brother-in-law and champion of Anguish, King of Ireland. Tristram, suffering terrible wounds from the struggle goes to Ireland to seek help from Yseult (daughter of Anguish), who has special healing skills. During his convalescence Yseult falls in love with him, although her hand is promised to King Mark of Cornwall.
On their return to Cornwall Tristram and Yseult share the love potion intended for her future husband; it bursts into flames as their glasses touch. Above, to the right, the figure of Love with crimson wings draws an arrow from his quiver. The lovers continue the deception until trapped by Mark. Yseult eventually returns to Mark whilst Tristram goes into exile.
Rossetti considered it to be 'one of my very best watercolours particularly full and deep in colour', (letter to James Leathart 8 May 1872). This was not however an opinion shared by Leathart (1820-95), who, having acquired the picture, stated in a letter, ‘I am sorry to say the drawing does not come up to my expectations. Its colour is doubtless fine but not equal to that of the ‘Paolo and Francesca’ [see P.548] whilst in every other quality it is as far behind that noble work' (draft of a letter from James Leathart 25 May 1872).
Rossetti does however capture the full emotional intensity of the moment, concentrating the viewer’s gaze on the lovers duplicity.
Jane Morris is recognizable as the model for Yseult. EJ/JM
Accession no.: P.260
A replica of the whole composition of one of Millais’ most famous and popular pictures, exhibited at the R.A. in 1852 together with this quotation:
When the clock of the Palais de Justice shall sound upon the great bell, at day-break, (on St Bartholomew’s day) then each good Catholic must bind a strip of white linen round his arm, and place a fair white cross in his cap.
The Order of the Duke of Guise.
The Massacre of St Batholomew took place on the morning of 24 August 1572.
Here, a young Catholic woman, during a stolen meeting, is entreating her Protestant lover to wear the white linen sash, but he is gently resisting and refusing to save his skin by denying his faith. At his feet nasturtiums grow, a token of sorrow, while ivy, the emblem of constancy, clings to the wall behind the lovers.
The model for the Huguenot was a friend of Millais’ family, General Arthur Lemprière, while a professional model, Miss Ryan, posed for the young woman; Mrs George Hodgkinson, wife of Millais’ half-brother, also posed for this figure.
The oil was warmly praised in The Times, 14 May, 1852 although the figure of the lover, a thorough Calvinist, was criticised because, 'his right leg has disappeared altogether, which gives him the appearance of what ornithologists call a "wader"’.
A leading member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Millais later pursued a brilliantly successful career as an academic and society painter. He claimed to be the highest paid artist in history, was the first painter to be created a baronet and was also elected President of the R.A. a few months before he died. EJ
Sir JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS, Bt., P.R.A.(1829-1896): After an illustration to the poem Maid Avoraine by R. Williams Buchanan, c.1861-2. Watercolour on paper, 10.7x14.5 cm, inscribed: monogram. Accession no.: P.166
The illustration to the poem Maid Avoraine by R. Williams Buchanan (1841-1901) appeared in Once a Week in July 1862 (Vol. VII, p.98), so Millais’ drawing can be dated 1861-2. He may have made a second version as well.
The poem recounts the story of Sir Gawain and the ‘country-bred’ Maid Avoraine. Sir Gawain forsakes the Court to seek a more peaceful life but on meeting Avoraine doubts her love for him now ‘Stript of my sword and coat of gold’. Sir Gawain puts her love to the test, asking that she should run at his side, dressed as a page as he rides ‘O’er wood and field and flood’ for two days. The maid agrees and on the second day Buchanan recounts,
When at the cottage door they stopt
Down at his feet the maiden dropt,
Worn with the weary race;
But Gawain leapt to earth in bliss,
And caught her to him with a kiss
That burned the tearful face,-
Saying aloud, “At last 'tis plain
Thou lovest me well, Maid Avoraine.
Sir Gawain now has the proof he needs that she does truly love him, but, unfortunately for him, she spurns his renewed love for her by casting ‘away thy worth/ In pity for my lowly birth’. Sir Gawain in his anger returns to Court leaving Avoraine whose ‘hope be dead’. EJ/JM
WILLIAM HOLMAN HUNT, O.M. (1827-1910) Peace and War illustrations to a poem by Leigh Hunt, 1848. Pen and ink on paper, 13.2 ´ 21.5 cm, inscribed probably at a later date: WHH Peace 1848; on reverse: Figure sketches in pencil Accession No.:P.135
According to Hunt these were designed for the Cyclographic Club in 1848. The club would set subjects for members to draw and later criticize. Of this work D.G. ROSSETTI said:
The Subject new and impressive being taken moreover from a glorious poem which deserves illustration. In the first sketch I agree with Mr Deverill that the old woman too much resembles the German ‘StoryTeller’, although with him I doubt not that the coincidence is accidental. I think too that this figure is rather too angular in lines and that the leg is too much forward for the position, something more over should be seen of the left arm. I like the second sketch equally, although it is evidentlyexecuted more in haste and is therefore deficient in certain details which can be easily supplied.
John Everett MILLAIS added: ‘This sketch is very beautiful in sentiment and careful in composition if the legs of the boy were continued downwards they would reach the bottom of the drawing – No.2- quite as good in its style’.
They illustrate the poem Captain Sword and Captain Pen by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), first published in 1835 and dedicated to Lord Brougham (1778-1868). More precisely they illustrate the second and third stanzas of Part IV of the poem: ‘On what took place on the field of Battle the Night after Victory’. Despite Captain Sword’s triumph of arms, the husband of one of the women in Peace is slain and finally Captain Sword ‘rusted apart’, leaving Captain Pen ‘To make a world of swordless men’. EJ/CB
WILLIAM HOLMAN HUNT, O.M.(1827-1910) Fishing-Boats by Moonlight, c.1869.
Watercolour, bodycolour and pencil on paper, 10.1 ´ 15.2 cm, inscribed with mongram: WHH Accession No.:P.351
Holman Hunt’s output in watercolour was tiny compared with his work in oil. Between 1869 and 1903 he exhibited thirty-nine works at the R.W.S., which Martin HARDIE considers ‘comprise the greater part of his water-colour work’.
A leading member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt’s pictures The Light of the World and The Scapegoat must be as well known as any Victorian paintings. His watercolours differ from those of the other Pre-Raphaelite artists in only very rarely using body-colour (but see above); instead he worked in transparent colours on brilliant white paper, which produced an effect of radiant illumination and vivid sunlight. EJ