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Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The Bower Garden to be offered at Sotheby's London British and Irish Art Sale
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Bower Garden. Est. 120,000-180,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- The woman Dante Gabriel Rossetti married, and the extra-marital mistress, are the lady and the serving maid of The Bower Garden (est. 120,000-180,000), to be offered in Sotheby’s British and Irish Art sale on 13 November 2012. The watercolour, a highly charged and perhaps personally symbolic work, was painted by Rossetti in 1859. A lady – the Pre-Raphaelite muse and cutler’s daughter Elizabeth Siddal, who married the artist in 1860 – has been watering flowers within the walled garden of medieval romance; she stops to drink from a tall drinking vessel offered by a maid – Fanny Cornforth, a prostitute Rossetti probably met on the Strand in 1857. She remained Rossetti’s lover into his marriage with Siddal, and beyond the latter’s death from a laudanum overdose in 1862. The walled garden, medieval symbol of cloistered sensuality, is the stage for a highly ambiguous interaction – in which representations of servility and power are complicated by the disconnected gaze of the maid, who stares past her mistress.

Simon Toll, British and Irish Art Specialist at Sotheby’s, commented: “The Bower Garden comes to market after more than a century in a private collection, acquired by the famous Pre-Raphaelite patron James Leathart in 1861, in whose family it has remained until now. A sensuous re-imagining of Early Renaissance art, with an autobiographically inflected subject, this is a beautiful example from Rossetti’s formative 1850s period.”

Offered at Sotheby’s to coincide with Tate Britain’s exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, the painting celebrates the visual and sensory impact of the ‘stunner’ – Rossetti’s coinage for his working class muses who became, effectively, the first supermodels. The Bower Garden is one of Fanny’s earliest appearances in Rossetti’s art; she is celebrated as the Bocca Baciata (literally, ‘kissed mouth’) painted the same year as The Bower Garden and now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Elizabeth Siddal is the famous face of Millais’ Ophelia (1852); by the time of this work however she was sitting only for Rossetti, as the jealously guarded instrument of his genius.

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