The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1828-1882

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1828.05.12
Place of Birth: 38 Charlotte Street, London
Date of Death: 1882.04.09
Place of Death: Birchington-on-sea, Kent


Christened as Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, D. G. Rossetti, as he became known, was the eldest son of the Italian Dante scholar and political refugee Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti and the half-Italian Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori. His godfather was Charles Lyell of Kinnordy. Rossetti had three siblings, Maria Francesca (b. 1827), William Michael (b. 1829) and Christina Georgina (b. 1830).


Rossetti, who was one of the founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was both poet and artist. His first exhibited oil The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) revealed his early debt to medieval art and his involvement with High Anglican Tractarianism. He predominantly worked in the medium of watercolour in the 1850s, and was preoccupied with medieval chivalric themes. Inspired by the Venetian masters, 1859 saw a shift towards the sensuous in both Rossetti's style and subject matter. From this point until the end of his life Rossetti absorbed himself in the painting of luxurious female half-lengths, notable for their decorative and symbolic accoutrements. In 1870 Rossetti's first book of poems was published.

Following the death of his wife Elizabeth Eleanor Rossetti (née Siddal) in 1862, Rossetti moved to Tudor House, 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. In March 1863, Whistler moved to 7 Lindsey Row, Chelsea, and he and Rossetti began to see each other on a regular basis. Around this time a rivalry began between Rossetti and Whistler over who could collect the greatest number and rarest examples of blue and white china. However, they remained good friends, and Du Maurier commented on their closeness, writing in October 1863 that they had formed their own 'Society'. W. M. Rossetti declared that his brother found Whistler 'eminently endowed with good-fellowship'.

In 1863, Rossetti encouraged James Leathart to buy Wapping (YMSM 35), and in the following year Rossetti took La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (YMSM 50) into his studio in order to show a prospective client. This client did not purchase the work, but Whistler claimed that it was Rossetti who persuaded F. R. Leyland later to buy it. When Whistler was expelled from the Burlington Arts Club in December 1867 as a result of a dispute with his brother-in-law, F. Seymour Haden, Rossetti and his brother left in support. In 1871 Whistler showed his Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101) to Rossetti. That year Whistler published his A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames, 1871 (the 'Thames Set') (K.38-44, 46, 52, 66, 68, 71, 74-76, 95) (excat 4) through Ellis, the publisher of Rossetti's poems. At the Whistler-Ruskin trial in 1878 Rossetti wrote supportively of Whistler.


Rossetti, W. M., Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family Letters with a Memoir, London, 1895; Rossetti, William M., ed., Rossetti Papers, 1862-1870, London, 1903; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Doughty, Oswald, and John Robert Wahl (eds.), Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 4 vols, Oxford, 1965; Maas, Jeremy, The Victorian Art World in Photographs, London, 1984.