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Portrait of Mrs Charles Howell, half-length

Portrait of Mrs Charles Howell, half-length
signed with monogram and inscribed and dated 'FKH/ 1869' (upper right)
pencil, red, black and white chalk on two joined sheets of paper
36 ½ x 26 ½ in. (92.7 x 67.4 cm.)
in the original Foord & Dickinson frame
Charles Augustus Howell.
C.A. Howell (†); Christie's, London, 15 November 1890, lot 409, as 'Monna Vanna (Mrs. Howell)' (sold 35 gns to John Bibby).
John Bibby (†); Christie's, London, 3 June 1899, lot 40, as 'Monna Vanna (Mrs. Howell)' (sold 55 gns to Agnew's).
with Agnew's, London.
Major C.S. Goldman and by descent to his son,
Commander P. Monck and by descent until
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 21 June 1988, lot 43.
Private Collection, Switzerland.
H.C. Marillier, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Illustrated Memorial of his Life and Art, London, 1899, no. 369.
G.C. Williamson, Murray Marks and his Friends, London, 1919, p. 124.
H. Rossetti Angeli, The Pre-Raphaelite Twilight, London, 1954, p. 18.
V. Surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882): A Catalogue Raisonné, Oxford, 1971, p. 169, no. 339.
M.T. Benedetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Firenze, 1984, no. 279.
W.E. Fredeman, The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, vol. II, Martlesham, 2004, nos. 69.42, 69.98, 69.100, 69.102, 69.103, 69.126, 69.148, 69.202.
Vienna, Galleries of the Secession, September-October 1927, number untraced, lent by Major C.S. Goldman.
London, Royal Academy of Arts and Birmingham, Birmingham City Museum, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Painter and Poet, 1973, no. 248, lent by The Hon. Mrs Monck.

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Sarah Reynolds Specialist, Head of Sale

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Lot Essay

Frances Catherine 'Kitty' Howell (d. 1888) was the wife and cousin of Charles Augustus Howell (1840-1890) infamous artist's agent and rogue. Perhaps on account of Howell’s early acquaintance with the Italian revolutionary Felice Orsini (1819-1858) he was compelled to leave England in 1858 and when he returned to England in 1865 he lived with his aunt and his cousin Kitty Howell at 3 York Villas, Brixton, London. Kitty and Howell were married on 21 August 1867, by which date she was already well acquainted with Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite circle, having sat for Rossetti for a small pencil portrait dated 31 July 1865 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, fig. 1). Their wedding in 1867 was attended by William and Jane Morris, Edward and Georgiana Burne-Jones, William and Christina Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown, among others. Little is known of her early life, but she was a great beauty in the Pre-Raphaelite style who sat for several of the group, including for an 1869 version of Fair Rosamund by Henry Treffry Dunn (1838-1899), (National Trust, Wightwick Manor, fig. 2). They had one daughter, Rosalind Blanche Catherine, who was born on 20 March 1877, some ten years after their marriage, and whose legitimacy has been questioned due to Howell’s well-documented infidelity. Kate died from cancer on 18 June 1888 and was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London. 

The Howells lives were closely entwined with those of the Pre-Raphaelites and their accompanying coterie, and their familiar intimacy with many in the inner circle mark them out as important historical characters in this intriguing chapter of British art history. Howell modelled for several of the Pre-Raphaelite group during the 1860s and sat to Rossetti several times and both Charles and Kitty sat to Frederick Sandys (1829-1904) (fig. 3). The Howells were evidently a popular couple, Kitty appears regularly as a correspondent in Rossetti’s letters and Charles Howell was blessed with a considerable amount of personal charm and keen business acumen, but his relationships, initially built on friendships, inevitably foundered as his double dealings and lies were found out and ended in bitter enmity. The Dictionary of National Biography described him as, ‘Renowned during his lifetime principally as a prodigious liar and gifted raconteur … skilled in winning confidence and notoriously unprincipled.’ He was close to many of the key figures of the time, from 1865-1870 he acted as John Ruskin's (1819-1900) secretary, almoner and confident, he settled in Fulham to keep up the spirits of Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and he was closely involved in the financial affairs of both the writer Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909) and the artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), who employed him in a period of financial crisis to take on debts and to help prepare his lawsuit against Ruskin. Yet all these relationships floundered on account of Howell's total lack of integrity, dishonesty, and self-serving nature. Rossetti characterised him in one of his acerbic limericks,
'A Portuguese person called Howell,
Who lays on his lies with a trowel;
When I goggle my eyes and start with surprise,
Its at the monstrous big lies told by Howell.'

Lady Burne-Jones writing of a dinner party at the Madox Browns' house, which included the French artist Legros, Swinburne, the Morrises and Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, concluded, 'and on this day of union and reunion of friends there was one who had come amongst us in friend's clothing, but inwardly he was a stranger to all that our life meant. This was Mr Howell'. [1] It is not known to what incident Lady Burne-Jones was referring and suggestions have been made surrounding Burne-Jones' affair with Maria Zambaco (1843-1914). Significantly, Howell was also instrumental in the development of Rossetti's relationship with Jane Morris (1839-1914), acting as a messenger between them.

The Howells lived at Chaldon House on the North End Road, London. The house was exquisitely furnished in the high Victorian fashion with Chinese porcelain and Japanese prints, a fashion very much in keeping with Howell’s representation of himself as an art expert and interior decorator. However, the couple were forced to leave in 1878 due to the extension of the railway lines and in a typically shrewd move Howell persuaded the court to award him a substantial sum in compensation for their enforced move. The family moved to 91 Southampton Row and shortly later to 'Old Danner', Selsey Bill, Sussex. Over a decade before Kitty’s death in 1888, Howell began an affair with the artist Rosa Corder (1853-1893) with whom he was said to have supplied fake Rossettis and other forgeries to the art market and whose daughter Beatrice Ellen Howell was born circa 1883. Notoriety followed Howell in death, according to G.C. Williamson, Murray Marks and Friends, London, 1919, p. 150, 'Howell's death was reported more than once, it is believed by his own agency, in order that he might hear what was to be said, and also in order to assist in a negotiation he had with the underground railway people whom he sued for heavy damaged by reason of injuries caused to him.' Howell's actual death was on the 24 April 1890 and was met with some disbelief and salacious stories concerning the circumstances of his demise. His personal estate was sworn on 11 June 1890 as £1,586 and re-sworn in May 1891 as £3,072 6 shillings and 11 pence and there was a three-day sale of his collection in these Rooms on 13, 14 and 15 November 1890 comprising 547 lots in which the present portrait was included. The sale fetched over £4,300.

Perhaps Howell's chief claim to remembrance is his leading role in persuading Rossetti to consent to the exhumation of Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862) in 1869 to retrieve from her coffin the manuscript of his poems, which Rossetti in his grief had covered with her red hair and buried with her. Howell not only proposed to rescue the poems but he himself oversaw the exhumation while Rossetti waited at home with Kitty. The present portrait drawing was executed during this period when Rossetti was particularly close to the Howells and corresponded frequently with them both, sending condolences to Kitty on the loss of her mother in November 1869 and indebt to Howell for the service her rendered.

As was often the case with Rossetti the execution of the pastel portrait of Kitty was a protracted affair as he got distracted by other projects and delayed by visits to oculists. His letters of 1869 are scattered with references to sittings for the work, as early as 9 April 1869 he wrote to Howell, 'about the chalk drawing. I'll really do it as soon as ever I can, & that shall be soon'. The drawing seems to have been started sometime in late June or early July that year as there are a series of references in letters regarding sittings, vide Fredeman, 69.98, 102 & 103, 'I have been rubbing at the portrait I began of Kate, & believe it will be like after all. can she & you come on Thursday & sit & stay [for] dinner? Say 2 o'clock as before' [2]. Rossetti was pleased with the progress on the portrait and wrote to Howell on 28 July, 'I shall have your large chalk drawings done soon but I am doing a good deal to it. You ought not to part with it if you can help as it will be one of my best ...'. [3] Rossetti wrote in a letter to Jane Morris dated 30 July 1869, 'Kate Howell was sitting to me yesterday for a drawing I am giving her...'. [4]

However, the work was still not finished by August and on 16 August 1869 in the same letter as Rossetti settled with Howell to proceed with the exhumation of Lizzie Siddal’s coffin he requests a further sitting from Kitty, 'I feel disposed, if practicable by your friendly aid to go in for the recovery of my poems if possible as you proposed to me some time ago ...I am sorry I could not find time to apply to Kitty for another sitting before leaving [for Penkill, Scotland], but will not fail to do so almost immediately on my return. ...P.S. If I recover the book I will give you the swellest drawing conceivable, or if you like paint the portrait of Kitty.' [5] On 7 September he wrote to Kitty expressing his usual anxiety over the veracity of his portraits, 'I hope in getting back to finish your portrait drawing. I believe it is like, as several people have recognised it spontaneously, though I cannot say it seems to me a striking likeness.' By 17 November the drawing was nearing completion, Rossetti wrote to Howell that, 'I must be looking in as soon as possible and fixing up another sitting with Kitty, but I have been kept from all painting work up to this time. F.[oord] and D. [have sent those 2 frames for Kitty's portrait & the circular Janey.' [6]

Although a portrait, the work belongs to the same period as the series of large coloured chalk drawings of female figures, three-quarter-length, seated, for which Jane Morris was the model, for example Reverie, 1868, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (fig. 4). Its imposing form would have appealed to collectors of Rossetti’s work and it was bought at Howell’s sale by John Bibby. Bibby was one of a number of Liverpool shipowners and merchants who were collectors of Pre-Raphaelite pictures, others included T. H. Ismay and William Imrie, joint owners of the White Star Line, and George Holt, whose collection remains intact at Sudley House. All of them must have been influenced by F.R. Leyland, the shipowner who patronised Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Whistler, and others on such a magnificent scale and created two of the greatest Aesthetic interiors of the day in London, first at 23 Queen's Gate and subsequently at 49 Prince's Gate, where he died in 1892. On Bibby's death in 1899 the present picture returned to Christie's and was bought by Agnew's. Its next owner was Major C.S. Goldman, yet another keen collector of Pre-Raphaelite pictures. In addition to numerous Rossettis, he owned Burne-Jones' swansong, Arthur in Avalon (Museo de Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico), and many preparatory drawings for this enormous work. Goldman's pictures were divided between his sons, John Monck, and Commander Penryn Monck, and most of them seem to have been dispersed in the 1960s and 1970s. Arthur in Avalon was sold at Christie's in April 1963, and John Monck sold two Rossettis at Christie’s in November 1965. The present drawing and five other Rossettis were still in Commander Penryn Monck's possession when Virginia Surtees published her catalogue raisonné in 1971. Another Rossetti drawing with a Bibby / Goldman / Penryn Monck provenance was Venus Verticordia sold in these Rooms on 7 November 1997, lot 40.

[1] Quoted in C.L. Cline (ed). The Owl and the Rossettis, Letters of Charles A. Howell and Dante Gabriel, Christina, and William Michael Rossetti, 1978, p. 8-9. 
[2] Fredeman, The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, vol. II, 2004, 69.98, hereafter 'Fredeman'.
[3] Fredeman, 69.100.
[4] Fredeman, 69.103.
[5] Fredeman, 69.126.
[6] Fredeman, 69.202.

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