Henry Treffry Dunn Lot 104
Henry Treffry Dunn (1838-1899), after Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
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Property of Fettes College, Edinburgh, sold on behalf of the Trustees
Henry Treffry Dunn (1838-1899), after Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)


Henry Treffry Dunn (1838-1899), after Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
inscribed and dated 'PROSERPINE after D.G. ROSSETTI 1883' (lower left, in a cartouche) and further inscribed with Rossetti's sonnet of Proserpine (upper right, in a cartouche)
coloured chalks on paper
46 ¼ x 21 ¼ in. (117.5 x 54 cm.)
In the original Foord & Dickinson frame, designed by Rossetti
Henry Treffry Dunn.
Mr Rorke.
Mrs T.W.P. Storey, given to Fettes in 1957 in memory of her late husband.

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Clare Keiller
Clare Keiller

Lot Essay

Rossetti’s celebrated composition of Proserpine is arguably his best-known image and the present version by Dunn, executed under the direction of Rossetti, demonstrates the importance of this image not only to the artist but to his collectors.

The model is Jane Morris (1839-1914), wife of William Morris (1834-1896) and Rossetti’s muse throughout his later career. Jane and Rossetti had first met in Oxford in 1857 when Rossetti, with Morris and Burne-Jones, was working on murals for the old debating chamber of the Oxford Union. Rossetti and Burne-Jones saw Jane at the theatre and, struck by her beauty, Rossetti asked her to sit for him. The two were mutually attracted, but as Rossetti was engaged to Lizzie Siddal, it was Morris, who had also fallen in love with Jane, who married her.

Rossetti remained infatuated by Jane and her striking looks, and in 1865 he invited her to sit for a series of photographs in his garden at Cheyne Walk. By this time Rossetti was a widower, Lizzie having died from an overdose of laudanum three years earlier. By 1868 Jane was sitting regularly for him and was the inspiration for many of his most celebrated works. Their affair lasted until about 1875, although she continued to occasionally sit for him after that and they corresponded until just a few months before his death in April 1882.

In a letter to W.A. Turner, Rossetti describes the painting as depicting Proserpine, Empress of Hades, holding the pomegranate from which she had taken a single pip and which condemned her to life in the Underworld: 'in a gloomy corridor… As she passes, a gleam strikes the wall behind her from some inlet suddenly opened, and admitting for a moment the light of the upper world; and she glances furtively towards it, immersed in thought'.

Whilst Proserpine was conceived by the artist as a coded comment on his and Jane’s relationship, later biographers have developed this idea, believing that Rossetti cast Jane in the role of Proserpine, and thus her husband, William Morris as Pluto, the god of the Underworld who carried Proserpine to Hades and kept her trapped in an unhappy marriage, whilst the light glancing off the wall is Rossetti’s love, unable to free Jane. Whilst we do not know whether Rossetti intended this parallel, it seems unlikely that he would not have thought of it given the almost obsessive manner in which he worked at the composition.

At least eight oil versions and a number of full-length chalk drawings were executed, not all of which survived. In the earliest versions, such as the full-scale drawing in the Ashmolean executed in 1871, the sitter is depicted holding the pomegranate, however, the ivy and the incense-burner and sonnet have not yet been introduced. These ‘accessories’ do not appear until the versions produced after 1873.

Henry Treffry Dunn moved from his native Cornwall to London in the mid-1860s and trained at Heatherley’s Art School. He was introduced to Rossetti in 1867 and apart from one brief period of estrangement, worked as his studio assistant until Rossetti’s death in 1882. His importance to Rossetti cannot be over-emphasised: he described him as 'the best of fellows and my guardian angel'. Dunn wrote an account of Rossetti and his circle, published posthumously in 1904, which provided an invaluable insight into the workings and lives of the Pre-Raphaelites.

The letter dated 2 December 1887 and attached to the verso of this drawing states that it was done by Dunn for Rossetti 'during his last illness/ and would have been touched/ upon by him had he lived. After his death it came into my/ hands & I then finished it/ up to its present state that/ it now posesses./ I am yours truly/ H. Treffry Dunn'. Thus this work not only provides an invaluable insight into why the picture was created, but also demonstrates Dunn’s importance to Rossetti, particularly in his last years.

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