The present drawing dates from the 1860s and is a full-length study of the figure of Delia for The Return of Tibullus to Delia. Rossetti first treated the subject in a watercolour dating from the early 1850s with Lizzie Siddal as the model for Delia (Surtees, op.cit., no. 62). That watercolour was initially owned by Fanny Cornforth. Rossetti executed a second version of the subject, also in watercolour dated 1867, which was commissioned by F. W. Craven and owned subsequently by Fairfax Murray and L. S. Lowry, before being sold in these Rooms on 11 June 1993, lot 82, (fig. 1).
The present drawing is a preparatory study for the later watercolour and demonstrates Rossetti's further thoughts on the pose of Delia. In the earlier watercolour she sits upright, a lock of hair between her lips, her eyes closed, a distaff in her left hand. Whereas here she is more relaxed, leaning over to the left with her hair spread out, her hands empty. The model in the present drawing appears to be based on Lizzie, who had died five years earlier. For another drawing where Rossetti harks back to his late wife, see lot 1.
The subject is taken from the Elegies of the Roman poet Tibullus, I, 3, vv. 82-92. Rossetti himself translates the Latin as:
Live Chaste, dear love; and while I’m far away,
Be some old dame thy guardian night and day.
She’ll sing thee songs, and when the lamp is lit
Ply the full rock and draw long threads from it.
So, unannounced, shall I come suddenly,
As 'twere a presence sent from heaven to thee.
Then as thou art, all long and loose thy hair,
Run to me, Delia, run with thy feet bare.
The watercolour shows the realisation of Tibullus’s wish. He bursts though the door, stepping over the sleeping figure of a slave, followed by a slave girl, who holds back the curtain. Rossetti contrasts the energetic and abrupt appearance of Tibullus with the lassitude of the two women. Delia is seated wearily, leaning to the left, her hair spread out, whilst the 'old dame’, her guardian, is singing to two lutes. A young slave sleeps across the threshold and there is a cat curled up on the foot stool in the foreground.
The present drawing is a particularly sensitive sketch and the inscription 'this point a little higher’ clearly indicates Rossetti's thoughts as he developed the composition, a commission for one of his most important patrons, the Manchester calico-printer Frederick W. Craven.