Rossetti was clearly much engaged by the story of Joan of Arc and painted a number of versions of this subject, mostly in the 1860s. The first, an oil of 1863 (Surtees, 162, pl. 230) (fig. 1), was commissioned by James Anderson Rose, Rossetti's solicitor and a patron of his circle. This established the basic composition of the present picture, although Joan was shown facing right and there were differences in the costume and background accessories. The following year a watercolour variant (Tate Gallery; Surtees 162B. R1) was painted on a somewhat smaller scale, still showing Joan half-length and fervently kissing the sword of deliverance, but turning her to face left and altering certain details. It was commissioned by Rossetti's Leeds patron Ellen Heaton for £105. 'Entre nous', he told her, characteristically, 'I myself consider it superior in expression and colour to the oil picture'.
The present version, also dating from 1864, is a smaller replica of the superior Heaton picture. It was commissioned in October that year by Louisa, Lady Ashburton, celebrated for her relationships with Landseer, Carlyle, Browning, and other Victorian worthies. A liberal patron of the arts, she had already bought a painting from Rossetti in 1863. Now she ordered the Joan of Arc and a version of another composition that she saw in his studio, Venus Verticordia. The latter eventually found another buyer, but Joan of Arc was quickly despatched and was admired by Lady Ashburton's close friend Pauline, Lady Trevelyan, when she saw it the following Christmas. By then it was hanging at Seaforth Lodge, the house which Lady Ashburton had just built at Seaton, on the Devon coast, decorating it with a variety of works of art, including etchings by Whistler and tiles and stained glass supplied by the Morris firm. Some years later she would commission yet another work from Rossetti, a drawing of her daughter Maisie.
It is perhaps worth noting that, although Ellen Heaton and Lady Ashburton came from very different social backgrounds, respectively middle-class and aristocratic, both were women of ample means and headstrong character. Indeed they shared an ebullience and impetuousness, not to say a tendency to tactlessness, which many found tiresome. Perhaps it was no coincidence that both ordered paintings of a woman who had donned men's clothing and reversed the military fortunes of her country.
Rossetti was to paint one more version of Joan of Arc. An oil in his most mannered late style, it was completed at Birchington-on-Sea a few days before his death in April 1882 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) (Surtees, 162B. R2). The model's features resemble those of Jane Morris.
We are grateful to John Christian for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.