Sotheby’s will auction Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s watercolour version of “Venus Verticordia” this December. The painting is expected to sell for £1,000,000-1,500,000.
The model for the face in the painting was Alexa Wilding. The body was that of a cook who had posed for Rossetti years earlier. Wilding was regarded by the other artists “respectable”; Rossetti, who paid her a small salary to model for him exclusively, found her dull, and wrote that he wished he could shut her in a cupboard when he wasn’t painting her. Respectable though she may have been, she had at least five children outside of marriage before emigrating to South Africa to begin a new life.
“Venus Verticordia” ended Rossetti’s friendship with the prudish John Ruskin, then Britain’s foremost art critic.
“John Ruskin’s prudishness and ambivalence towards the naked female form has been well-documented…. Ruskin had become increasingly concerned by what he perceived to be sensuousness in Rossetti’s art. Unable to confront the real reason for his discomfort regarding Venus Verticordia, he focused his critical wrath on the roses that Rossetti had gone to so much trouble to paint – even borrowing money from his brother to have them sent out-of-season from the south of France. In a letter to Rossetti, Ruskin referred to them as ‘awful… in their coarseness.’ Graham Robertson, one of Rossetti’s supporters, responded to Ruskin’s reaction to the painting in a letter to Rossetti: ‘I suppose he is reflecting upon his morals, but I never hear a word breathed against the perfect responsibility of a honeysuckle. Of course roses have got themselves talked about from time to time, but really if one were to listen to scandal about flowers, gardening would become impossible.’”
—from the Sotheby’s press release
This version of “Venus Verticordia” has been out of the public eye since it was last sold at auction in 1886. Its original owner was William Graham, M.P. for Glasgow, who owned 37 pictures by Rossetti.
The auction will take place on 10 December 2014.