Director, Head of Sales
Sold for £48,180 inc. premium
Submit your item online for a free auction estimate.How to sell
Our 19th Century & Orientalist Paintings specialists can help you find a similar item at an auction or via a private sale.Find your local specialist
Director, Head of Sales
William Bell Scott.
Margaret Rae, née Leathart.
By descent to her son, Charles Edward Leathart Rae.
To his widow, Kathleen Muriel Rae, later Mrs Robert Catto.
Thence by descent.
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, Pictures, Designs and Studies by the late Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1883, no. 138 (lent by W.B. Scott).
Newcastle upon Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, Paintings from the Leathart Collection, 1968, no. 63 (lent by Mrs R. Catto).
H.C. Marillier, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life, London, 1899 no. 355.
Virginia Surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Oxford, 1971, vol. I, no. 334B, p. 171.
James Leathart, the Newcastle upon Tyne industrialist, had first expressed a wish that Rossetti should paint a portrait of his wife Maria in the autumn of 1862. At that time Rossetti had recently installed himself at 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, and it seems that the first intention had been that Maria Leathart should sit to him there. However, following the usual postponements and prevarications on Rossetti's part, a plan was made that the artist should travel to Newcastle to work on the portrait at the Leathart family home, 14 Framlington Place, and which he did at the end of the first week of December. Rossetti stayed with William Bell Scott, the fellow artist who had first brought Leathart and Rossetti into contact and who lived at 18 St Thomas's Crescent. Rossetti remained in the north for three weeks, returning to London on the 31 December.
Rossetti made a number of portrait sketches of Maria, at least one showing her in profile as well as the present study in which she is seen in three-quarters profile facing to the right. At the same time, he embarked on two broadly similar portraits in oil of her: one in which she was shown with her hands resting on the spine of a book, and the second based upon the present drawing showing her with her hair in an elaborate chignon at the back of her head, and showing her dressed in preparation to go out (see figure 1). Very careful attention was given to the treatment of her hands, which are shown resting on the back of a chair. Rossetti took both versions and the preparatory drawings with him when he returned to London, with the oils to be worked on further in the studio at Cheyne Walk. However, early in the New Year of 1863, the artist despaired of getting a good likeness in the first version and decided to concentrate on that in which Maria's hands rest on the chair, depending we assume on the present drawing to capture the particular likeness of the model and her pose, as well as the details of her dress.
While still working on the painting Rossetti wrote encouraging letters to Leathart reassuring him that the consensus view among his circle of friends in London was that he had been successful in capturing the likeness of his absent sitter. Making portraits in oil for clients did not come readily to Rossetti and he was habitually nervous of the response that patrons might make to the works they had commissioned. The finished portrait was with Leathart in Newcastle by the 21 January and seems generally to have been enthusiastically received although with certain reservations, with William Michael Rossetti – the artist's brother – responding to William Bell Scott's account of responses to it by saying: '[Rossetti] infer[s] from your phrase that it is voted rather a good picture than a good likeness'. This finished oil has remained in the collections of the Leathart-Rae family.
Perhaps recognising that the preparatory drawings were truer to life than the oil, Rossetti announced that he intended to give the two related sketches, of which the present was the second, to Leathart, in some degree as a compensation for any criticisms that may have been levelled against the finished oil. In a letter of 19 January Rossetti explained that he was sending these 'either both for yourself, or one for Scott as you please'. Leathart did in fact pass the present drawing on to William Bell Scott, and so it remained in his possession until at least 1883 when he lent it to the Burlington Fine Arts Club Rossetti Memorial exhibition, and which he eventually returned to the Leathart family by giving or leaving it to James and Maria Leathart's daughter Margaret.
Maria had married James Leathart – twenty years her senior – when she was eighteen in 1858, and was therefore twenty-two years old at the time that Rossetti drew and painted her portrait. She was the daughter of a successful soap manufacturer and onetime mayor of Newcastle, Thomas Hedley. Her marriage to Leathart, who himself had gained considerable prosperity from his employment as manager of the St Anthony's leadworks of the company Locke, Blackett & Co, was therefore a dynastic match of two members of the Novocastrian mercantile middle classes. In 1864 the Leathart family moved to Low Fell in Gateshead, where they lived in a fine house called Bracken Dene, and where they brought up their large family and where was displayed the extraordinary collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings which James Leathart formed, notable among which were works by Ford Madox Brown, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and Rossetti himself.
We are grateful to Christopher Newall for compiling this catalogue entry.