Lady Lilith

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (British, London 1828–1882 Birchington-on-Sea)

Henry Treffry Dunn (British, Truro 1838–1899 London)
Watercolor and gouache on paper
20 3/16 X 17 5/16 in. (51.3 x 44 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1908
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Talmudic writings identify Lilith as Adam's first wife, cast out of Eden before the creation of Eve. In a label attached to the original frame of this watercolor, the artist described the enchantress with lines from Shelley's translation of Goethe's Faust: "Beware of her fair hair, for she excels / All women in the magic of her locks; / And when she twines them round a young man's neck, / She will not ever set him free again." Lilith embodies a sensual beauty so intoxicating that it could entrap, emasculate, and even kill a lover.
    Using his mistress, Fanny Cornforth Hughes, as a model, Rossetti imagined a nineteenth-century Lady Lilith, brushing her long golden red hair and absorbed in contemplating her beauty. She sits before white roses, symbolizing sterile love, and next to a poppy, representing oblivion. The wild orchids lying on the table recall a memorable passage in Shakespeare's Hamlet (act 4, scene 7) that describes these blossoms as "dead-man's fingers" and "long-purples" and links them to themes of sexuality, madness, and death.
    The reflection in the tabletop mirror suggests Lilith's boudoir is set in a verdant wooded bower. This watercolor is based on an oil painting now at the Delaware Art Museum.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: [in ink on a label at the back of the frame, in Rossetti's handwriting]: Lady Lilith. Watercolor. D.G. Rossetti 1867. / "Beware of her hair, for she excells (sic) / All women in the magic of her locks / And when she twines them round a young man's neck / She will not ever set him free again."

    Marking: Monogram and date

  • Provenance

    William Coltart (British, ca. 1820–1903), by 1886; R. E. Tatham (British, died ca. 1907), sold by his estate in 1908; Christie, Manson & Woods, Tatham sale, March 7, 1908, lot 81, £462.1s(bought by Thomas Agnew & Son, Ltd.); Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd. (London); Vendor: Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd. (London), through Roger Eliot Fry

  • Exhibition History

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," July 29, 1996–October 21, 1996.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 14, 2008–July 13, 2008.

  • Catalogue Raisonné

    Surtees 1971, cat. 205-R.1

  • References

    "Art at Home and Abroad: Metropolitan Museum Has Acquired a Rossetti Water Color, Which Exhibits the Strange Charm of All His Works - A Study of Lilith." New York Times. July 19, 1908, p. X6, ill.

    "Lady Lilith" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. vol. 3, no. 9, September 1908 [Illustration only; discussed vol. 3, no. 7, July 1908, pp. 144-5], p. 169.

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer. London, Paris, New York and Melbourne, 1889, pp. 63-4, 76, 80, 99.

    Frederic George Stephens Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Seeley & Co., London, 1894, pp. 66-70, 92.

    Charlotte Otten "Ophelia's "Long Purples" or "Dead Men's Fingers." Shakespeare Quarterly. vol. 30, no. 3, Summer 1979, p. 397.

    Dianne Sachko Macleod "Mid-Victorian Patronage of the Arts: F. G. Stephens' The Private Collections of England." Burlington Magazine. vol. 129, no. 1001, August 1986, pp. 599, 604.

    Jerome J. McGann Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Game That Must be Lost. Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 111, 119, 121, following p. 124, ill.

    Stephen Wildman , et. al. Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum. Ex. cat. 2004, cat. no. 44, pp. 186-88.

    J. B. Bullen "Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the mirror of masculine desire." Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdsiciplinary Journal. online, July 2008, pp. 337-43.

    Magali Martin "The Exhibition of Bancroft's Collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art." Art History Supplement. vol. 1, no. 2, 2011, pp. 92-4.

    Helene Vagenheim "D. G. Rossetti and Ut pictura poesis theory." Interfaces: image texte langage. vol. 5, 1994, pp. 284-90 (oil version at Delaware Art Museum).

    Sarah Phelps Smith "Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Lady Lilith" and "The Language of Flowers." Arts Magazine. February 1979, pp. 142-5.

    Virginia M. Allen "One Strangling Golden Hair": Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Lady Lilith." The Art Bulletin. vol. 66, no. 2, June 1984, pp. 290-291, ill.

    Edith Appleton Standen, Ms. Dianne Sachko Macleod, Robert Baldwin, Sarah Phelps Smith, Virginia M. Allen "Letters." The Art Bulletin. vol. 67, no. 2, June 1985, pp. 317-324.

    Maryan Wynn Ainsworth, Jane Bayard, Susan P. Casteras Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Double Work of Art. Ex. cat.: Yale University Art Gallery, September 23–November 14. 1976, fig. no. 54, pp. 77-79, 82, ill.

    Maria Teresa Benedetti Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Edizioni Charta, Milan, 1998, cat. no. 302, pp. 270-271, ill.

    Julian Treuherz, Elizabeth Prettejohn, Edwin Becker Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Thames & Hudson, 2003, cat. no. 107, pp. 62-66, 69, 76, 79, 85, 90, 99, 187-92 (related work Delaware Museum of Art).

    Ernest Radford Dante Gabriel Rossetti. [1905], p. 26, ill.

    Alfred George Temple "Collection of William Coltcart, Esq. of Woodleigh, Birkenhead." Art Journal. April 1896, pp. 97, 99, ill.

    Roger Eliot Fry "Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. vol. 3, no. 7, July 1908 [illustrated vol. 3, no. 9 (Sep. 1908), p. 169], pp. 144-45.

    Robert Ross "Rossetti: An Observation." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. vol. 13, no. 62, May 1908, fig. no. 1, pp. 116-119, 123, ill.

    Alfred George Temple Catalogue of the Loan Collection of Water Colour Drawings. Ex. cat., Corporation of London, Art Gallery [Guildhall]. 1896, no. 144, pp. 52-3 (lent by William Coltart, Esq.).

    Exhibition of Pictures Ancient and Modern by Artists of the British and Continental Schools : Including a Selection of Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Ex. cat., New Gallery, London. 1897–1898, no. 29 (lent by William Coltart, Esq.), cat. no. 29.

    Stephen Wildman, Jan Marsh, John Christian Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection, England. Ex. cat., Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia. 1995, cat. no. 78, pp. 242-3 (related works).

    Royal Jubilee Exhibition, Manchester 1887: Official Catalogue. Ex. cat. J. Heywood, Manchester, 1887, cat. no. 1678.

    Charles P. Watson International Exhibition Glasgow 1901: Official Catalogue of the Fine Art Section. Ex. cat. Glasgow, 1901, no. 1120, p. 78 (lent by William Coltart, Esq.).

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his circle: a loan exhibition of paintings, drawings and decorative objects by the Pre-Raphaelites and their friends. Ex. cat.: The University of Kansas Art Museum, Lawrence, November 4 to December 15. 1958, fig. no. 66, ill.

    Grand Loan Exhibition of Pictures: From Lancashire Collections, and Exhibitions of the Liverpool Society of Painters in Water-Colours, and Liver Sketching Club. Ex. cat., Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. 1886, no. 848 (lent by William Coltart).

    Henry Currie Marillier, George Bell & Sons Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life. London, 1899, cat. no. 203, p.134.

    "Recent Accessions and Notes." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. vol. 6, no. 6, New York, June 1911, p. 139.

    Virginia Surtees The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Catalogue Raisonné. Oxford University Press, 2 vols., Oxford, 1971, vol. I, pp. 117-118 (not illus.), cat. no. 205, R.1.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History