Fascinated by women’s physical allure, Rossetti here imagines a legendary femme fatale as a self-absorbed nineteenth-century beauty who combs her hair and seductively exposes her shoulders. Nearby flowers symbolize different kinds of love. In Jewish literature, the enchantress Lilith is described as Adam’s first wife, and her character is underscored by lines from Goethe’s Faust attached by Rossetti to the original frame, “Beware . . . 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.” The artist’s mistress, Fanny Cornforth, is the sitter in this watercolor, which Rossetti and his assistant Dunn based on an oil of 1866 (Delaware Art Museum).
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Artist:Dante Gabriel Rossetti (British, London 1828–1882 Birchington-on-Sea)
Artist: Henry Treffry Dunn (British, Truro 1838–1899 London)
Medium:Watercolor and gouache (bodycolor)
Dimensions:20 3/16 X 17 5/16 in. (51.3 x 44 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1908
Signature: at lower left, the artist's monogram "DGR / 1867"
Inscription: Surtees, 1971, p. 118 records a label (that no longer exists), once on the back of the frame, inscribed in pen and ink in the artist's hand: "Lady Lilith. Watercolour. D.G. Rossetti 1867. / "Beware of her 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. (Goethe)" [Percy Bysshe Shelley's translation of Goethe's "Faust"]
William Coltart (British), by 1886; R. E. Tatham (British), sold by his estate in 1908; Christie, Manson & Woods, Tatham sale, March 7, 1908, lot 81, £441, bt. Agnew; Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd.; Vendor: Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd. Vendor: Through Roger Eliot Fry (British)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," July 29–October 21, 1996.
Oklahoma City Museum of Art. "Artist as Narrator: Nineteenth Century Narrative Art in England and France," September 8, 2005–November 27, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 14–July 13, 2008.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design," May 20–October 26, 2014.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Dangerous Beauty: Medusa in Classical Art," February 5–24, 2019.
Hamburger Kunsthalle. "Femme Fatale: Gaze—Power—Gender," December 9, 2022–April 10, 2023.
Surtees 1971, cat. 205-R.1
William Michael Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne Notes on the Royal Academy Exhibition, 1868; Part I by Wm. Michael Rossetti; Part II by Algernon C. Swinburne. London, Camden Hotten, 1868, part 2 includes a poetic discription of Rossetti's oil painting (Delaware Art Museum), a work not actually exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Grand Loan Exhibition of Pictures: From Lancashire Collections, and Exhibitions of the Liverpool Society of Painters in Water-Colours, and Liver Sketching Club. Exh. cat., Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. 1886, no. 848 (lent by William Coltart).
Royal Jubilee Exhibition, Manchester 1887: Official Catalogue.. John Heywood, Manchester, 1887, cat. no. 1678, p. 361, Gallery No. 13: Water Colour Drawings, "The Lady Lilith" (lent by W. Coltart, Esq.).
Royal Jubilee Exhibition, Manchester 1887: Fine Art Section. 1887, cat. no. 1678, p. 115, Gallery No. 13: Water Colour Drawings, "The Lady Lilith" (lent by W. Coltart, Esq.).
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.
Alfred George Temple Catalogue of the Loan Collection of Water Colour Drawings. Exh. cat., Corporation of London, Art Gallery [Guildhall]. 1896, no. 144, pp. 52-3 (lent by William Coltart, Esq.).
Alfred George Temple "Collection of William Coltcart, Esq. of Woodleigh, Birkenhead." The Art Journal. April 1896, pp. 97, 99, ill.
Exhibition of Pictures Ancient and Modern by Artists of the British and Continental Schools : Including a Selection of Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Exh. cat., New Gallery, London. 1897–1898, no. 29 (lent by William Coltart, Esq.).
Henry Currie Marillier, George Bell & Sons Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life. London, 1899, cat. no. 203, p. 134.
International Exhibition Glasgow 1901: Official Catalogue of the Fine Art Section. Glasgow: Charles P. Watson, 1901, no. 1120, p. 78 (lent by William Coltart, Esq.).
Ernest Radford Dante Gabriel Rossetti. , p. 26, ill.
Roger Eliot Fry "Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. vol. 3, no. 7, July 1908, pp. 144-45 (illustrated vol. 3, no. 9, Sept. 1908, p. 169).
"Lady Lilith" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. vol. 3, no. 9, September 1908, p. 169 (Illustration only; work discussed vol. 3, no. 7, July 1908, pp. 144-5).
"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.
Robert Ross "Rossetti: An Observation." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. vol. 13, no. 62, May 1908, pp. 116-119, 123, fig. 1.
"Recent Accessions and Notes." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. vol. 6, no. 6, New York, June 1911, p. 139 (exhibited Gallery of Drawings).
Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his circle: a loan exhibition of paintings, drawings and decorative objects by the Pre-Raphaelites and their friends. Exh. cat.: The University of Kansas Art Museum, Lawrence, November 4 to December 15. 1958, fig. 66.
The Pre-Raphaelites: A Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Their Associates. Ex. cat., Herron Museum of Art, Indianapolis, February 16-March 22, 1964; Gallery of Modern Art, Including the Huntington Hartford Collection, New York, April 27-May 31. 1964, cat. no. 66.
Oswald Doughty, John Robert Wahl The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 4 vols., Oxford, 1965–67, vol. 2, p. 850.
Virginia Surtees The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Catalogue Raisonné. Oxford University Press, 2 vols., Oxford, 1971, cat. no. 205, R.1, vol. I, pp. 117-118 (not illus.).
From Realism to Symbolism: Whistler and his World: an exhibition. Organized by the Department of Art History and Archaeology of Columbia University in the City of New York in cooperation with the Philadelphia Museum of Art; March 3-April 4, Wildenstein, New York; April 15-May 23, Philadelphia Museum or Art. Allen Staley, Theodore Reff, New York, 1971, cat. no. 124, pp. 122-23, pl. 19.
Maryan Wynn Ainsworth, Jane Bayard, Susan P. Casteras Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Double Work of Art. Exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery, September 23–November 14. 1976, pp. 77-79, 82, fig. 54.
Charlotte Otten "Ophelia's "Long Purples" or "Dead Men's Fingers." Shakespeare Quarterly. vol. 30, no. 3, Summer 1979, p. 397.
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. 290-91, ill.
Henry Treffry Dunn Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and His Circle, or, Cheyne Walk Life. Rosalie Mander, 1984, pp. 15-16, 34-35.
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. 317-24.
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.
Helene Vagenheim "D. G. Rossetti and Ut pictura poesis theory." Interfaces: image texte langage. vol. 5, 1994, pp. 284-90 (oil version of the subject, 1866-8, Delaware Museum of Art).
Stephen Wildman, Jan Marsh, John Christian Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection, England. Exh. cat., Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia. 1995, cat. no. 78, pp. 242-3 (related works).
Maria Teresa Benedetti Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Edizioni Charta, Milan, 1998, cat. no. 302, pp. 270-71, ill.
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.
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 oil painting, 1866-68, Delaware Museum of Art).
Stephen Wildman , et. al. Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum. Exh. cat. 2004, cat. no. 44, pp. 186-88 (oil version of the subject, 1866-8, Delaware Museum of Art; MMA watercolor mentioned but not illustrated).
J. B. Bullen "Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the mirror of masculine desire." Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdsiciplinary Journal. online, July 2008, pp. 337-43 (discussion of Lady Lilith as a theme).
Magali Martin "The Exhibition of Bancroft's Collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art." Art History Supplement. vol. 1, no. 2, 2011, pp. 92-4.
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