Friday, September 19, 2008

Rossetti as Collector

Long before the advent of Antiques Roadshow, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a fanatic for anything antique, and together with a small group of friends, he pursued his hobby. Rossetti's collection of fine china "was one of the first of its kind in England."

It was Rossetti's utmost delight to drive round in a cab, loading it with china and brass and carved oak picked out from the litter of second-hand furniture shops and pawnbrokers (Waugh, 118).

I guess Saturday afternoon antiquing is nothing new! What I found especially amusing though is that Rossetti loved to get together
When one of this elect little circle had made a particular "find," invitations were sent out and a dinner-party would be given. Then the new pot would be uncovered and its owner would be triumphant until the next discovery (Waugh 119).

It was at one of these little get togethers that Rossetti managed to humiliate himself in a most amusing way. I really enjoyed this story because most of the time, the amusing anecdotes are about William Morris, who was the butt of a great many jokes. Nevertheless, on this occasion it was Rossetti who managed to embarrass himself.

Rossetti's infamous agent, Charles Augustus Howell, was a bit of a Victorian celebrity. Today he is probably most famous for ordering that Rossetti's wife, Elizabeth Siddal, be exhumed so that Rossetti's poetry could be recovered. But in his own time, Howell was at the centre of numerous scandals, the most infamous of which was his collaboration in Felice Orsini's plot to assassinate Napoleon III. In addition to these adventurous exploits, Howell was also a voracious collector of blue china.

One day, Howell invited Rossetti and some friends over to see a spectacular piece of Nankin blue china that he'd picked up at a London shop. Rossetti was green with envy, and decided to have his revenge on Howell by stealing the plate and cleverly replacing it with an old piece of delft blue that was the same size and shape.

Rossetti held a dinner party of his own the next day. He brought out a box containing his prize and peeled away the layers of carefully wrapped paper to reveal...

A chipped delft blue plate.

Apparently, Howell had been aware of Rossetti's plot the entire time, and had switched his own plate for the broken delft. I don't think Rossetti was used to being on the losing end of a practical joke!

In addition to his penchant for china, Rossetti collected oak furniture and musical instruments “solely for their design and as properties for his pictures; he never showed any interest in music.” Rossetti also had a passion for all things Japanese, and really led the way for the oriental craze of the later 19th century.

Source consulted: Evelyn Waugh. Rossetti and his Circle. London: The Folcroft Press, 1969

13 comments:

Melanie said...

Oo I never knew any of that! I do like the idea of Rosetti's joke backfiring. LOL I think we have our own blog version of these elegant dinner parties when we show the latest charity shop bargains. It's nice to think of the tradition continuing.

acornmoon said...

I share his passion for all things Japanese,but he seems like a rather unpleasant character. Poor old William Morris, he had a lot to put up with didn't he?

willow said...

Wouldn't you love to spend a Saturday afternoon antiquing with Rossetti?

Fun story!

Margaret said...

--Yeah, Melanie! I actually like the idea of having a party to show off your latest treasure, but I agree with you that is a major component of blogging!
--I agree, acornmoon. Rossetti is fascinating to read about, but I'm afraid I don't think I would have enjoyed being a close friend of his, though he would probably be fun to go antiquing with, as willow mentioned!

Grace said...

Ha! Love this story. I find it especially ironic, since Rossetti would tease his "darling Elephant" (Fanny) about casually lifting his belongings from his house. Apparently he had NO room to talk on the issue ;)

thinker said...

Great blog, Pre-Raphaelites really are an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

Margaret said...

--My reaction exactly, Grace!
--Thanks, and welcome, thinker!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

They were all large personalities, weren't they? I would imagine they would have been a most interesting, and fun, group of friends to spend time with.

Margaret said...

Definitely a fascinating set of characters! What I love is that we have so much information about their lives--there's an endless supply of anecdotes about all the major members of the PRB.

Gillian L. said...

What an interesting group they were! Today my sister came by in her vehicle on her way back to her home and she stopped by to show me(the unveiling of)some wonderful garage sale treasures. I guess times have not changed as much as we think.

Gillian

Tracy said...

Fascinating! Rossetti was a bit of a character...Not sure how his friends managed to stick by him--LOL! But then, they all were in their own way, most all in the PRB, heavy characters in each his/her own right! Happy Day, Margaret :o)

A World Away said...

Fabulous post Margaret. Maybe I will one day have such a party & will bring out the er ah..... Crane? Margaret who were the major members of the PRB?

Margaret said...

I'll make that my next post, Stephen!