Working Actors

Pre-Raphaelite to the Max

`Oh, very pleased to meet Mr Ruskin, I'm sure'

May 20 marked the 48th anniversary of the passing of "the incomparable" Max Beerbohm, and ::: wood s lot ::: marked the occasion with a link to a Beerbohm caricature of Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a child, "Precociously Manifesting ... that Queer Indifference to Politics ..." by lounging on the floor with a book while all about him his father and company loudly debate Italian freedom and such like issues of the day. It is one in a series of pencil and watercolour works in the Tate (bequeathed by Sir Hugh Walpole) in which Beerbohm depicts Rossetti and his friends. A complete collection of those items in the Tate's holdings in which Rossetti appears is compiled here. (The highly flexible searchability of the Tate's site is a thing of delight in itself, by the bye.)

Astute readers may have noted prior clues disclosing my fondness for D.G. Rossetti -- one of those not-fashionable tastes I mentioned earlier. For instance, I contorted an entirely unrelated post to permit reproduction of a Rossetti picture and its accompanying poem just below. Rossetti's translation of Dante's Vita Nuova came in for praise here, and is a work that I revisit on a near-annual basis. I will allow as how his sister Christina was the better poet of the two. His brother Michael was the owner of a pet wombat, which has been speculated to have been the inspiration for the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland and is definitely alluded to by Christina in Goblin Market (e.g., line 75). But I digress.

The Blue Bower
My favorite out of the Beerbohm Rossettis is the depiction, reproduced in miniature to the right and subject to enlargement if clicked, of Fanny Cornforth being introduced to John Ruskin. In the background is a portrait -- or so I judge it to be from its handcarved frame, it may actually be a disapproving spirit -- of Rossetti's wife Elizabeth Siddal, the subject of many of his paintings, with whom he infamously buried his poetry only to reexhume it for publication several years later. (To say the least, Rossetti's relations with women should not be taken as a model for emulation.) Miss Cornforth served at various times, singly and in combination, as Rossetti's mistress, chief model and housekeeper.

Beerbohm's depiction is not particularly flattering to any of its subjects (see the Tate's caption for more on that line); in the interest of balance, it must be said the Miss Cornforth appears to better advantage in Rossetti's paintings, such as "The Blue Bower," reproduced beneath the Beerbohm.


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