The Rossetti Family
4 of 9 portraits of William Michael Rossetti
- Extended catalogue entry
© National Portrait Gallery, London
The Rossetti Family
by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
Albumen print, 7 October 1863
6 7/8 in. x 8 3/4 in. (175 mm x 222 mm)
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Inscriptionback to top
Lower left from inscr. on neg.: ‘1133 / 70’ (latter no. encircled and in reverse).
This portraitback to top
This is one of several photographs taken on 7 October 1863, in the garden of 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, during a four-day session (see NPG P29 for a full account). This shows Rossetti to the left of a family group, beside his sister Christina, his mother Frances and his brother William. Partly owing to its aesthetic quality and partly as the only image that includes both Dante Gabriel and Christina, this photograph is frequently reproduced and constitutes the prime image of the Rossetti family.
As photographer, Dodgson was presumably responsible for the various groupings, although Rossetti also took an active interest in composing photographic images; there is, however, no record of exactly who posed this group, neatly positioning two seated women between two standing men, nor of why Rossetti’s elder sister Maria was omitted. Dodgson’s interest in the family appears to have centred on Dante Gabriel and Christina, a newly-published poet, whereas the siblings were especially eager for photographs of their mother, of whom few likenesses exist.
According to W.M. Rossetti, this photograph shows
the family, omitting our elder sister; they are seated or standing close to the railed stairs that led into the garden from the passage of the house, behind the studio. Dante Rossetti is the front standing figure, at the spectator’s left hand; full-length, nearly full-face; an excellent likeness, in an easy and simple attitude. One here sees Rossetti’s stature and figure better than in any other portrait; the figure now rather fleshy and bulky, but less so than it was from time to time at later dates. This is Rossetti ‘nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita’, for he was now thirty-five years of age. 
When Dodgson’s prints arrived, D.G. Rossetti replied: ‘the three groups are all very good, I think – the best being that with 4 figures only.’ He requested four copies.  On behalf of the family, Christina also ordered four prints, together with nine copies of their mother isolated from the group as a vignette (see NPG P1273(26e)).
The negative was numbered ‘70’ and ‘1133’ by Dodgson, the latter being the reference number used in reconstructed registers of his photos. One print measuring 202 x 262mm and with an attached autograph by Christina Rossetti is in the V&A, London, 801-1928; other prints are in the Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (arched top), and the Municipal Archive, Citta del Vasto, Italy (rectangular).
This particular print passed from Rossetti (or more probably from his family) to Frederic Shields, who drew a death-bed portrait (see ‘All known portraits, 1882’), and thence to Ernestine Mills and Helen MacGregor, who gave it to the National Portrait Gallery. It was conserved in 1981 to remove marks on Rossetti’s forehead and to diminish creases at lower left.
In 1890, the figure of Rossetti was isolated from the group and reproduced separately as an etching by Charles William Sherborn, for use as the frontispiece for Rossetti’s Poetical Works (1891), where it was described as being ‘from a photograph, Cheyne Walk, 1864 [sic]’. A first stage unsigned proof (120 x 75mm on plate 161 x 105mm) is inscribed in pencil ‘Rosetti’s [sic] family considered this to be his best portrait’; see NPG D16902. Another loose print is in the British Museum, London (ref. O’Donoghue 1908–22, vol.6, no.13, p.362).
Dr Jan Marsh
Footnotesback to top
1) Rossetti 1889a, p.60.
2) Letter from D.G. Rossetti to C.L. Dodgson, 13 Mar. 1864, Fredeman 2002–10, vol.3, letter 64:31, pp.124–5.
3) See www.wakeling.demon.co.uk
Physical descriptionback to top
Whole-length, standing, facing front, to left of group comprising (left to right) Christina Georgina Rossetti (seated), Frances Lavinia Rossetti (seated) and William Michael Rossetti (standing).
Conservationback to top
Conserved 1978; 1981.
Provenanceback to top
Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Frederic J. Shields; Ernestine Mills; Helen MacGregor, London SW16, by whom gifted 1978.
Exhibitionsback to top
Through the Looking Glass: Photography and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, Manchester City Art Gallery, 1986–7 (21).
Reproductionsback to top
Reproductions of NPG 56
Hudson 1976, p.135.
Ovenden 1984, pl.13.
Marsh 2005a, p.10.
Other reproductions of the image
Etching (detail of D.G. Rossetti only) by Charles William Sherborn, 1890 in The Poetical Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1891, frontispiece; see NPG D16902.
Collingwood 1898, p.88 (version with arched top).
Gernsheim 1969, pl.24 (from print in Gernsheim Collection).
View all known portraits for Dante Gabriel Rossetti