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Thomas Woolner

3 of 22 portraits by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Thomas Woolner, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1852 -NPG 3848 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Thomas Woolner

by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Pencil on wove paper, octagonal in shape, 1852
6 3/8 in. x 5 3/4 in. (163 mm x 147 mm) overall
NPG 3848

Inscriptionback to top

Dated in pencil lower right, below circular line: ‘July / 52’.
On wooden backboard (removed 1985, now Primary Collection Associated Items plan chest, NPG Archive):
(a) inscr. in ink: ‘Thomas Woolner, sculptor / by Holman Hunt / presented to Mrs Charles Orme / Née Patmore/ of 81, Avenue Road / Regents Park’.
(b) inscr.: [illegible word] and the date ‘1852’.
(c) printed label: ‘75 / Ausgabe nur gegen diesen Schein’.
(d) printed label (removed 1976, now NPG RP 3848): ‘Pitt & Scott Ltd / 20–24 Eden Grove, London N7 8ED / No. 71 / Portrait Thomas Woolner 1852’.
(e) printed label (removed 1976, now NPG RP 3848): ‘Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden / Ausstellung: Präraffaeliten / 23.11 73-24.2.74 / Katalog Nr.: 93’.
On present backboard, printed labels for Yamato Transport Co. [Rossetti exh. 1990 (123)]; Christina Rossetti exhibition 1994–5; and Dante Gabriel Rossetti exhibition 2003–4 (15).

This portraitback to top

Woolner and Dante Gabriel Rossetti were studio neighbours in 1847, and the earliest (if indirect) reference to the sculptor in Rossetti’s correspondence was in January 1848. [1] Woolner was one of the seven members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and the only sculptor among them. The PRB was formed around 1848 and early 1849.

In 1852, partly on the rebound after the rejection of his proposal for the Wordsworth monument, Woolner decided to try his fortune prospecting in Australia. He was waved off by a group of PRBs as he boarded ship at Gravesend on 15 or 16 July. Rossetti described the scene to William Bell Scott:

The most important event among us lately has been Woolner’s exodus to the diggings. I saw him on board the vessel on Thursday. He is accompanied, as I think you know, by Bateman & Bernhard Smith – all of them plentifully stocked with corduroys, ‘sou-westers,’ jerseys, fire-arms, and belts full of little bags to hold the expected nuggets. […] All Woolner’s friends congratulate him on the move, with the sole exception of Carlyle. [2]

Days before the departure Rossetti had made a drawing of Woolner, NPG 3848, a record of his friend before an uncertain and extremely hazardous expedition. Soon after he presented the drawing to Woolner’s friend and patron Mrs Eliza Orme. ‘I have spent several evenings with the Ormes since you left, in company with William and sometimes Christina,’ he wrote in a New Year letter, ‘and indeed, I think we may now consider ourselves in the circle of family friends. […] I gave Mrs Orme my sketch of you and she has had it framed and hung up.’ [3]

Woolner was away for over a year during which Rossetti kept his memory alive by organizing a ‘grand meeting of Woolner’s friends, when each is to make a drawing to be sent to him in Australia’. [4] He returned in October 1854, and Rossetti reported to William Allingham: ‘Woolner is back. Rather broader and stouter, and certainly looking healthier, but unaltered otherwise. [I was surprised by his] manner, which I expected perhaps to find a little changed & sobered, but it is just the same.’ [5] Amy Woolner wrote in the edition of her father’s letters, retrospectively, ‘so Woolner returned to England from his gold-digging adventures, the hard open-air life had done him a world of good, both in health and spirits […]. He was little changed in appearance, and the frontispiece [NPG 3848] represents him as he then was.’ [6]

Woolner’s own opinion was that it was a ‘careful’ likeness. In 1886, in response to an enquiry about portraits he wrote to Harry Quilter: ‘Rossetti did a very careful pencil likeness of me in 1852 which is now in the possession of Mrs Charles Orme, Bedford Park, and I have no doubt she would lend it to you if you wished.’ [7]

The drawing, which is unsigned, was catalogued as a work by Holman Hunt in the 1952 Sotheby’s sale, on the evidence of the inscription on the backboard. It was examined by the collector Adolph Oppé, who advised that it was indeed by Rossetti, a view confirmed in Rossetti’s letters, and it was acquired as such by the Gallery in 1953. [8] The attribution was verified by Virginia Surtees (see Surtees 1971, no.539).

For Rossetti’s other sketches and caricatures of Woolner see ‘All known portraits’.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) See letter from D.G. Rossetti to W.H. Deverell [20 Jan. 1848], Fredeman 2002–10, vol.1, letter no.48:1, p.55; and Stevens 2004.
2) Letter from D.G. Rossetti to W.B. Scott, 20 July 1852, Fredeman 2002–10, vol.1, letter no.52:7, p.195.
3) Letter from D.G. Rossetti to T. Woolner, 1 Jan. 1853, Fredeman 2002–10, vol.1, letter no.53:1, p.222. See also p.225 n7, for details on the Orme family.
4) Letter from D.G. Rossetti to Mrs Ford Madox Brown, 9 Apr. [1853], Fredeman 2002–10, vol.1, letter no.53:22, pp.240. For the PRB portraits sent to Australia see Woolner 1917, p.88. For a full account of the PRB meeting see Ormond 1967, pp.25–7.
5) Letter from D.G. Rossetti to W. Allingham, 15 Oct. [1854], Fredeman 2002–10, vol.1, letter no.54.67, p.388. Conversely, F. Madox Brown found Woolner ‘very strangely altered’ (Diaries, 29 Oct. 1854), cited Fredeman 2002–10, vol.1, p.390 n1.
6) Woolner 1917, p.102.
7) Letter from T. Woolner to H. Quilter, 20 July 1886; Bodleian L., Oxford, Dept. of Western Mss.
8) Letter from C.K. Adams to A.P. Oppé, 25 Feb. 1953, NPG RP 3848.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders, head tilted slightly to left, eyes to right, clean shaven with light collar beard.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1985.

Provenanceback to top

The artist; Mrs Eliza Orme; Miss Sybil Bastian; Sotheby’s, 22 December 1952 (175, as by Holman Hunt), purchased by Colnaghi’s on behalf of the Gallery; acquired 1953.

Exhibitionsback to top

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter and Poet, Royal Academy, London, 1973 (39).

Präraffaeliten, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, 1973–4 (93).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo; Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery, Nagoya; and Ishibashi Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation, Kurume, 1990–91 (123).

Christina Rossetti, NPG, London, 1994 (no catalogue).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2003–4 (15).

The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite Designs, Studies and Watercolours, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2011 (125).

Reproductionsback to top

Woolner 1917, frontispiece.

Doughty & Wahl 1965–7, vol.1, p.121.

Surtees 1971, vol.2, pl.419.

Metken 1973, no.93.

Wildman 1990, no.123.

Treuherz et al. 2003, no.15.

Marsh 1998a, p.27.

Marsh 2005a, p.42.

Cruise 2011, p.102.

View all known portraits for Dante Gabriel Rossetti

View all known portraits for Thomas Woolner

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