Rossetti always regarded 'Found' as one of his most important paintings, although it was never finished, despite being worked at intermittently over a period of almost twenty years. The present drawing dates from Rossetti's third major campaign of work on the painting in the winter of 1869-1870.
Rossetti described the treatment of 'Found' (a countryman discovering that his former sweetheart is now a London prostitute) in a letter of 1855 to William Holman Hunt:
'I can tell you, on my own side, of only one picture fairly begun - indeed, I may say, all things considered, rather advanced; but it is only a small one. The subject had been sometime designed before you left England and will be thought, by anyone who sees it when (and is finished, to follow in the wake of your 'Awakened Conscience,' but not by yourself, as you know I had long had in view subjects taking the same direction as my present one. The picture represents a London street at dawn, with the lamps still lighted along a bridge that forms the distant background. A drover has left his cart standing in the middle of the road (in which, i.e. the cart, stands baa-ing a calf tied on its way to market), and has run a little way after a girl who has passed him, wandering in the streets. He had just come up with her and she, recognizing him, has sunk under her shame upon her knees, against the wall of a raised churchyard in the foreground, while he stands holding her hands as he seized them, half in bewilderment and half guarding her from doing herself a hurt. These are the chief things in the picture which is to be called "Found" .... The calf, a white one, will be a beautiful and suggestive part of the thing.'
The history of the painting is complex. The precise date of its genesis is obscured by the fact that Rossetti wished to claim primacy in developing modern life moral subjects within the Pre-Raphaelite movement, as the letter above makes clear. The exact progress of the work is also hard to determine, but we can be reasonably certain of the place of the present drawing in the sequence.
Although Rossetti later claimed to have had the idea for 'found' in the late 1840s, documentary references to the painting start in the summer of 1853: that is after the genesis of Holman Hunt's 'Awakening Conscience' at the beginning of the year. A finished compositional drawing dates from 1853 (Surtees catalogue 64B, British Museum, London), and work on the painting began in the Autumn of 1854. At this stage, only the churchyard wall and the calf in the cart were completed, probably on the small panel now in Carlisle Museum and Art Gallery. The work was promised to Rossetti's early patron MacCraken, but never taken further.
The second phase of work probably took place only after James Leathart recommissioned the painting in November 1859 for 350 guineas, although Rossetti's interest in the subject may have been rekindled by his meeting about a year before with the prostitute Fanny Cornforth, who became his mistress. In the second phase, Rossetti added Fanny's head to the Carlisle panel and then probably transcribed the three completed elements of the painting to the larger canvas now in the Delaware Art Museum. Nothing more was done, and in 1867 Rossetti made Leathart abandon the moribund commission.
The third phase of work began in the last months of 1869. Rossetti had the Wilmington canvas enlarged by the addition of a central strip to accommodate the man, and persuaded William Graham to recommission the work for £800. As the enlargement suggests, Rossetti was now preoccupied with the figure of the drover. On 24th December 1869 Rossetti wrote to Frederic Shields that, although many preliminary studies for the painting remained to be made, he hoped to get the head of the man done 'next week, having found a splendid model'. The present drawing was probably made on that occasion and was used for the painting. It has the concern with volume characteristic of Rossetti's head studies in the late 1860s. The use of pencil as a tonal rather than a linear instrument probably derives from Rossetti's extensive use of chalk in his drawings at this time. Grieve suggests that the model's rustic appearance appealed to Rossetti, and notes that his developed skill as a draughtsman made him 'better able to express the drover's troubled state of mind'. After the man's head was added to the canvas, work was abandoned again.
Rossetti planned to complete the painting in the winter of 1873, and again in January 1876, but did nothing. He wrote to the long-suffering Graham in May 1879, to say he was working on his problems with the unity of the composition, but again nothing was done. Finally, in January and February 1881, Rossetti painted the remainder of the figures. Graham took possession of the canvas, its background still incomplete, after Rossetti's death in April 1882.
There are many reasons why 'Found' remained unfinished. Rossetti had problems with space and perspective, which had handicapped his oil painting since his Brotherhood days. It is significant that the background is the least finished part of the painting. In addition, by the late 1860s, the subject matter of 'Found' was outdated. It incorporated issues (like overcrowded city graveyards) that were no longer current problems, but more importantly, its moralistic story-telling had become a dead letter in British painting. The course of Rossetti's own art confirms this, because he had become almost exclusively a non-narrative painter of female beauty. In the letter to Graham of May 1879, Rossetti stated that he was anxious to finish the painting as a counterpart to the numerous 'ideal' and 'poetic' paintings of women which Graham owned, because he wished to 'refute the charge that the painter adopts the poetic style because he cannot deal with what is real and human.'(5) We might dispute that 'Found' was realistic, but nevertheless there is a strong element of truth in what Rossetti denies. His mature paintings celebrate the feminine principle. Scarcely any men appear in them. In 'Found', the woman is degraded and the man prominent. Despite the high quality and the psychological penetration of the present drawing, it is understandable that Rossetti should find it difficult to incorporate it into a finished painting that reversed all his personal and artistic principles.
Provenance: Rossetti Sale, Christie, Manson and Wood, 12th May 1883, Lot 211 Sir Thomas Wardle; thence by descent to Gilbert Charles Wardle; Lt.-Colonel J.L. Wardle
Bradford, City Art Gallery, 1904, Fine Arts Exhibition, number 481. London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1973, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Painter and Poet, (catalogue of the exhibition by Virginia Surtees), number 47.
Doughty, O. and Wahl, J.R. (eds.). Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965.
Elzea, Rowland. The Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft, Jr. and Related Pre-Raphaelite Collections. Rev. Ed. Wilmington, Delaware: Delaware Art Museum, 1984
Grieve, Alastair. The Art of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1. Found. 2. The Pre-Raphaelite Modern Life Subject. Norwich: Real World Publications, 1976.
Hunt, W. Holman. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood London: Chapman and Hall, 1913. Volume 2.
Morgan, Hilary, and Peter Nahum. Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989. Catalogue number 20.
Surtees, Virginia. The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1822-1882). A Catalogue Raisonné. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971. Catalogue number 64H.
Last modified 27 June 2020