Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Found makes a clear departure from the artist's other works as he attempts to tackle a contemporary subject more often seen in works by other Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Hunt and Millais, and the project proved so difficult for him that he never completed it. The PRB frequently used the theme of the fallen woman, as seen in works such as Hunt's The Awakening Conscience and Egg's Past and Present series. Much as in these two paintings, Rossetti's Found employs a secular narrative which, while most likely recognizable to viewers, would not have its basis in a preexisting story as Rossetti's religious works. The fallen girl, sitting by a wall in the dawning light, has just been discovered by a man who tries to lead her away. Her rather flashy garb, brilliantly red hair, and extraordinarily pale skin suggest her status as prostitute quite clearly. The calf just behind the man takes considerable focus in the work as well; although not involved in the immediate action in the foreground, Rossetti chooses to place it prominently before the receding background. This background, unfinished at the time of Rossetti's death, shows a bridge across which lies the city. The second stanza of the accompanying poem reads:
Ah! gave not these two hearts their mutual pledge,
Under one mantle sheltered 'neath the hedge
In gloaming courtship? And, O God! to-day
He only knows he holds her; -- but what part
Can life now take? She cries in her locked heart, --
"Leave me -- I do not know you -- go away!"
The man pulling her away, dressed in clothes which seem to belong to the country rather than the city, has found his lost love and attempts to bring her back to her previous life, in terms of both location and morality. The theme of the city as a place of sin versus the country as idyllic and morally upright proves useful metaphorically here, as does the confined calf on the cart behind the man. As a symbol for the country girl turned prostitute, the calf struggles under its ropes trapped in the cart. Perhaps she, who contains an inherent innocence like the calf despite her current situation, cannot envision any form of escape. The look on the girl's face expresses desperation while the man's seems stern and determined.
Rossetti's attempt to portray a secular and overtly moralizing scene common to other PRB artists resulted in a rather clumsy work, and one which contains few of the characteristics of Rossetti's other works. Compositionally, it does not have the claustrophobic effect as many of his other paintings, such as Ecce Ancilla Domini. Also, the composition itself seems awkward, as a stump of what could possibly be a cannon emerges from the ground directly behind the male figure. The low wall behind the woman seems to come from nowhere, and leaves the viewer spatially unsure. Rossetti utilizes a rather drab color scheme in comparison to his earlier works. It seems that Rossetti makes an attempt to remove the archaic aspects of his painting style in order to execute a more typical Pre-Raphaelite work, but finds his poetic tendencies clash with the secular, contemporary subject matter.
1. The last line of Rossetti's accompanying poem reads "Leave me -- I do not know you -- go away!" What does this outburst of the girl signify? What exactly occurs in this scene- does the fallen woman actually want to continue her morally corrupt way of life, or does she wish to end her ways but can see no way out?
2. Compare this painting to Hunt's Awakening Conscience. There, the woman has suddenly realized the reprehensibility of her actions and recognizes her desire to end them. In what way do the attitudes of the two men, and particularly the two women, differ?
3. Does the calf in the painting have any religious symbolic meaning? Is there any indication of religious symbolism in this work at all?
4. Judging by Rossetti's intense effort put forth toward this painting, what exactly displeased him so much about it? Did it not satisfy him simply because he tried to paint in a style somewhat different from his natural style, or do other specific aspects of the work appear to be problematic?
- Rossetti's "Jenny" (text)
- Prostitution in Victorian England
- Representations of Courtly Versus Earthly Love (Rossetti's Beatrice)
- Longing and Connection in D.G. Rossetti's Prosperpine
- Proserpine and Jane Morris: Women Trapped in Unhappy Relationships
Last modified 27 June 2020