The Blue Bower

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1865
Model: Fanny Cornforth


◦ Fredeman, Correspondence, 65.66, 65.143, 65.163.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 137.

◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 53.

◦ Sharp, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 187, 192-194.

◦ Spencer–Longhurst, The Blue Bower, 8-16, 50-51.

◦ Stephens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 70.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 102-103.

Scholarly Commentary


The picture is a key example of the way DGR, in the 1860s especially, incorporated into his pictures both Venetian cinquecento stylistic devices and the formal and decorative features of Japanese ukiyo-e colored prints. This highly sensuous and decorative approach to his painting first appeared in DGR's remarkable work of 1860, Bocca Baciata. The connection of that painting to the present work is underscored by the fact that the poem doubling the 1860 painting of Bocca Baciata carries the received title of “The Song of the Bower”. The highly erotic idea of “the bower” pervades all of DGR's work, both textual and pictorial.

Strongly erotic as it is, the picture is nonetheless an all but abstract colourist work, a kind of homage to the Venetian and Japanese masters whose pictures DGR was admiring. The contrast of the voluptuous floral work and jewellery with the hexagonal blue background tiles sets a compositional frame for the main drama of the picture, the play of its blues, greens, golds, and reds. The irreal, even fantastic, character of the work gets focused by the purely decorative function of the Japanese koto, which could neither be present nor played in this way or setting. Spencer-Longhurst also rightly observes the contrast DGR works out within the floral materials themselves, where the “opulence [of the passion flowers and clinging wild convolvulus] is balanced by the modest sprig of light-blue cornflowers in the foreground, playing on [Fanny Cornforth's] name” (Spencer-Longhurst, 11).

Production History

In mid-April 1865 DGR wrote to Madox Brown that “I've begun an oil picture all blue, for Gambart, to be called The Blue Bower. Come & see it in a week's time”. He continued to work on the picture until October, when he had it ready for Gambart, who shortly afterwards sold the picture, according to DGR, to a Mr. Mendel. According to Surtees, however Gambart sold it to Agnew (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 65.66, 65.143, 65.163 ). Several studies for the painting are known, including a pencil and black chalk drawing, a study of Fanny with a sketched dulcimer, and an exquisite pencil drawing not recorded by Surtees.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: s178.raw.xml