The Blue Closet

Dante Gabriel Rossetti


Physical Description

Medium: watercolour
Dimensions: 13 1/2 x 9 3/4
Frame: The basic frame is one of DGR's most common: gold flats with raised outer molding (carrying floral decoration). This frame has a small variation at the four corners, where there are small recessed ornamental squares.
Signature: monogram
Date on Image: 1857
Note: Monogram and date are inscribed at lower right.

Production Description

Production Date: 1856-1857
Exhibition History: 4 Russell Place, Fitzroy Square, Pre–Raphaelite Exhibition, 1857 (no.59); R.A., 1883 (no.358); Birmingham 1947 (no.106); R.A., 1973 (no.148); Tate 1984 (no.219)
Patron: William Morris
Date Commissioned: 1856-1857
Model: Elizabeth Siddal
Note: Siddal sat for the queen on the right.


Current Location: Tate Gallery
Catalog Number: 3057
Archival History: William Morris; George Rae; Tate Gallery 1916

Scholarly Commentary


DGR's brief comment on this haunting and enigmatic picture supplies a useful gloss on its abstract quality: “its subject is some people playing music” (see Correspondence 60.38). When Stephens says the picture is “intended to symbolize the association of colour with music” ( Stephens, 41), he underscores the formalism of the work, as well as its ideal character.

The picture represents a series of balanced relations: the queen on the right plays the clavichord with her right hand, the queen on the left with her left, and their other hands are symmetrically playing the bells and lute. At the back we see the left arm of the woman on the right, the right of the woman on the left. A like set of balanced relations governs the arrangements of the colors, including the colors on the musical instruments (which are themselves organized in a set of double balances). The holly at the top balances the red-orange lily at the bottom. The blue tiles, visible at the back wall and the floor, argue that the entire “closet” is indeed enclosed in their blue; and the pair of blue emblems on the bells and lute define another symmetry. In a sense, the crossed legs supporting the clavichord are a visual emblem of all these symmetries; in another sense, the predominance of quaternary relationships connects to the square tiles which enclose the entire space.

Production History

DGR executed the picture in 1856-1857. George Rae bought it in 1864, along with five other watercolors by DGR, from William Morris; the total price, according to WMR , was 262 pounds plus 35 pounds to DGR for some finishing work.


DGR's works often use emblems of sun and moon as signs of time passing, as here on the musical instruments.


Alastair Grieve suggests that “The symmetrical grouping and echoed poses recall the composition of medieval scenes of the flagellation of Christ or of angels making music (e.g., Orcagna's panel of ‘Musical Angels’ in Christ Church, Oxford” ( Pre-Raphaelites, Tate 1984, 280).


The painting was the inspiration for Morris's splendid and equally strange poem of the same title, published in 1857 in his The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems volume. Morris had finished his poem in mid-December 1856 (see Correspondence 56.59).


The Blue Closet
Copyright: ©Tate Gallery, London 2001


  1. image

    Delaware Art Museum print.
  2. image

    Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial , 78c recto.
  3. image

    Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné , vol. 2, plate 115.
  4. image

    Angeli, DGR con 107 illustrazioni , 101.
Electronic Archive Edition: 1
File Name: s90.rap.xml