PROVENANCE: Frederick Richard Leyland, and thence by descent
Alexa Wilding’s relationship with Rossetti was unusually free of emotional and physical complications, and she was one of his favourite models during the 1860s and 1870s. They met quite by chance one summer evening, as Rossetti was on his way to The Arundel Club: walking alongside, Rossetti was struck by her beautiful features and her auburn hair and followed her until he had summoned up the courage to ask her to sit for him. She did not show up the next day, but some months later Rossetti chanced upon her again and convinced her to visit his studio. On learning that she could earn more money in a single sitting than in a week as a dressmaker, she agreed to model for him exclusively.
Rossetti’s assistant Henry Treffry Dunn wrote that ‘Miss Wilding’s was a lovely face, beautifully moulded in every feature, full of quiescent, soft, mystical repose that suited some of [Rossetti’s] conceptions admirably, but without any variety of expression. She sat like the Sphinx waiting to be questioned and with always a vague reply in return; about the last girl, one would think, to have the makings of an actress in her; and yet to be that was her ambition.’ Dunn also noticed that ‘she had a deep well of affection within her seemingly placid exterior.’ When Rossetti died in 1882, she was one of the few who travelled to his funeral in Kent, although she could ill afford it.
The present drawing is not previously recorded and is not a study for a specific work. It belonged to Rossetti’s most reliable patron, Frederick Richard Leyland.