Pre-Raphaelites in The City: A Pre-Raphaelite Monument in Brompton Cemetery

Dinah Roe

A Pre-Raphaelite Monument in Brompton Cemetery

When I went to see Maria Rossetti’s grave in Brompton Cemetery, I was pleasantly surprised to come across the grave of Frederick Richard Leyland, one of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s best-known patrons. 

A Liverpool ship-owner and canny businessman, Leyland represented a new breed of art buyer. Like other rich industrialists of the era, he was as interested in cultivating a reputation as a tastemaker as he was in accruing capital. The art market changed as the culture of aristocratic patronage was replaced by the acquisitive ambitions of self-made men with money to burn. In 1891, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine noted that Leyland’s home, cluttered with Italian Renaissance painting alongside Pre-Raphaelite works, embodied his ‘dream of living the life of an old Venetian merchant in modern London’. 

Leyland met Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1865, through another Liverpool collector, the tobacco merchant John Miller. In 1879, Rossetti drew a portrait of Leyland as a wedding present for his daughter Fanny, which is now in the Delaware Art Museum. According to the Rossetti Archive, this picture was purchased from Fanny Cornforth in 1898.

Leyland felt he was Rossetti’s friend as well as his patron. He visited the artist often in his declining days at Birchington-on-Sea, and also attended his funeral. Rossetti was not the only contemporary painter Leyland patronised. He also bought work from Edward Burne-Jones and James McNeill Whistler, with whom he had a famous falling-out over the decoration of ‘The Peacock Room’ in his home at 49 Prince’s Gate.

He had a reputation as something of a rake, and he and his wife Frances, née Dawson, separated in 1879. He had at least 2 mistresses, and provided for his illegitimate children in his will. While his personal life may have been chaotic, his business acumen never wavered. In 1889 he became President of the National Telephone Company, and later became deputy chairman of Edison and Sons United Electric Light Company.

On 4 January 1892, he died of a heart attack on the London underground. Four days later he was buried in Brompton Cemetery. Even in death, Leyland was not averse to displaying his wealth and artistic tastes; the bronze monument on his grave was designed by Edward-Burne Jones. Interestingly, this monument is located near the grave of another famous Pre-Raphaelite associate. Does anyone know who it is? Guesses in the comments please.

All will be revealed in the next post.






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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.