Pre-Raphaelites in The City: The Rossetti Watch, Part II: Geoffrey Munn Needs Your Help!

Dinah Roe

The Rossetti Watch, Part II: Geoffrey Munn Needs Your Help!

Readers, this is your chance to help make Pre-Raphaelite history!

As a long-standing fan of the Antiques Roadshow, I am thrilled to inform you that Geoffrey Munn has contacted me about his ongoing search for the beautiful watch that Dante Gabriel Rossetti designed as a memorial to Elizabeth Siddal.

For those of you unaccountably unfamiliar with his regular appearances on this great British television programme, jewellery expert Munn (FSA, FRSA) specialises in nineteenth-century metalwork and Fabergé, and is managing director of London jewellers, Wartski. Click HERE to see him in action at the British Museum on the Antiques Roadshow.

He is the author of books and articles about jewellery, such as Artist’s Jewellery: Pre-Raphaelite to Arts and Crafts with Charlotte Gere, and The Triumph of Love: Jewellery 1530-1930. He has also curated many exhibitions, including Tiaras: Past and Present at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Munn has sent me his fascinating recent article for the Decorative Arts Society Journal, ‘Not Lost But Gone Before: The Story of The Rossetti Watch’, and has given me his kind permission to pass on some of what he has discovered about this object’s history, in the hope that you may be able to help him trace it. The complete article is available in No. 35 of the 2011 Journal . You can get a copy HERE. I have summarised some of its salient points and clues below, but I encourage you to read the original article in its entirety. It is required reading for fans of the Pre-Raphaelites.

I am so grateful to Geoffrey Munn for alerting me to, and allowing me to share his brilliant original research in this blog. The following story of the Rossetti Watch, including symbolic interpretation, physical description, comparisons to other images and chronology is taken entirely from the article in The Decorative Arts Society Journal, and is the hard work of Munn, with the help of Charlotte Gere OBE, FSA and Max Donnelly FSA. None of it belongs to me, and the details below are provided below with Munn’s generous permission. I’m just hoping that the following clues might lead to the watch’s re-discovery one day!

1858-1859: Rossetti produces a drawing of Dante and Beatrice in which the figure of Love carries a dial (now in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). Image is from the Rossetti Archive:

c.1862: Rossetti produces ink on paper design for the front and back of an enamelled gold watch. An image of the original drawing is included in Munn’s article. In a private collection, this design was only recently discovered.

On the watch face are the faces of Sol and Luna (sun and moon), figures which Munn argues strongly resemble Rossetti and Siddal. He tells us that in alchemy, ‘the conjunction or “marriage” of sun and moon signified a mystical unity of time and eternity’. Between Sol and Luna is a winged Mercurius (leader of the dead into the underworld).

The watchcase design shows a bird in flight, which Munn identifies as an allusion to Virgil’s ‘“Tempus Fugit Semper Amici” – time flies but love remains’. The chequered pattern behind the bird, with its stars and rays, represents the cycle of night and day. It echoes a study made for the middle panel of a cabinet for William Morris’s house at Upton, which is in the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, from whose wonderful Pre-Raphaelite Online Resource site this image is taken:

There is an Asian influence as well. Munn points out that the bird is a phoenix, which ‘in Chinese and Japanese lore is the herald of significant change.’

1862: watch is designed under the aegis of Morris, Marshall Faulkner & Co (after Siddal’s death). Watch face manufactured by watchmakers Cozens, Matthews and Thorpe. 18ct gold case made by Robert Gideon Macaire of Clerkenwell. Case-maker alters Siddal’s face considerably and changes winged Mercurius into a dog.

1863: in the possession of architect Edward Robson (1835 – 1917)

1917: Robson’s will bequeathes the watch to his son, Philip Appleby Robson

1921: Philip Robson uses an image of the watch as the frontispiece for his privately published collection of poems, Votarial Verses and Arabesques. One poem, called ‘Winged Time’, is dedicated to Rossetti:

Thou wilt outlive me as thou didst outlive
The architect belov’d to whom Rossetti
With lofty vision sure didst give —
But little recking all the debt he
Created by — this wond’rous gold invention,
With black inlays en maniere champlevé,
Portraying all the Heav’nly constellation.
With Sol and Luna set in stars — brevet
D’invention. Precious are life’s fleeting hours,
God’s gift to use or waste ever striving
To follow that empyrean bird which dow’rs
The back. Elusive Time is on the wing!
May we of its creator’s euphrasy
Draw tonic, then find added eucrasy.

1951: death of Philip Robson. Watch not mentioned in his will. Watch disappears.

c1980s: Geoffrey Munn traces Robson daughter Alethea to the United States. She remembers the watch (which is larger than previously thought) hanging from its own stand, but does not know its whereabouts. On her death, Rossetti’s original design is found among her effects.

Present Day: ?????

Can you provide the next link in this chronology? Do you have any information on the history or whereabouts of this watch? Does it remind you of any other kinds of Rossetti iconography or pictures?

If so, please get in touch with me, and I will pass on any information you have to Geoffrey Munn, with full credit to you of course!

I’m feeling a little bit heady as I type this; wouldn’t it be amazing if we modern-day Pre-Raphaelite fans could recover this treasure and help make up for lost Time?

 

 

 

Responses

  1. My introduction to the Pre-Raphaelites was trhguoh seeing the miniseries Lillie when I was 14, and that whole thing with Millais and Leighton and Poynter all wanting to paint her portrait, when they meet her at her first London soiree.  Millais’ portrait of her, and his later use of her in his painting Effie Deans, are really the first knowledge I had of the painters of that period.  There was a wonderful scene in which she’s posing for her portrait for him and he comes up with the idea of her holding a Jersey lily.  By the time I went to the UK for the first time in 1984, that was the one painting I hoped to see, but alas, that was not to be.  I did however discover Holman Hunt’s The Bride of Bethlehem which hung in the Fitwilliam Museum in Cambridge on their rather narrow balcony gallery.  The narrowness of the balcony meant that one had to view the painting somewhat closely, so I really got a sense of the Pre-Raphaelite use of color.  At that point I was hooked and began reading everything I could find on them, which mostly consisted, at that point, of Andrea Rose’s excellent book.  Since then I have come to love many of the paintings, although Rossetti’s Beloved is probably my absolute favorite of them all.  The colors and the different expressions on each woman’s face enthralls me.  I still to this day have never seen Millais’ portrait of Lillie Langtry close up.  I hope someday I shall.

    Gemink responded at 09:28pm on 06/01/2012
  2. Thank you for sharing your first experience of the Pre-Raphaelites. Once they grab you, they don’t let go! If you’re interested in seeing more, the upcoming Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain in September 2012 might be just the excuse you need for a return to the UK ...

    Dinah responded at 08:01pm on 06/08/2012
  3. Robert Gideon Macaire was the youngest child of my great-great—great-grandfather Gideon Paul Macaire. We are descended from Robert’s sister, Elizabeth Ann Macaire, who married George Man in 1836. Many thanks for this fascinationg article.

    Rosalind Minton (Mrs.) responded at 05:50pm on 01/07/2014
  4. That is an amazing family connection! If you would like me to put you in touch with Geoffrey, who is STILL looking for the Rossetti watch, please let me know.

    Dinah responded at 12:06pm on 01/24/2014

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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.