Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Pandora unleashed at $11m with Sotheby's

Sotheby's is to offer Pandora, one of the most significant works by pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, for the first time at auction in 50 years.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti Pandora
Pandora looks set to establish a new auction record for Rossetti

The work will be the central highlight of Sotheby's London auction of British & Irish Art on May 22, with a £5m-7m ($8.3m-11.6m) estimate.

It was last seen at auction in 1966, when it sold to a Newcastle gallery for just £1,250 (£2,085).

The Greek story of Pandora describes the first woman on Earth, who was bestowed with gifts from each of the Gods. However, one of the "seductive gifts" she is given is a box (or vase), which she is told not to open.

Unable to resist temptation, Pandora opens the box and unwittingly releases evil and chaos into the world. She is only able to trap hope inside the empty box. For the ancient Greeks, this was an early version of the Christian story of Adam and Eve.

However, for Rossetti, the painting had a much more personal significance. His wife and muse, the copper-haired Lizzie Siddall - the subject of many Rossetti works - had died of a laudanum overdose in 1862, almost a decade before this work was painted in 1871.

Yet in October 1869, Rossetti had been persuaded to open his wife's coffin to retrieve a poetic manuscript with which she had been buried; an act Sotheby's states which "unleashed torments for himself."

Depicted in Pandora is Jane Morris, wife of William Morris and muse for many of the pre-Raphaelite artists. In 1871, the pair had spent an increasing amount of time together and Rossetti became consumed with passion for his friend's wife - an affair that William Morris indulged, according to Sotheby's.

"It is a great privilege for Sotheby's to offer such an important work by Rossetti. Tate Britain's Pre-Raphaelites exhibition, which was subsequently staged in Washington and Moscow last year, ignited a renewed interest in Rossetti, a master of storytelling and psychology," commented Sotheby's Simon Toll, specialist in British and Irish art.

"Pandora spellbindingly combines these two obsessions of the artist and comes to the market following Sotheby's record-breaking auction prices for Rossetti in 2013."

In November 2013, Sotheby's sold Rossetti's Prosperine, an instantly recognisable work, for £3.2m ($5.2m) to set a new world record for the artist at auction.

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