Dante Rossetti’s Lady Lilith will star in a July sale

Lady Lilith (1867), a Dante Gabriel Rossetti watercolour, is to lead an auction of pre-Raphaelite art at Sotheby’s.

The model in the work was Fanny Cornforth - Rossetti’s muse, mistress and housekeeper.

It is one of three versions of this painting (two watercolours, one oil).

Dante Rossetti Lilith

The watercolour is one of three versions of this composition

However, only the two watercolours display Cornforth’s face.

The oil painting (initially completed in 1869) was commissioned by US shipping magnate Frederick Leyland.

For some reason, Leyland disliked Cornforth’s looks and asked that her face be changed in the final painting.

He sent the canvas back to Rossetti in 1872, who swapped it out for that of a model named Alexa Wilding.

Cornforth was obviously very upset when she found out.

Sotheby’s Victorian art expert Simon Toll commented to the Guardian newspaper: “Poor Fanny, it is a story that really makes you feel for her.  

“It was unforgivable of Rossetti, but you’re a young artist, the patron wants something and you need a bit of money, you do what he asks.

“[She] need never have learned about the substitution, but of course his friends – probably his studio assistant Henry Treffry Dunn who detested her – went out of their way to make sure she learned of it.”

The painting is valued at £400,000-600,000 ($518,960-778,440) ahead of the July 13 sale in London.

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