The 66 letters were all written to members of the Ionides family, a dynasty of British art patrons and collectors of Greek ancestry, and many of them are previously unrecorded. The auctioneers say they were unearthed in a routine house clearance.
Most are addressed to Constantine Alexander Ionides (1833-1900) who left a bequest of over 1000 paintings, drawings and prints to the Victoria & Albert Museum on his death.
The letters will be divided in 28 lots at the auction in Whitchurch on September 15 and collectively are estimated at £3000-5000. The auctioneers say that, without comparative examples recently sold at auction, it is difficult to judge what they might make. They said they were already generating presale excitement, adding they are expecting institutional interest.
The correspondence includes contributions from some of the most important artists of the Victorian period, including Rossetti and his brother William Michael Rossetti, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, George Frederick Watts, John Macallan Swan, Alphonse Legros, Valentine Cameron Prinsep, William Strang, Robert Macaulay Stevenson, Sir Edward Poynter and Laurence Binyon.
Together the letters provides an insight into the relationships between patron and artist. Ionides liked to kept in touch at every stage of the process for the works he commissioned and would often suggest subtle changes.
Among the letters are 17 from Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In one of them he proposes to paint a picture for Ionides where he sets out the dimensions of the intended painting and quotes a hefty sum of 700 guineas (approximately £300,000 in today’s money). He goes on to state that “Mr Graham paid me 800 guineas for La Ghirlandata [now in the collection of art at The Guildhall Art Gallery, London], 1050 guineas for Beatrice [a work picture sold at Christie’s in 2012 for over £2.17m including premium] and 1150 guineas for The Blessed Damozel [now in Harvard’s Fogg Museum].”
Rossetti adds: “I mention these prices to show that the picture that I am proposing to you is proportionally low priced.”
The letter is estimated at £100-150.
In other letters Rossetti’s gives advice to his patron as to how the picture should be hung or displayed, giving exact dimensions, framing advice and other minute details
The correspondence also gives a glimpse into Rossetti’s unconventional personal life as well as his ailing health towards the end of his life.