The most prominent of the five stolen paintings that federal prosecutors seek to confiscate is the "Study of Alexa Wilding" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, both because of the artist and the woman in the drawing.
Rossetti (1828-1882) was in the front ranks of British artists in the 19th century. He was instrumental in forming the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an aesthetic movement that sought to reassert the perceived simplicity and directness of medieval and early renaissance painting styles. The Pre-Raphaelites were the Bohemians and the Beautiful People, the elites and the radicals of their day. Rossetti -- brother of poet Christina Rossetti and an important poet in his own right -- was their undisputed leader and taste-maker, the Andy Warhol of his generation. In the words of his friend James McNeill Whistler, the most important American-born artist of the era, "He was a king."
Born Alice Wilding, the woman in the study was one of Rossetti's favorite subjects. In some cases he superimposed her "commercial" face onto figures in canvasses he'd already completed using different women as models. He hired the working-class girl with the understanding that she would pose for no other artist but him. The arrangement paid Wilding well. She quit her job as a seamstress and died in 1884 -- at the age of 35 -- a woman of property.
There is no evidence of a family or romantic connection between Wilder and Rossetti, though they are said to have established a friendship. Art scholars have expressed frustration over how little is known about her compared to the other women in Rossetti's life, particularly since his treatment of her in paintings suggests that she was a major inspiration and muse to him.
The other four artists mentioned in the court document are relatively obscure. The best-known is Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944), the son of the noted Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. The court documents report an estimated value of $3,000-$5,000 on his watercolor painting, "Milton." Rossetti's black-and-white chalk study of Wilding is estimated at 10 times that amount.
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