OIL PAINTING: Ligeia Siren, 1873
Rossetti's Ligeia was evidently originally intended to be wholly uncovered, lacking the twist of fabric which now covers her pudenda. Rossetti offered the drawing to both of his best patrons, Frederick Leyland and William Graham, who each turned it down on the grounds of its nudity. Rossetti therefore adapted the figure's headgear to offer some modesty, writing to Charles Augustus Howell:
'the unpopular central detail will eventually be masked by a fillet of flying drapery coming from a vent twisted in the hair so as to render it saleable' (quoted Macleod 1984).
However, he did not find a buyer, and the same year it was made Rossetti gave it to Howell for arranging the sale of Dante's Dream at the Time of Beatrice's Death. The great fixer of the art world, Howell was unlikely to have been worried by the figure, for among his many dubious business pursuits he was rumoured to be a purveyor of pornographic visual material. Asan MP and Presbyterian, William Graham's rejection of the picture may seem inevitable, but he was in fact an enthusiastic collector of nudes. However, his family life was a consideration in his choices. Graham's wife appears to have had strict views about such material, and it was reputedly she who forced the rejection of Ligeia.
The model for Ligeia was 'a singular housemaid of advanced ideas', Rossetti wrote, 'come hither as a model not a housemaid'(quoted Surtees 1971). She was selected and sent to him by Henry Treftry Dunn, his assistant. She stands amid foliage identical to that in Rossetti's The Question of two years later, another picture about predatory women; the ship in the background is also the same. Ligeia was one of the three sirens of ancient Greek myth, whose beauty and enchanting music lured sailors unable to resist their charms to their deaths on the rocks.