Height: 179.000 mm
Width: 113.000 mm
Gift of Dr Robert Steele (Executor of the will of May Morris)
Prints and Drawings
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rossetti lamenting the death of his wombat, a pen drawing
England, AD 1869
Rossetti loved exotic animals and began to collect them with a passion after the tragic death of his wife Elizabeth Siddal in 1862. He had moved to 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, a house with a large garden that soon became a miniature zoo. Much to the distress of his neighbours, the list of animals grew to include two wombats, owls, kangaroos, wallabies, a deer, armadillos, parakeets, peacocks, a racoon, a Canadian marmot or woodchuck, a Japanese salamander, two laughing jackasses and a zebu or small Brahminee bull. He even made enquiries about purchasing a young African elephant.
The wombats had a special place in Rossetti's heart. In a letter to his brother he described the arrival of the first one as ‘a Joy, a Triumph, a Delight, a Madness'. This drawing commemorates the short-lived second wombat. It is inscribed with a verse:
reared a young wombat
To glad me with his pin-hole eye,
But when he was most sweet and fat
And tail-less he was sure to die'
The inscribed verse is a parody of Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh (1817): ‘I never nurs'd a dear gazelle / To glad me with its soft black eye, / But when it came to know me well / And love me, it was sure to die!' Instead of being layed to rest in the handsome tomb we see here, the unfortunate marsupial was actually stuffed and placed in Rossetti's entrance hall.
V. Surtees, The paintings and drawings of (Oxford, 1971)
M. Archer, 'Rossetti and the wombat', Apollo-7 (1965), pp. 178-85
J.A Gere, Pre-Raphaelite drawings in the (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)