The Last Sight of Fiammetta

The Last Sight of Fiammetta by Marie Spartali Stillman (1844-1927) – £230,000 at Bonhams.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Of the Pre-Raphaelites, she had one of the longest-running careers, spanning 60 years and producing over 150 works, although they are not common on the market.

After more than half a century in the same private collection, The Last Sight of Fiammetta emerged at the 19th Century and British Impressionist Art sale at Bonhams in London on September 21.

Estimated at £70,000-100,000, it took £230,000 (£290,100 including 27.5/25% buyer’s premium).

Romantic inspiration

Painted in 1876 in watercolour, bodycolour and gum arabic, the 2ft 8in x 2ft 1in (82 x 62cm) work on three sheets of paper depicts the central character in Giovanni Boccaccio’s mid-14th century romantic novel Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta.

It was inspired by a sonnet, also titled The Last Sight of Fiammetta, translated from Boccaccio by Stillman’s friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The sitter is almost certainly Stillman’s stepdaughter, Lisa, who would have been around 13 at the time.

The work was exhibited at the Royal Academy and at the Royal Manchester Institution in 1876 and selected for the British Fine Art section at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1878 – the year Rossetti decided to create his own version, using Stillman as his model.

It was last sold at auction in 1967 and was purchased by the vendor’s family from Abbott & Holder in 1968.

Not seen in public for decades, it represented a welcome addition to Stillman’s oeuvre at a moment when her reputation is rising. The yet larger watercolour, The Enchanted Garden from 1889, again based on Boccaccio, sold as part of the Joe Setton collection at Christie’s New York in December 2020 for a record £710,000.

The Last Sight of Fiammetta becomes the second most expensive picture by the artist.

In March 2021 an oil by Alice Boyd (1823-97), another female artist on the Pre-Raphaelite fringe, sold for a remarkable £190,000. The Thames from Cheyne Walk was later sold by the Richard Green gallery at this July’s Masterpiece fair.