Pre-Raphaelite Dorothea Landau’s ‘The Secret’ to sell 25.02.17

Posted in: News on February 17, 2017.

A young woman in a voluminous green dress sits beside an ivy wrapped oak. She contemplates a letter in her lap, tied with pale blue ribbon. As she reads, she intertwines this ribbon in and out of her fingers, unconsciously.

Dorothea Landau’s enigmatic painting The Secret is a captivating example of Victorian Pre-Raphaelite art. The Pre-Raphaelites, originally the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founded by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and Dante Rossetti, aimed to defeat the artistic conventions of the period, namely the rigorous constraints of the Royal Academy. They prioritised the painting of the natural world, combining an often almost hyper-realistic depiction of nature with both typological and non-Biblical symbolism, producing, in this way, a kind of magical, or symbolic realism. An alternate, timeless, pictorial reality, free from academic affectation.

Symbolism was a quintessential element of the Victorian era, in art, literature, fashion and even movement. And this was certainly no exception to the Pre-Raphaelites, who employed a rich tapestry of symbolism in their works. The presence of ivy in The Secret, for example, could allude to memory, immortality, eternal life, undying affection, or marriage, friendship and fidelity. Perhaps the giver of the letter is a deceased lover, or is he alive and well, proposing to this dark haired beauty?

Landau (1881-1941) was a pupil of the painter Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914). She originally worked in London as a portrait painter, her sitters including none other than Rossetti. Perhaps it was this close link with a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that affected her style so profoundly. Whilst early Pre-Raphaelites struggled to get their work accepted into mainstream artistic convention, Landau, painting in this style nearly fifty years after the founding of the Brotherhood, found herself working deep within an accepted convention. She saw her work accepted for exhibition with the New England Art Club, the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, Society of Graphic Artists and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (becoming an elected member of the latter two). She was also the second woman to ever be elected to membership of the Society of Oil Painters.

The sale of this painting marks a rare chance to be part of the fascinating history not only of the Pre-Raphaelite movement but also of the Royal Academy, where the work was first exhibited. It is housed within an original giltwood frame, complete with Royal Academy plaque below and labels to its verso.

The Secret comes up for sale on the 25th of February, and is already attracting the attention of buyers worldwide, understandably captivated, as we all are, by this equivocal work.






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