Theodore Watts-Dunton – Aylwin, 1898

Bottles, oil on DG Rossetti, still life, 1848Delaware Art Museum


Turning at last to the one called D’Arcy, I said. ‘You are an artist; you are a painter?’

‘I have been trying for many years to paint,’ he said.

‘And you?’ I said, turning to his companion.

‘He is an artist too,’ D’Arcy said, ‘but his line is not painting—he is an artist in words.’

‘A poet?’ I said in amazement.

‘A romancer, the greatest one of his time unless it be old Dumas.’

‘A novelist?’

‘Yes, but he does not write his novels, he speaks them.’

De Castro, evidently with a desire to turn the conversation from himself and his profession, said, pointing to D’Arcy, ‘You see before you the famous painter Haroun-al-Raschid, who has never been known to perambulate the streets of London except by night, and in me you see his faithful vizier.’

It soon became evident that D’Arcy, for some reason or other, had thoroughly taken to me—more thoroughly, I thought, than De Castro seemed to like, for whenever D’Arcy seemed to be on the verge of asking me to call at his studio, De Castro would suddenly lead the conversation off into another channel by means of some amusing anecdote. However, the painter was not to be defeated in his intention; indeed I noticed during the conversation that although D’Arcy yielded to the sophistries of his companion, he did so wilfully. While he forced his mind, as it were, to accept these sophistries there seemed to be all the while in his consciousness a perception that sophistries they were. He ended by giving me his address and inviting me to call upon him.

‘I am only making a brief stay in London,’ he said; ‘I am working hard at a picture in the country, but business just now calls me to London for a short time.’

With this we parted at the door of the restaurant.

Henry Treffry Dunn. Rossetti and Dunton at 16 Cheyne Walk
Henry Treffry Dunn, 1838-1899. Dante Gabriel Rossetti reading proofs of Sonnets and Ballads to Theodore Watts-Dunton in the drawing room at 16 Cheyne Walk, London


I set out to walk to my hotel, wondering how I was to while away the long night until sleep should come to relieve me. Suddenly I remembered D’Arcy, and my promise to call upon him. I changed my course, and hailing a hansom drove to the address he had given me.

When I reached the door I found, upon looking at my watch, that it was late—so late that I was dubious whether I should ring the bell. I remembered, however, that he told me how very late his hours were, and I rang.

On sending in my card I was shown at once into the studio, and after threading my way between some pieces of massive furniture and pictures upon easels, I found D’Arcy lolling lazily upon a huge sofa. Seeing that he was not alone, I was about to withdraw, for I was in no mood to meet strangers. However, he sprang up and introduced me to his guest, whom he called Symonds, an elegant-looking man in a peculiar kind of evening dress, who, as I afterwards learned, was one of Mr. D’Arcy’s chief buyers. This gentleman bowed stiffly to me.

He did not stay long; indeed, it was evident that the appearance of a stranger somewhat disconcerted him.

After he was gone D’Arcy said, ‘A good fellow! One of my most important buyers. I should like you to know him, for you and I are going to be friends. I hope.’

He seems very fond of pictures,’ I said. A man of great taste, with a real love of art and music.’

In a little while after this gentleman’s departure in came De Castro, who had driven up in a hansom. I certainly saw a flash of anger in his eyes as he recognised me, but it vanished like lightning, and his manner became cordiality itself. Late as it was (it was nearly twelve), he pulled out his cigarette case, and evidently intended to begin the evening. As soon as he was told that Mr. Symonds had been, he began to talk about him in a disparaging manner. Evidently his metier was, as I had surmised, that of a professional talker. Talk was his stock-in-trade.

The night wore on, and De Castro in the intervals of his talk kept pulling out his watch. It was evident that he wanted to be going, but was reluctant to leave me there. For my part, I frequently rose to go, but on getting a sign from D’Arcy that he wished me to stay I sat down again. At last D’Arcy said,

‘You had better go now, De Castro, you have kept that hansom outside for more than an hour and a half; and besides, if you stay till daylight our friend here will stay longer, for I want to talk with him alone.’

De Castro got up with a laugh that seemed genuine enough, and left us.

D’Arcy, who was still on the sofa, then lapsed into a silence that became after a while rather awkward. He lay there, gazing abstractedly at the fireplace.

‘Some of my friends call me, as you heard De Castro say the other night, Haroun-al-Raschid, and I suppose I am like him in some things. I am a bad sleeper, and to be amused by De Castro when I can’t sleep is the chief of blessings. De Castro, however, is not so bad as he seems. A man may be a scandal-monger without being really malignant. I have known him go out of his way to do a struggling man a service.’

‘You are a bad sleeper?’ I said, in a tone that proclaimed at once that I was a bad sleeper also.

‘Yes,’ said he, ‘and so are you, as I noticed the other night. I can always tell. There is something in the eyes when a man is a bad sleeper that proclaims it to me.’

Then springing up from the divan and laying his hand upon my shoulder, he said, ‘And you have a great trouble at the heart. You have had some great loss the effect of which is sapping the very fountains of your life. We should be friends. We must be friends. I asked you to call upon me because we must be friends.’

His voice was so tender that I was almost unmanned.

I will not dwell upon this part of my narrative; I will only say that
I told him something of my story, and he told me his.

I told him that a terrible trouble had unhinged the mind of a young lady whom I deeply loved, and that she had been lost on the Welsh hills. I felt that it was only right that I should know more of him before giving him the more intimate details connected with Winnie, myself, and the secrets of my family. He listened to every word with the deepest attention and sympathy. After a while he said,

‘You must not go to your hotel to-night. A friend of mine who occupies two rooms is not sleeping here to-night, and I particularly wish for you to take his bed, so that I can see you in the morning. We shall not breakfast together. My breakfast is a peculiarly irregular meal. But when you wake ring your bedroom bell and order your own breakfast; afterwards we shall meet in the studio.’

I did not in the least object to this arrangement, for I found his society a great relief.

Next morning, after I had finished my solitary breakfast, I asked the servant if Mr. D’Arcy had yet risen. On being told that he had not, I went downstairs into the studio where I had spent the previous evening. After examining the pictures on the walls and the easels, I walked to the window and looked out at the garden. It was large, and so neglected and untrimmed as to be a veritable wilderness. While I was marvelling why it should have been left in this state, I saw the eyes of some animal staring at me from the distance, and was soon astonished to see that they belonged to a little Indian bull. My curiosity induced me to go into the garden and look at the creature. He seemed rather threatening at first, but after a while allowed me to go up to him and stroke him. Then I left the Indian bull and explored this extraordinary domain. It was full of unkempt trees, including two fine mulberries, and surrounded by a very high wall. Soon I came across an object which, at first, seemed a little mass of black and white oats moving along, but I presently discovered it to be a hedgehog. It was so tame that it did not curl up as I approached it, but allowed me, though with some show of nervousness, to stroke its pretty little black snout. As I walked about the garden, I found it was populated with several kinds of animals such as are never seen except in menageries or in the Zoological Gardens. Wombats, kangaroos, and the like, formed a kind of happy family.

My love of animals led me to linger in the garden. When I returned to the house I found D’Arcy in the green dining-room, where we talked, and he read aloud some verses to me. We then went to the studio. He said,

‘No doubt you are surprised at my menagerie. Every man has one side of his character where the child remains. I have a love of animals which, I suppose, I may call a passion. The kind of amusement they can afford me is like none other. It is the self-consciousness of men and women that makes them, in a general way, intensely unamusing. I turn from them to the unconscious brutes, and often get a world of enjoyment. To watch a kitten or a puppy play, or the funny antics of a parrot or a cockatoo, or the wise movements of a wombat, will keep me for hours from being bored.’

‘And children,’ I said—’do you like children?’

‘Yes, so long as they remain like the young animals—until they become self-conscious, I mean, and that is very soon. Then their charm goes. Has it ever occurred to you how fascinating a beautiful young girl would be if she were as unconscious as a young animal? What makes you sigh?

M Beerbohn. Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his back garden
Max Beerbohm, 1872-1956. Caricature of a group including Rossetti sketching Fanny Cornforth.  Sir Edward Burne Jones presents a flower to a kangaroo. Continuing anti-clockwise, the figures are J. M. Whistler, A. C. Swinburne, Theodore Watts-Dunton, W. M. Rossetti, William Morris, William Bell Scott, William Holman Hunt, John Ruskin, in D G Rossetti’s garden at 16 Cheyne Walk. c.1904. Watercolour over pencil, pen and ink 7 ¼ x 12 ½

While he was talking he kept on painting, and I said to him, ‘I can’t understand how you can keep up a conversation while you are at work.’

I took care not to tell him that I was an amateur painter.

‘It is only when the work that I am on is in some degree mechanical that I can talk while at work. These flowers, which were brought to me this morning for my use in painting this picture, will very soon wither, and I can put them into the picture without being disturbed by talk; but if I were at work upon this face, if I were putting dramatic expression into these eyes, I should have to be silent.’

He then went on talking upon art and poetry, letting fall at every moment gems of criticism that would have made the fortune of a critic.

After a while, however, he threw down the brush and said,

‘Sometimes I can paint with another man in the studio; sometimes I can’t.’

I rose to go.

‘No, no,’ he said; ‘I don’t want you to go, yet I don’t like keeping you in this musty studio on such a morning. Suppose we take a stroll together.’

‘But you never walk out in the daytime.’

‘Not often; indeed, I may say never, unless it is to go to the Zoo, or to Jamrach’s, which I do about once in three months.’

‘Jamrach’s!’ I said. ‘Why, he’s the importer of animals, isn’t he? Of all places in London that is the one I should most like to see.’ He then took me into a long panelled room with bay windows looking over the Thames, furnished with remarkable Chinese chairs and tables. And then we left the house.

In Maud Street a hansom passed us; D’Arcy hailed it.

‘We will take this to the Bank,’ said he, ‘and then walk through the
 East End to Jamrach’s. Jump in.’

We then went and examined Jamrach’s menagerie. I found that one source of the interest D’Arcy took in animals was that he was a believer in Baptista Porta’s whimsical theory that every human creature resembles one of the lower animals, and he found a perennial amusement in seeing in the faces of animals caricatures of his friends.

With a fund of humour that was exhaustless, he went from cage to cage, giving to each animal the name of some member of the Royal Academy, or of one of his own intimate friends.

Theodore Watts-Dunton, 1832-1914                Aylwin, 1898. Chapter 5. HAROUN-AL-RASCHID THE PAINTER.

Theodore Watts-Dunton’s novel Aylwin includes a portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (T. D’Arcy) and his home and studio at 16 Cheyne Walk, London. The story concerns Harry Aywin who, aided by a gypsy model Sinfi Lovell, searches for a childhood sweetheart, Winifred Wynne. It was a popular publishing sensation and includes descriptions of groups of English artists and their painting expeditions to the picturesque scenery of Wales in the plein air style of the Barbizon painters. The narrative illustrates the Bohemian attraction between romantic and sultry Gypsy models and Bohemian London artists, that continued with the Romany lifestyle of Augustus John.  The novel includes portraits and descriptions of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including  James Smethem (Wilderspin).

Image: D.G. Rossetti, 1828-1882. Bottles, 1848. (Repainted c.1860) oil on canvas. 14 3/4 x 13 3/4 ” , ©Delaware Art Museum. Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial

Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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