The Men in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Circle: From Cheyne Walk to The Pines: Theodore Watts-Dunton and Henry Treffry-Dunn

Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832-1914) was a critic, novelist, and poet born on 12 October 1832 in St. Ives, Huntingdon. He was educated at Cambridge. He published his first articles in the Cambridge Chronicle while working in his father’s law office. It was during the 1870s that he wrote articles about literature, becoming the leading critic on poetry for the Examiner and then, from 1876, the Athenaeum. He contributed to the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1885). He wrote ‘The Renascence of Wonder in Poetry,’ that became the opening entry of the third volume of Chamber’s Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1903). These were both collected and published in book form two years after Watts-Dunton’s death.  The following years, Watts-Dunton published a novel, Aylwin, a prequel to The Coming of Love, where Percy’s cousin, the wealthy and well-born Henry Aylwin, is cruelly separated from his childhood sweetheart Winifred Wynne and embarks on a quest to find her, helped along by his close friend, the gypsy girl Sinfi Lovell. 
The novel, which he had been working on for over twenty-five years, became the publishing sensation of 1898 and was reviewed admiringly in both Britain and on the continent. It was in twenty-six editions by 1914 and was still available in a World Classics reprint in 1950. Today, the novel is virtually unknown. 

 (Dante Gabriel Rossetti document and profile drawing in collection at The New York Public Library)

During the 1870s, Watts-Dunton met Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne, advising Rossetti about a stolen check and helping Swinburne get out of a blackmail situation with his publisher John Camden Hotten.  He also helped Swinburne with his alcoholism by getting him out of London and moved into a house called, ‘The Pines,’ where Watts-Dunton took over guardianship of the poet until his death in 1909.

 Max Beerbohm wrote a humorous account of his stay at ‘The Pines’ called, “No. 2 The Pines,” published in And Even Now (1920). After a long bachelorhood, Watts-Dunton at the age of seventy-three, married twenty-nine-year old Clara Reich in 1905, having first met her when she was a sixteen year old school girl. She moved into ‘The Pines’ and wrote her biographical account published in 1922, a few years after her husband’s death. It is an affectionate account of daily life which gives opposite impression of Edmund Gosse’s 1917 biography of Swinburne that Watts-Dunton says deprived the poet of his freedom and diminished his creativity. Mrs. Watts-Dunton squashed rumors that had been swirling for years that they were such an unhappily married couple stuck in a marriage of convenience. You can read an account of the couple’s mutual devotion in Thomas Hake and Arthur Compton-Rickett’s biography.


 Theodore Watts-Dunton by Sir Henry Maximilian ('Max') Beerbohm
ink and wash, National Portrait Gallery

 Henry Treffry Dunn by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rossetti Archive
Henry Treffry Dunn (1838-1899) was born in 1838 in Truro in Cornwall, England, the son of a tea merchant. He had two sisters, one of whom, Edith, exhibited paintings while the other one became a music professor. He started out training at Heatherleys School of Fine Art in Chelsea. In 1867, he became the assistant to Dante Gabriel Rossetti who said of him, ‘The degree to which he has improved in copying my things is extraordinary, and I now perceive that he will prove most valuable to me.’  Rossetti offered him the position as assistant after Dunn created a copy of one of Rossetti’s work. Dunn would make studies and copies of Rossetti’s paintings which Rossetti described as ‘having a style that was ‘more solid than graceful.’ Dunn became not only assistant to Rossetti but eventually secretary and friend. Unfortunately, after having a fight one day, Dunn left in a huff returning to Cornwall leaving Rossetti without an assistant. Rossetti never paid him and ended up getting a new assistant, a man named Hall Caine who eventually became an author.  When Rossetti died, Dunn helped Rossetti’s brother William as executor and he eventually ended up receiving payments that Rossetti owed him. He went to live with Theodore Watts-Dunton and Swinburne at ‘The Pines’ until his death in 1899.

 One of Henry Treffry Dunn's most famous paintings was his 'green dining room' painting. One of the only paintings to include Dante Gabriel Rossetti as subject. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Theodore Watts-Dunton by Henry Treffry Dunn,gouache and watercolour, 1882. Purchased, 1939

“Mr. Hake, in ‘Notes and Queries’ (June 7, 1902), says: 
“With regard to the green room in which Winifred took her first breakfast at ‘Hurstcote,’ I am a little in confusion.  It seems to me more like the green dining-room in Cheyne Walk, decorated with antique mirrors, which was painted by Dunn, showing Rossetti reading his poems aloud.  This is the only portrait of Rossetti that really calls up the man before me.  As Mr. Watts-Dunton is the owner of Dunn’s drawing, and as so many people want to see what Rossetti’s famous Chelsea house was like inside, it is a pity he does not give it as a frontispiece to some future edition of ‘Aylwin.’  Unfortunately, Mr. G. F. Watts’s picture, now in the National Portrait Gallery, was never finished, and I never saw upon Rossetti’s face the dull, heavy expression which that portrait wears.  I think the poet told me that he had given the painter only one or two sittings.  As to the photographs, none of them is really satisfactory.
I am fortunate in being able to reproduce here the picture of the famous ‘Green Dining Room’ at 16 Cheyne Walk, to which Mr. Hake refers.  Mr. Hake also writes in the same article: “With regard to the two circular mirrors surrounded by painted designs telling the story of the Holy Grail, ‘in old black oak frames carved with knights at tilt,’ I do not remember seeing these there.  But they are evidently the mirrors decorated with copies by Dunn of the lost Holy Grail frescoes once existing on the walls of the Union Reading-Room at Oxford.  These beautiful decorations I have seen at ‘The Pines,’ but not elsewhere.”  I am sure that my readers will be interested in the photograph of one of these famous mirrors, which Mr. Watts-Dunton has generously permitted to be specially taken for this book."
 Janey Morris (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn, Date painted: c.1896/1898,Oil on oak panel,  National Trust
  Janey Morris (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn, Date painted: c.1896/1898,Oil on oak panel,  National Trust Collection.
  Janey Morris (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn, Date painted: c.1896/1898,Oil on oak panel,  National Trust Collection.
 Paolo and Francesca da Rimini (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn
Date painted: c.1896/1898, National Trust 

Hamlet and Ophelia (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) By Henry Treffry Dunn
 Date painted: c.1986/1898, National Trust

How They Met Themselves after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn
 Date painted: c.1896/1898, National Trust

Sir Launcelot in the Queen's Chamber (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti) by Henry Treffry Dunn, 

Date Painted 1896/98, National Trust

 A bedroom inside Wightwick Manor depicting Dunn's paintings as part of a cabinet, seen above.

For more information visit Wightwick Manor


Kevin Marsh said…
Hello Kimberly,

Theodore Watts-Dunton looks just like my mate Marcus, Baron Brickwood of Petham. :-) Again there are some great paintings here and a fascinating story.


Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kevin,
Ha, I bet your mate gets mistaken for Dunton all the time ;)
So glad you liked the paintings, I thought they were so well done, especially for copies! Thanks for stopping by!
Hermes said…
Great post with gorgeous paintings. You might find interest in

and his mistress. Fascinating story. Loved this post.
Kimberly Eve said…
Ooh, yes, I don't know much about 'Howell' so your link will be a good place to start! A mistress you say...
Lovely to hear from you, Hermes. Thanks for stopping by!

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