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£75 Rossetti goes on show for first time in 150 years

Frame at last: Workers hang the drawing ready for the exhibition, which opens next week in Cambridge PICTURE: PA

A CHALK drawing by 19th century artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti which was bought for £75 in a second-hand bookshop is to go on display for the first time in 150 years.

It features a young woman, Alexa Wilding, whom Rossetti first met in the street. He became ‘obsessed’ with her ‘bright auburn hair and her beautiful face’.

The 1868 drawing, Ricorditi Di Me, Che Son La Pia (from Dante’s Purgatorio), is part of the Sir Ivor and Lady Batchelor Bequest, which is on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge from December 4.

Sir Ivor bought it for £75 in an Edinburgh second-hand bookshop. He later recalled: ‘It was a red letter day in 1956 when off the floor in Aitken’s shop, with a windfall of royalties from a book, we bought for £75 Rossetti’s very fine and very large drawing for La Pia.’

Museum staff found a typewritten note from Rossetti on the back of drawing with instructions for its care. ‘This drawing not being “set” it will require the greatest care if ever removed from its frame,’ the artist wrote, adding his address. Henrietta Ward, an assistant keeper at the museum, said: ‘It’s quite nice that he put that little warning note.’

Rossetti was known for his ‘very obsessive relationships with his models,’ she said. The drawing is the basis of his painting La Pia De’ Tolomei, which is in a US museum. The model for that work was his lover Jane Morris, wife of arts and crafts designer William Morris.

Sir Ivor, a professor of psychiatry at Dundee university, died in 2005 aged 88. His wife died in 2014.

Other highlights from their collection include a 27in bronze statue by Sir Alfred Gilbert, who sculpted Eros in Piccadilly Circus.