The Pre-Raphaelite’s “Trip to the Forest” – Knole Park, Sevenoaks, 1850.
But where in the park did the artists position themselves?
In the autumn of 1850 William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, visited Knole Park referring to their visit as the ‘trip to the forest’. Here they painted the backgrounds of two pictures: ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona, Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus’ (Holman Hunt), and ‘The Bower Garden, with angels playing psalteries in a paradisiacal garden’ (Dante Gabriel Rossetti).The question I posed myself was where did the artist position themselves? With around 170 years separating their visit and my endeavour it was never going to be easy to reach a definite answer but woodland in the park had largely only been shaped by nature – wind and deer – and of course, the artists were free to represent what they saw. The only clue I had was a passage allegedly written by Holman Hunt.
“I had already made a design for “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” for the painting of which it was necessary to find a background in nature. I settled upon this in a preliminary visit to Knole Park, and as the season was getting near “the sere and yellow leaf” it was desirable without loss of a day to take my canvas down there and begin. Rossetti had promised to use any such opportunity to work out of doors; accordingly we took a lodging together in Sevenoaks. He had to paint a boscage as a background to a design illustrating a passage in Dante, and he found what he wanted conveniently near to my own place of work. I ran up occasionally to see him, and found him nearly always engaged in a mortal quarrel with some particular leaf which would perversely shake about and get torn off its branch when he was half way in its representation. Having been served thus repeatedly, he would put up with no more of such treatment, and left canvas, box, and easel for the man to collect when at dusk the barrow came for my picture, he stalking back to the lodgings to write and to try designs, in one of these making use of a song in Philip van Artevelde as motto. He did not succeed in satisfying himself, and so abandoned it. He stayed on with me to the end of my work; this was protracted until dank and chilly October was far advanced, and during the time he was ever a good-humoured and pleasantcompanion.” (www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/nd467.h9.1914.1.rad.html.)
The following illustrations are the locations that I suggest could be ‘quite probable’ – they are about 100 metres apart and close enough for the artists to have easily reached or called to each other. Why not check them out for yourself. The park is a beautiful place in which to spend some time.
Possible ‘location’ for Holman Hunt’s “Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus”. (TQ5376 5397 looking up the hill towards the house).
Possible ‘location’ Rossetti’s “The Bower Garden …” (TQ 5368 5390 – looking SE along the valley, opposite direction to the road.)
The picture on the left is of the original, the second is with the original characters superimposed onto a photo taken from possible location.