Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Venus Verticordia will appear at Sotheby's in December, revealing a fascinating backstory that turned critic and admirer John Ruskin away from Rossetti's work.
The name translates to Venus the heart turner, with the red-haired Venus - typical of Rossetti's work - set among red roses. The 1868 work expected to sell for as much as £1.5m ($2.4m).
The original oil painting was generally well received, except by Ruskin, who had long been an advocate of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites. He apparently objected to the roses, which he described as "awful in their coarseness".
However, Sotheby's experts say it was the subject that made Ruskin shy away, with the critic suffering from a troubled sex life. Those troubles are recorded in a new film named Effie Gray, which details Ruskin's unconsummated marriage that led to his wife leaving him for Pre-Raphaelite John Everrett Millais.
Rossetti would have been insulted by Ruskin's views, as he spent great trouble realising the roses, even having fresh flowers shipped in from France.
"Ruskin said it was the roses he objected to, but I think it's clear it's the heady sensuality of the picture he couldn't cope with at all - it's well known that Ruskin had a problem with nudes," said Sotheby's specialist Simon Toll to the Guardian newspaper.
This is a watercolour example of the composition, created for Rossetti's main patron Glasgow MP William Graham after he sold the original, which is now housed in the Russell-Cotes gallery in Bournemouth.
The record for Rossetti's work is held by one of the most famous compositions, Prosperine, which totalled $5.2m at Sotheby's in 2013.
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