This drawing deals with the mythological tale of the riddle of the Sphinx. The answer to her question: 'What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?' is Man (in infancy, adulthood and old age, walking with a stick). Here Youth is shown dying, Man is staring at the Sphinx and Age is climbing the rock. The idea to have Youth dying may have been prompted by the premature death of Oliver, son of Ford Madox Brown, at the age of only nineteen in November 1874. W. B. Scott claims to have suggested the subject of the Sphinx to Rossetti (Reminiscences, vol. 2, p. 3). Rossetti may have intended to produce a painting on the subject, but none was ever begun. There is an earlier preliminary drawing in the Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

  • Purchased and presented by subscribers, 1903.
  • © Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery


Association Artist Organisation
Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti -


Type Position(s) Method Date(s) Notes
The Question / monogram 1875
- - Handwritten - Pencil


Catalogue No. Venue Date(s)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter and Poet
345 Royal Academy of Arts, London 1973 - 1973
Exposed: The Victorian Nude
- Tate Britain, London 2001-11-01 - 2002-01-27
- Haus der Kunst, Munich 2002-02-18 - 2002-05-26
- Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York 2002-09-06 - 2003-01-05
The Pre-Raphaelites
248 Tate Gallery, London 1984-03-07 - 1984-05-24
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
144 Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo 1990-09-22 - 1990-11-14
144 Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery, Nagoya 1990-11-17 - 1990-12-09
144 Ishibashi Museum of Art, Kurume 1991-01-08 - 1991-02-14
Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection, England
102 Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington 1995-03-09 - 1995-05-07
102 Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio 1995-05-27 - 1995-07-16
102 Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington 1995-08-11 - 1995-10-15
102 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas 1995-11-04 - 1996-01-02
102 High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia 1996-01-23 - 1996-04-10
102 Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery 1996-05-25 - 1996-09-29
Exposed: The Victorian Nude
76 Tate Britain, London 2002-11-01 - 2002-01-27
- MART Rovereto, Italy 2004-12-10 - 2005-05-08
Love Revealed: Simeon Solomon and the Pre-Raphaelites
150 Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 2005-10-01 - 2006-01-15
150 Museum Villa Stuck, Munich 2006-03-09 - 2006-06-18
150 Ben Uri Gallery, The London Jewish Museum of Art 2006-09-11 - 2006-11-26


Author(s) Date(s) Publisher Pages
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Record and a Study
William Sharp 1882 Macmillan, London pp. 241-43
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: an Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life
H C Marillier 1899 George Bell and Sons, London no. 272 in list of works; p. 186.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter Poet of Heaven in Earth
R L Megroz 1928 Faber and Gwyer, London pp. 299-300
City of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: Catalogue of the Permanent Collection of Drawings
A E Whitley 1939 Bemrose & Sons Ltd., Derby p. 338
Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti
John Robert Wahl, Oswald Doughty 1967 Oxford University Press, Oxford vol. 3, p. 1330
'Rossetti and the Sphinx'
Carl A Peterson 1967-01 Apollo, London pp. 48-53.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882, The Paintings and Drawings: A Catalogue Raisonne
Virginia Surtees 1971 Oxford University Press, London vol. 1, no. 241, pp. 139-40; vol. 2, pl. 350.
Pre-Raphaelite Drawings: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Andrea Rose 1977 The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London no. 1A8.
The Pre-Raphaelites
Leslie Parris 1984 Tate Gallery and Penguin Books, London pp. 307-308.
Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection, England.
Stephen Wildman 1995 Arts Services International, Alexandria, Virginia pp. 293-94
Exposed: The Victorian Nude
Alison Smith 2001 Tate Publishing, London p. 153.
Love Revealed: Simeon Solomon and the Pre-Raphaelites
Colin Cruise 2005 Merrell, London p. 180


Rossetti Sale, 1883 (lot 197) £33.12s; Charles Fairfax Murray

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