There are three existing versions of How They Met Themselves by the Pre-RaphaeliteGroup of English artists formed in 1848 to counter what they saw as the corrupting influence of the late-Renaissance painter Raphael. painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The first was a pen and ink drawing for Rossetti’s fellow brotherhood artist George Price Boyce, produced in 1860 in Paris during Rossetti’s honeymoon. The following year Rossetti wrote to Boyce expressing his wish to produce a watercolour version, and asking to borrow the drawing for that purpose. Featuring as it does an apparently supernatural event, Rossetti refers to the work in his letter as the “Bogie pen and ink drawing”. The watercolour was completed in 1861, followed by this second version in 1864.
Apparitions in the form of a living person, known as doppelgängers or fetchesApparition in the form of a double of a living person, often a portent of death. In England, were often portrayed as a ghostly or paranormal phenomenon and usually seen as a harbinger of bad luck. Rossetti was fascinated with the legend of the doppelgänger, which also found expression in his more autobiographical poetry such as Sudden Light, Even So, and Willowwood.
The scene is set in a wood, with the two lovers on the right of the picture being confronted by their doubles, dressed identically in medieval clothes. The doppelgängers on the left are surrounded by a glow, suggesting their other-worldliness. The female on the right is evidently much affected by the encounter, as she seems to have fainted, although her arms are outstretched.
The couples are separated by a downward pointing sword, a weapon which according to the psychiatrist Carl Jung has a two-edged nature. The sword must kill the person who wields it as well as its victim, again hinting at the ominous appearance of the doppelgängers.
As at 2022 the painting is in the collection of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.