Pre-Raphaelite Models and Muses

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fann10I am a Pre-Raphaelite scholar, and artist. Christine Rosamond Benton is a Pre-Raphaelite artist, because I introduced these artists to her, and they were a great influence on her work.

Rena Victoria Easton is Pre-Raphaelite Model and Muse. When the artist Rosamond saw the painting I did of Rena, she took up art. When you read about these models and muses, you see how they moved within the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, became their muses, their lovers, their wives.

Joaquin Miller admired and emulated the Pre-Raphaelite artists, and models. John Fremont was his hero. Jessie Fremont had a famous salon in San Francisco. Mark Twain and Bret Harte were members. My kindred were neighbors of Miller, and socialized with him. The Benton family connection to the Bohemian Artists and Writers of the Bay Area -will be established in History, thanks to my efforts, and Rosamond’s fame.

I carefully chose the Pre-Raphaelites because of my family history. Fanny Carnwith was a prostitute and famous model for Rossetti. I was aware my mother had been a prostitute. Her given name, Rosemary Rosamond, the daughter of Mary Magdalene Rosamond, rings historic bells. If the Pre-Raphaelites heard there exist a family of beautiful women with the maiden name, Rosamond, they would have come running with their pen and brush.

Look as you may in the internet, you will not find another Rosemary Rosamond, and another Mary Magdalene Rosamond. These names fit with the names of Pre-Raphaelite subjects. Many of my family members were employed as Rosamonds models, including the artist herself. Try as you may, you will not find another family in art history who were used as models, and were artists, poets, and writers. How could Vicki and Mark Presco let outsiders come in and destroy this legacy! This constitutes a crime against history, and a attack upon a creative family and grouping, that I spent ten thousand hours to RESTORE!

What is in a name or word? RESTORE = ROSETER.

In my last thirty posts, or more, I breathed life into the flat two dimensional images Rosamond rendered. Rosamond Women are now – alive! One can say I have added a couple of cups of semen, that is essential for creating life – and more family artists and writers! There is something in our DNA.

I have also added the great and very real struggle, most women and men, undertake, when they conspire to make love and become beautiful sexual beings.

God bless all these beautiful women, sisters, wives, mothers – and muses!

Laurie Landis and Fanny Cornforth could pass for sisters. Laurie was very proud of her royal ancestors, especially Queen Eleanor, who some say murdered Fair Rosamond.

Jon Presco

Copyright 2013

Most Rossetti biographers and Pre-Raphaelite scholars have branded Cornforth as a fat prostitute. A crude, lower class, buxom blonde who pursued Rossetti in a predatory way by spitting nutshells at him. Cornforth is a face we know well, a face we tolerate because Rossetti was enamored of her, but we all know that as she grew fatter, the woman Rossetti dubbed Elephant became someone that Rossetti no longer desired and his interest shifted to Jane Morris.

Enter Kirsty Stonell Walker. With her book Stunner The Rise and Fall of Fanny Cornforth, she has turned what is known about Rossetti and his prostitute model on its head. After reading this book, I’m no longer comfortable calling Fanny his model. Surely, along with Siddal and Morris, she should be now known as his muse.

In the first biography of Fanny’s life, the author paints a picture of a woman born of a working class family who captured Rossetti’s attention through her beauty. Seen by other biographers as a leech stealing Rossetti’s money and art, Kirsty intoduces us to a friend who was loyal to Rossetti. Franny cared for him as a wife would, nursing him and at times indulging him. But always and forever loyal to him.

Sophy[1] Gray was born in October 1843. Her parents were George Gray (1798–1877), a Scottish businessman, and Sophia Margaret Gray, née Jameson (1808–1894). Sophy was the tenth of fifteen children, although five, including three daughters, pre-deceased her. Two of her three elder brothers alive in 1843 died before she was seven. Effie (1828–1897) was the eldest child. The Grays’ second daughter, also named Sophia Margaret, died aged six in 1841.[2]

The family lived at Bowerswell, a house near the Scottish city of Perth that was re-built in 1842. As a child Sophy frequently visited Effie, who lived in London after her marriage in 1848 to the critic and artist John Ruskin. To an extent Effie, who was fifteen years older, acted as Sophy’s “second mother”, while Sophy, at a very young age, was exposed to the increasingly strained circumstances of the Ruskins’ unconsummated marriage.[3]

Effie Gray’s flight from Ruskin and marriage to Millais[edit source]

On 25 April 1854 Effie left her husband on the pretence of visiting her parents in Scotland. Sophy was staying with the Ruskins at the time, at their home in Herne Hill, and appears to have been complicit in her sister’s flight. She and Effie boarded a train for Edinburgh at the new King’s Cross station, but Sophy alighted at Hitchin, Hertfordshire where her parents were waiting. Mrs Gray took her place on the train, while Sophy and her father returned to London to deliver a package from Effie to her solicitors. That evening a citation of nullity was delivered to Ruskin, together with certain effects such as Effie’s wedding ring and her keys.[4]

Effie was granted a decree of nullity on 20 July 1854.[5] The previous summer, she, Ruskin and his protégé, John Millais, had spent four months together in the Scottish Highlands, during which time she and Millais formed a close and increasingly intimate bond.[6] In early 1854, Millais painted a portrait of Sophy for her parents. Through her regular visits to his studio in Gower Street, London, where she impressed Millais by her patience,[3] Sophy was able to act a go-between with Effie. During this period, Ruskin’s mother (to whom her son was very close) appears to have indulged Sophy, while, at the same time, casting aspersions on Effie, who was under very considerable stress.[3]

After the annulment of her marriage, Effie avoided Millais for some time, but eventually invited him to Bowerswell, where they were married in June 1855.

Sophy as muse[edit source]

Sophy, centre, in Autumn Leaves. Alice Gray is on the left.
For the next few years Sophy continued to sit for Millais. After he and Effie moved to Annat Lodge, close to Bowerswell, she was readily available for this purpose, but it seems also that she was beginning to displace Effie herself as a favoured subject.[7] In the words of art historian Suzanne Fagence Cooper, whose biographical chapter about Sophy (2010) provides the fullest account of her life, Sophy “changes before our eyes from a child to a stunning teenager”.[3] This change can be traced in three works by Millais: Autumn Leaves (1855-6), Spring (or Apple Blossom) (1856-9) and, most strikingly, in a small,[8] but “unnerving”[3] portrait of her at the age of 13, entitled Portrait of a Girl, or simply Sophy Gray (1857). Charles Edward Perugini also painted a portrait of Sophy as a young woman; the date is not known with certainty[9] and for some years it was attributed mistakenly to Millais.[10]

Millais’ Spring (Apple Blossoms), with Sophy on the far left.
Autumn Leaves and Spring[edit source]

In Autumn Leaves, Sophy is one of four girls beside a smoking bonfire of leaves. Her younger sister Alice (1845–1929)[11] was also in this picture, together with two local girls procured by Effie.[3][12] Of the four, only Sophy appears to be verging on womanhood.[13]

Spring is in some ways a complementary work. Eight girls (whose ages ranged from 12 to 15) recline in an orchard. Sophy is depicted in profile, wearing a colourful, striped robe, with long flowing hair, while Alice lies a little provocatively with a blade of grass in her mouth.

Sophy Gray and Sophy’s relationship with Millais[edit source]

Sophy Gray is a very sensual, “knowing” and direct image, which, almost inevitably, has provoked questions about the nature of Millais’ relationship with his sister-in-law. There was undoubtedly a strong affection between them, which may well have grown into mutual infatuation. According to Mary Lutyens, who researched the lives of Effie, Ruskin and Millais,[14] it was rumoured that Effie had to send Sophy away because of concerns that she and Millais were growing too close, but there is no clear evidence of a more intimate relationship between them. Sophy’s parents were content for Millais to chaperone her – for example, on an overnight train to London – and, whatever the truth of any rumour, Effie remained close to her sister and often invited her to stay after she and Millais moved back to London in 1861.[3]

Unlike Millais’ 1854 portrait of Sophy, his later work was not kept by the family. It was sold to George Price Boyce, a friend of Millais’ pre-Raphaelite “brother”, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who painted a portrait of Fanny Cornforth, both his own and Boyce’s lover,[15] to hang alongside that of Sophy.[3] Entitled Bocca Baciata (“the mouth that has been kissed”) after a theme in Boccacio’s Decameron, Rossetti’s picture (1859) was described by William Holman Hunt, another member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as “remarkable for gross sensuality of a revolting kind … I see Rossetti as advocating as a principle the mere gratification of the eye”.[16] As Cooper has remarked, this “after-life” of Sophy Gray demonstrated its “erotic potential”.[3]

In 2012 Autumn Leaves and Sophy Gray, the latter in a private collection, were displayed alongside each other in Tate Britain’s major exhibition of Pre-Raphaelites, Victorian Avant-Garde.[17]

Mental illness and marriage[edit source]

In 1868 Sophy became very unwell. It is clear from letters at the time that she was suffering from anorexia nervosa. She also became extremely restless and obsessed with music, especially piano playing. Her speech was often incoherent. In March 1869 Millais wrote to William Holman Hunt that Sophy had “been ill a whole year, and away from home, with hysteria”.

At the request of the Grays, Millais placed Sophy at Manor Farm House, Chiswick under the care of Dr Thomas Harrington Tuke (1826-88), a leading practitioner in lunacy.[18] Tuke had treated Millais’ friend, the painter Edwin Landseer,[3] and, a year or so after Sophy came to him, was involved in the case of Harriet Mordaunt, respondent in a scandalous divorce action.[19] Sophy lived with the family of one of Tuke’s colleagues until she was well enough to move to lodgings in Hammersmith in 1869 and then back to Bowerswell.[3] Although the state of her health fluctuated, it was to remain a problem for her and a concern to others for the rest of her life.

Marriage to James Caird[edit source]

On 16 July 1873 Sophy married James Key Caird (1837-1916), a Dundee jute manufacturer[20] who had courted her for several years. Caird was disliked by her family, who thought him two-faced and were still mindful of Effie’s disastrous marriage to Ruskin. However, attempts to dissuade Sophy from going ahead with the wedding were muted by fears of triggering a further collapse of her health.[3]

The Cairds’ only child, Beatrix Ada, was born in 1874.[21] The father was notably absent during Sophy’s confinement, thereby intensifying bad feeling with her family. In 1875 he forbade Sophy from staying with Effie on her way to France[3] and, generally, at a time when his business was expanding, he seems to have been both inconsiderate and uncaring towards her.

Final years[edit source]

During her final years, Sophy spent much of her time alone with Beatrix, mostly living between Dundee and Paris. In 1880 Millais painted a final portrait of her, which was exhibited at the new Grosvenor Gallery. Mary Lutyens wrote of it that Millais “perhaps more than anyone, knew the secrets of Sophie’s [sic] short life, and in her hauntingly sad expression portrayed an old sadness of his own.”[9]

By then Sophy had become increasingly emaciated (the effects largely hidden from others by the weight of late Victorian clothing) and in 1882 returned to the care of Tuke.[3] She died on 15 March 1882, aged 38. Tuke gave the cause of death as exhaustion and “atrophy of nervous system, 17 years”.

Sophy’s daughter, Beatrix Caird, who Millais painted in 1879,[22] died in 1888. James Caird subsequently used his wealth to support Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-17 and was a significant benefactor to the city of Dundee.[23] He became a baronet in 1913.[24]

References[edit source]Fanny Cornforth (1835 – c. 1906)[1][2] was an English woman who became the artist’s model and mistress of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Later, Cornforth performed the duties of housekeeper for Rossetti.

William Michael Rossetti, the artist’s brother, wrote that “she was a pre-eminently fine woman with regular and sweet features, and a mass of the most lovely blond hair – light-golden, or ‘harvest yellow’.”[3]

In Rossetti’s paintings, the figures modeled by Fanny Cornforth are generally rather voluptuous, differing from those of other models such as Jane Morris and Elizabeth Siddal.

Contents
[hide] 1 Biography
2 Role of Fanny Cornforth in Pre-Raphaelite Art
3 Locations of likenesses
4 Notes and references
5 Bibliography
6 External links

Biography[edit source]

Fair Rosamund, by Rossetti, modelled by Fanny Cornforth
It is believed that Cornforth’s real name was Sarah Cox, but not certain, nor is it known when she became known as “Fanny Cornforth”.[4] Cornforth was the name of her first husband’s stepfather, which she adopted as her surname.[5] She is recorded in the 1851 census living in Brighton, working as a house servant.[6]

Cornforth met Rossetti in 1858, and became his model and mistress in the absence of Elizabeth Siddal who Rossetti married in 1860, under the impression that she was dying. Many biographers presumed Siddal disliked Cornforth, but there is no proof that Siddal even knew of her existence. Three months after Rossetti’s wedding Cornforth married mechanic Timothy Hughes, but the relationship was short-lived. After Siddal’s death in 1862, Cornforth moved into the widowed Rossetti’s home as his housekeeper. The affair between them lasted until Rossetti’s death. For much of the time Rossetti was engaged in an off-and-on relationship with Jane Morris who was married to his colleague, William Morris. Their relationship was not made public but his relationship with Cornforth was.

Cornforth came from the lower/rural working class of English society. Her coarse accent and lack of education shocked Rossetti’s friends and family. Many never accepted her and pressured Rossetti to end the affair. Over the course of their relationship, Cornforth gained weight. Much has been made of this by biographers, but the growing girths of both Rossetti and Cornforth was a mutual joke. His pet name for her was “My Dear Elephant” and she called him “Rhino”. When they were apart, he drew cartoons of elephants sent them to her.

It is not known when or where Fanny died. Apparently suffering from senile dementia, in 1905 she was cared for by her sister-in-law.

Role of Fanny Cornforth in Pre-Raphaelite Art[edit source]

She sat for at least 60 oils, watercolours, pastels or pencil drawings by Rossetti. The paintings include:

Lady LilithBocca Baciata, by Rossetti (1859)
Lucrezia Borgia, by Rossetti (1861)
Fair Rosamund (1861)
Fazio’s Mistress (Aurelia) (1863–73)
The Blue Bower (1865)
Lady Lilith (1867)
Found (1869) unfinished
The Holy Grail (1874)

A small circular oil painting, 9 3/4 in. diameter, made in 1862 and now at the Royal Academy, London is unusually (possibly uniquely) a straightforward portrait of her in this media by Rossetti – rather than her being depicted as a model, which was normal.

Rossetti substituted [7] the features of another model, Alexa Wilding for Fanny Cornforth in Lady Lilith (1864–68) for example, and since at first glace Wilding’s head is not dissimilar, care should be taken in nominating these models.

The many drawings of her by Rossetti include:
Fanny Cornforth, graphite on paper (1859).

A few fine finished coloured chalk portraits include one drawn in 1874 on pale green paper, 22 x 16 in. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Rossetti Archive No. s309.

Those by other artists include:
Sidonia von Bork, by Edward Burne-Jones

The Rossetti Archive has images of a large proportion of these.

Named Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall, after her mother, ‘Lizzie’ Siddall was born on 25 July 1829, at the family’s home at 7 Charles Street, Hatton Garden. Her parents were Charles Crooke Siddall, who claimed his family descended from nobility, and Eleanor Evans, from a family of English and Welsh descent. At the time of her birth, her father had a cutlery-making business but around 1831, her family moved to the borough of Southwark, in south London, a less salubrious area than Hatton Garden. In Southwark the rest of Lizzie Sidall’s siblings were born: Lydia, to whom she was particularly close, Mary, Clara, James and Henry. Although there is no record of Lizzie Siddall having attended school, she could read and write, presumably having been taught by her parents. She developed a love of poetry at a young age, after discovering a poem by Tennyson on a scrap of newspaper that had been used to wrap a pat of butter; the discovery was an inspiration to start writing her own poems.

Model for the Pre-Raphaelites[edit source]

The spelling ‘Siddall’ was changed to Siddal when Dante Gabriel Rossetti dropped the second ‘l’, first noticed by Deverell in 1849, while she was working as a milliner in Cranbourne Alley, London. Whether Siddal had any artistic aspirations is unknown, though she loved poetry. She was employed as a model by Deverell and through him was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelites. William Michael Rossetti, her brother-in-law, described her as “a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness with something that exceeded modest self-respect and partook of disdainful reserve; tall, finely-formed with a lofty neck and regular yet somewhat uncommon features, greenish-blue unsparkling eyes, large perfect eyelids, brilliant complexion and a lavish heavy wealth of coppery golden hair.”[1]

When she started work as an artist’s model, Siddal was in the enviable position of working at Mrs Tozer’s millinery part-time and was ensured a regular wage even if modelling did not work out, an unusual opportunity for a woman of her time.

Elizabeth Siddal was the model for Sir John Everett Millais’s Ophelia.

While posing for Millais’ Ophelia in 1852, Siddal floated in a bathtub full of water to represent the drowning Ophelia. Millais painted daily into the winter putting lamps under the tub to warm the water. On one occasion the lamps went out and the water became icy cold. Millais, absorbed by his painting and did not notice and Siddal did not complain. After this she became very ill with a severe cold or pneumonia. Her father held Millais responsible, and forced him to pay for her doctor’s bills. It was thought that she suffered from tuberculosis, but some historians believe an intestinal disorder was more likely. Others have suggested she might have been anorexic while others attribute her poor health to an addiction to laudanum or a combination of ailments.[2] In his 2010 book At Home, author Bill Bryson suggests Siddal may have suffered from poisoning, because she was a “devoted swallower” of Fowler’s Solution, a so-called complexion improver made from dilute arsenic.

Elizabeth Siddal was the primary muse for Dante Gabriel Rossetti throughout most of his youth. Rossetti met her in 1849, when she was modelling for Deverell and by 1851, she was sitting for Rossetti and he began to paint her to the exclusion of almost all other models and stopped her from modelling for the other Pre-Raphaelites. The number of paintings he did of her are said to number in the thousands.[3] Rossetti’s drawings and paintings of Siddal culminated in Beata Beatrix which shows a praying Beatrice (from Dante Alighieri) painted in 1863, a year after her death.

Life with Rossetti[edit source]

Beginning in 1853, with a watercolour, The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice, Rossetti painted Siddal in many works. In this piece, she portrays a regal woman visiting the distinguished Dante as he writes his autobiography. Too absorbed with his overwhelming passion for Beatrice, Dante initially fails to notice the other people present in the room. Wearing a long, tailored blue gown and a teal headdress, she clearly occupies a position of considerable rank and beauty. After this work, Rossetti used Siddal in other Dante-related pieces, including Dante’s Vision of Rachel and Leah (1855) and Beatrice Meeting Dante at a Marriage Feast, Denies him her Salutation (1851). In the latter painting, Lizzie Siddal represented Dante’s obsession, Beatrice wearing a distinguished, long green dress and possessed exquisite beauty. Surrounded by throngs of supporters, she confronts Dante with a defiance that attests to her authority.

Elizabeth Siddal in an 1854 self-portrait.
After becoming engaged to Rossetti, Siddal began to study with him. In contrast to Rossetti’s idealized paintings, Siddal’s were harsh. Rossetti drew countless sketches and painted and repainted her. His depictions show a beauty. Her self-portrait shows much about the subject, but certainly not the floating beauty that Rossetti painted and is historically significant because it shows, through her own eyes, a beauty who was idealized by so many famous artists. In 1855, art critic John Ruskin began to subsidize her career and paid £150 per year in exchange for all the drawings and paintings she produced. She produced many sketches but only a single painting. Her sketches are laid out in a fashion similar to Pre-Rapaelite compositions illustrating Arthurian legend and other idealized medieval themes. Ruskin admonished Rossetti in his letters for not marrying Siddal and giving her security. During this period Siddal began to write poetry, often with dark themes about lost love or the impossibility of true love. “Her verses were as simple and moving as ancient ballads; her drawings were as genuine in their medieval spirit as much more highly finished and competent works of Pre-Raphaelite art,” wrote critic William Gaunt in The Pre-Raphaelite Dream.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti completed “Beata Beatrix” a year after Siddal’s death.

Rossetti represented Lizzie Siddal as Dante’s Beatrice in one of his most famous works, Beata Beatrix, (1864–1870) which he painted as a memorial after her death. The piece mimicked the death of Dante’s love in his autobiographical work, Vita Nuova. In it, amidst a yellow haze of relatively indistinct shapes, including the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and figures of Dante and Love, Siddal sits, representing Dante’s Beatrice. With an upturned chin and closed eyes, she appears keenly aware of her impending fate—death. A bird, which serves as the messenger of death, places a poppy in her hands. Critics have praised the piece for its emotional resonance, which can be felt simply through the work’s moving colouring and composition. The true history of Rossetti and his beloved wife further deepens its meaning; although their love had waned at that point, Siddal still exerted a powerful influence on the artist.

A drawing by Rossetti of Siddal painting
Perhaps Rossetti’s most abundant and personal works were pencil sketches of Siddal at home. He began them in 1852, when he moved into Chatham Place with her and they became increasingly anti-social, absorbed in each other’s affections. The lovers coined affectionate nicknames for one another, which included “Guggums” or “Gug” and “Dove” – one of Rossetti’s names for Siddal. Rossetti taught her to paint and write. Although she produced mediocre work, due to his complete adoration of her, Rossetti labeled her a creative genius. Rossetti manifested this same idealization of Siddal in his sketches (most of which he entitled simply, “Elizabeth Siddal”), in which he portrayed her as a woman of leisure, class, and beauty, often situated in comfortable settings.

Regina Cordium—Rossetti’s Marriage portrait of Siddal
In both his art and writings, Rossetti exalted Lizzie Siddal. His period of great poetic production began when he met her and ended around the time of her death. (Douchy, 155) His poem, “A Last Confession,” exemplifies his love for Siddal, whom he personifies as the heroine with eyes, “as of the sea and sky on a grey day.” In this piece, a man’s affections for a young girl progress from parental to romantic as the girl ages.

Elizabeth Siddal’s prominence in Rossetti’s works decreased as their love faded and she became increasingly ill. As Beata Beatrix shows, however, Rossetti never forgot his love for his wife, even after her death. Another famous work he produced toward the end of their marriage was his Regina Cordium or The Queen of Hearts (1860). Painted as a marriage portrait, this painting shows a close-up, vibrantly coloured depiction of Siddal. Her shiny, golden hair complements the light orange hue of her heart necklace, and, with an upturned chin, she embodies the regal air implied by the title. Such flattering portraits truly reflected Rossetti’s undying affection for his wife.

Relationship with Rossetti’s family[edit source]

As Siddal came from a working-class family, Rossetti feared introducing her to his parents. Lizzie Siddal was the victim of harsh criticism from his sisters. Knowledge that his family would not approve the marriage contributed to Rossetti putting it off. Siddal appears to have believed, with some justification, that Rossetti was always seeking to replace her with a younger muse, which contributed to her later depressive periods and illness.

Rossetti’s relationship with Siddal is explored by Christina Rossetti in her poem “In an Artist’s Studio”:
One face looks out from all his canvases,One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:We found her hidden just behind those screens,That mirror gave back all her loveliness.A queen in opal or in ruby dress,A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,A saint, an angel — every canvas meansThe same one meaning, neither more nor less.He feeds upon her face by day and night,And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
Marriage, ill-health and death[edit source]

Siddal travelled to Paris and Nice for several years for her health. She returned to England in 1860 to marry Rossetti. Their wedding took place on Wednesday 23 May 1860 at St Clement’s Church in the seaside town of Hastings. There were no family or friends present, just a couple of witnesses whom they had asked in Hastings. At the time of their wedding, she was so frail and ill that she had to be carried to the church, despite it being a five minute walk from where she was staying. There is a sanctuary lamp in the church commemorating the wedding and a memorial to Rossetti. After the wedding, as soon as Siddal was well enough, they left for a honeymoon in France.

In the previous ten years Rossetti had been engaged to her, he had broken it off at the last minute several times and was known to have had affairs with other women. Stress from the incidents had affected her and she used her frequent and serious illnesses to blackmail him.[3] She became severely depressed and her long illness gave her access to laudanum to which she became addicted. In 1861, Siddal became pregnant. She was overjoyed but the pregnancy ended with the birth of a stillborn daughter. Siddal overdosed on laudanum in 1862 shortly after becoming pregnant for a second time. Rossetti discovered her unconscious and dying in bed. Although her death was ruled accidental by the coroner, there are suggestions that Rossetti found a suicide note. Consumed with grief and guilt Rossetti went to see Ford Madox Brown who is supposed to have instructed him to burn the note – under the law at the time suicide was both illegal and immoral and would have brought a scandal on the family, and suicide would bar Siddal from a Christian burial.

One of three surviving leaves from the book of poetry buried with Elizabeth Siddall. Praise and prayer : manuscript, before 1862 MS Eng 769. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Overcome with grief, Rossetti enclosed in his wife’s coffin a journal containing the only copy he had of his many poems. He supposedly slid the book into Siddal’s red hair. She was interred at Highgate Cemetery in London. By 1869, Rossetti was chronically addicted to drugs and alcohol. He had convinced himself he was going blind and couldn’t paint. He began to write poetry. Before publishing his newer poems he became obsessed with retrieving the poems he had slipped into his wife’s coffin. Rossetti and his agent, Charles Augustus Howell, applied to the Home Secretary for an order to have her coffin exhumed. It was done in the dead of night to avoid public curiosity and attention, and Rossetti was not present. Howell reported that her corpse was remarkably well preserved and her delicate beauty intact. Her hair was said to have continued to grow after death so that the coffin was filled with her flowing coppery hair. The manuscript was retrieved although a worm had burrowed through the book so that some of the poems were difficult to read. Rossetti published the old poems with his newer ones; they were not well received by some critics because of their eroticism, and he was haunted by the exhumation through the rest of his life.

Seven years after his wife’s death, Rossetti published a collection of sonnets entitled The House of Life; contained within it was the poem, “Without Her”. It is a reflection on life once love has departed:
What of her glass without her? The blank greyThere where the pool is blind of the moon’s face.Her dress without her? The tossed empty spaceOf cloud-rack whence the moon has passed away.Her paths without her? Day’s appointed swayUsurped by desolate night. Her pillowed placeWithout her? Tears, ah me! For love’s good grace,And cold forgetfulness of night or day.What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,Where the long cloud, the long wood’s counterpart,Sheds doubled up darkness up the labouring hill.– From Without Her
In fiction, drama and song[edit source]

Jane Burden was born in Oxford, the daughter of a stableman, Robert Burden and his wife Ann Maizey, who was a laundress. At the time of her birth, her parents were living at St Helen’s Passage, in the parish of St Peter-in-the-East, off Holywell Street in Oxford which has since been marked with a blue plaque.[1] Her mother Ann was illiterate and probably came to Oxford as a domestic servant. Little is known of Jane Burden’s childhood, but it was poor and deprived.
In October 1857, Burden and her sister Elizabeth, known as “Bessie”, attended a performance of the Drury Lane Theatre Company in Oxford. Jane Burden was noticed by the artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones who were members a group of artists painting the Oxford Union murals, based on Arthurian tales. Struck by her beauty, they sought her to model for them. Burden sat mostly for Rossetti as a model for Queen Guinevere and afterwards she sat for William Morris, who was working on an easel painting, La Belle Iseult, now in the Tate Gallery. Like Rossetti, Morris used Burden as the model for his painting of Queen Guinevere. During this period, Morris fell in love with Burden and they became engaged, though by her own admission she was not in love with Morris.
Burden’s education was limited and she was probably destined to go into domestic service. After her engagement, she was privately educated to become a rich gentleman’s wife. Her keen intelligence allowed her to recreate herself. She was a voracious reader who became proficient in French and Italian and became an accomplished pianist with a strong background in classical music. Her manners and speech became refined to an extent that contemporaries referred to her as “Queenly”. Later in life, she had no trouble moving in upper class circles and appears to have been the model for the heroine in the 1884 novel Miss Brown by Vernon Lee upon which was based Mrs Higgins in Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion (1914) and the later film My Fair Lady. She also became a skilled needlewoman who would be later renowned for her embroideries.
She married William Morris at St Michael at the Northgate in Oxford on 26 April 1859. Her father was described as a groom, in stables at 65 Holywell Street. After the marriage, the Morrises lived at the Red House in Bexleyheath, Kent. While living there, they had two daughters, Jane Alice “Jenny”, born January 1861, and Mary “May” (March 1862–1938), who later edited her father’s works. They moved to Queens Square in London and later bought Kelmscott House in Hammersmith as their main residence.
In 1871 Morris and Rossetti took out a joint tenancy on Kelmscott Manor on the Gloucestershire-Oxfordshire-Wiltshire borders. William Morris went to Iceland leaving his wife and Rossetti to furnish the house and spend the summer there. Jane Morris had became closely attached to Rossetti and became a favourite muse of his. Their relationship is reputed to have started in 1865 and lasted, on differing levels, until his death in 1882. The two shared a deep emotional relationship, and she inspired Rossetti to write poetry and create some of his best paintings. Her discovery of his dependence on the drug, chloral taken for insomnia, eventually led her to distance herself from him, although they stayed in touch until he died in 1882.
In 1884, Morris met the poet and political activist Wilfrid Scawen Blunt at a house party given by her close friend Rosalind Howard (later Countess of Carlisle). There appears to have been an immediate attraction between them. By 1887 at the latest, they had become lovers.[2] Their sexual relationship continued until 1894, and they remained close friends until his death.
Jane Morris was an ardent supporter of Irish Home Rule. A few months before her death, she bought Kelmscott Manor to secure it for her daughters’ future, although she did not return to the house after having purchased it.
William Morris died on 3 October 1896 at Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, London. Jane Morris died on 26 January 1914 while staying at 5 Brock Street in Bath.

Named Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall, after her mother, ‘Lizzie’ Siddall was born on 25 July 1829, at the family’s home at 7 Charles Street, Hatton Garden. Her parents were Charles Crooke Siddall, who claimed his family descended from nobility, and Eleanor Evans, from a family of English and Welsh descent. At the time of her birth, her father had a cutlery-making business but around 1831, her family moved to the borough of Southwark, in south London, a less salubrious area than Hatton Garden. In Southwark the rest of Lizzie Sidall’s siblings were born: Lydia, to whom she was particularly close, Mary, Clara, James and Henry. Although there is no record of Lizzie Siddall having attended school, she could read and write, presumably having been taught by her parents. She developed a love of poetry at a young age, after discovering a poem by Tennyson on a scrap of newspaper that had been used to wrap a pat of butter; the discovery was an inspiration to start writing her own poems.
Model for the Pre-Raphaelites[edit source | edit]
The spelling ‘Siddall’ was changed to Siddal when Dante Gabriel Rossetti dropped the second ‘l’, first noticed by Deverell in 1849, while she was working as a milliner in Cranbourne Alley, London. Whether Siddal had any artistic aspirations is unknown, though she loved poetry. She was employed as a model by Deverell and through him was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelites. William Michael Rossetti, her brother-in-law, described her as “a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness with something that exceeded modest self-respect and partook of disdainful reserve; tall, finely-formed with a lofty neck and regular yet somewhat uncommon features, greenish-blue unsparkling eyes, large perfect eyelids, brilliant complexion and a lavish heavy wealth of coppery golden hair.”[1]
When she started work as an artist’s model, Siddal was in the enviable position of working at Mrs Tozer’s millinery part-time and was ensured a regular wage even if modelling did not work out, an unusual opportunity for a woman of her time.

Elizabeth Siddal was the model for Sir John Everett Millais’s Ophelia.
While posing for Millais’ Ophelia in 1852, Siddal floated in a bathtub full of water to represent the drowning Ophelia. Millais painted daily into the winter putting lamps under the tub to warm the water. On one occasion the lamps went out and the water became icy cold. Millais, absorbed by his painting and did not notice and Siddal did not complain. After this she became very ill with a severe cold or pneumonia. Her father held Millais responsible, and forced him to pay for her doctor’s bills. It was thought that she suffered from tuberculosis, but some historians believe an intestinal disorder was more likely. Others have suggested she might have been anorexic while others attribute her poor health to an addiction to laudanum or a combination of ailments.[2] In his 2010 book At Home, author Bill Bryson suggests Siddal may have suffered from poisoning, because she was a “devoted swallower” of Fowler’s Solution, a so-called complexion improver made from dilute arsenic.
Elizabeth Siddal was the primary muse for Dante Gabriel Rossetti throughout most of his youth. Rossetti met her in 1849, when she was modelling for Deverell and by 1851, she was sitting for Rossetti and he began to paint her to the exclusion of almost all other models and stopped her from modelling for the other Pre-Raphaelites. The number of paintings he did of her are said to number in the thousands.[3] Rossetti’s drawings and paintings of Siddal culminated in Beata Beatrix which shows a praying Beatrice (from Dante Alighieri) painted in 1863, a year after her death.
Life with Rossetti[edit source | edit]
Beginning in 1853, with a watercolour, The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice, Rossetti painted Siddal in many works. In this piece, she portrays a regal woman visiting the distinguished Dante as he writes his autobiography. Too absorbed with his overwhelming passion for Beatrice, Dante initially fails to notice the other people present in the room. Wearing a long, tailored blue gown and a teal headdress, she clearly occupies a position of considerable rank and beauty. After this work, Rossetti used Siddal in other Dante-related pieces, including Dante’s Vision of Rachel and Leah (1855) and Beatrice Meeting Dante at a Marriage Feast, Denies him her Salutation (1851). In the latter painting, Lizzie Siddal represented Dante’s obsession, Beatrice wearing a distinguished, long green dress and possessed exquisite beauty. Surrounded by throngs of supporters, she confronts Dante with a defiance that attests to her authority.

Elizabeth Siddal in an 1854 self-portrait.
After becoming engaged to Rossetti, Siddal began to study with him. In contrast to Rossetti’s idealized paintings, Siddal’s were harsh. Rossetti drew countless sketches and painted and repainted her. His depictions show a beauty. Her self-portrait shows much about the subject, but certainly not the floating beauty that Rossetti painted and is historically significant because it shows, through her own eyes, a beauty who was idealized by so many famous artists. In 1855, art critic John Ruskin began to subsidize her career and paid £150 per year in exchange for all the drawings and paintings she produced. She produced many sketches but only a single painting. Her sketches are laid out in a fashion similar to Pre-Rapaelite compositions illustrating Arthurian legend and other idealized medieval themes. Ruskin admonished Rossetti in his letters for not marrying Siddal and giving her security. During this period Siddal began to write poetry, often with dark themes about lost love or the impossibility of true love. “Her verses were as simple and moving as ancient ballads; her drawings were as genuine in their medieval spirit as much more highly finished and competent works of Pre-Raphaelite art,” wrote critic William Gaunt in The Pre-Raphaelite Dream.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti completed “Beata Beatrix” a year after Siddal’s death.
Rossetti represented Lizzie Siddal as Dante’s Beatrice in one of his most famous works, Beata Beatrix, (1864–1870) which he painted as a memorial after her death. The piece mimicked the death of Dante’s love in his autobiographical work, Vita Nuova. In it, amidst a yellow haze of relatively indistinct shapes, including the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and figures of Dante and Love, Siddal sits, representing Dante’s Beatrice. With an upturned chin and closed eyes, she appears keenly aware of her impending fate—death. A bird, which serves as the messenger of death, places a poppy in her hands. Critics have praised the piece for its emotional resonance, which can be felt simply through the work’s moving colouring and composition. The true history of Rossetti and his beloved wife further deepens its meaning; although their love had waned at that point, Siddal still exerted a powerful influence on the artist.

A drawing by Rossetti of Siddal painting
Perhaps Rossetti’s most abundant and personal works were pencil sketches of Siddal at home. He began them in 1852, when he moved into Chatham Place with her and they became increasingly anti-social, absorbed in each other’s affections. The lovers coined affectionate nicknames for one another, which included “Guggums” or “Gug” and “Dove” – one of Rossetti’s names for Siddal. Rossetti taught her to paint and write. Although she produced mediocre work, due to his complete adoration of her, Rossetti labeled her a creative genius. Rossetti manifested this same idealization of Siddal in his sketches (most of which he entitled simply, “Elizabeth Siddal”), in which he portrayed her as a woman of leisure, class, and beauty, often situated in comfortable settings.

Regina Cordium—Rossetti’s Marriage portrait of Siddal
In both his art and writings, Rossetti exalted Lizzie Siddal. His period of great poetic production began when he met her and ended around the time of her death. (Douchy, 155) His poem, “A Last Confession,” exemplifies his love for Siddal, whom he personifies as the heroine with eyes, “as of the sea and sky on a grey day.” In this piece, a man’s affections for a young girl progress from parental to romantic as the girl ages.
Elizabeth Siddal’s prominence in Rossetti’s works decreased as their love faded and she became increasingly ill. As Beata Beatrix shows, however, Rossetti never forgot his love for his wife, even after her death. Another famous work he produced toward the end of their marriage was his Regina Cordium or The Queen of Hearts (1860). Painted as a marriage portrait, this painting shows a close-up, vibrantly coloured depiction of Siddal. Her shiny, golden hair complements the light orange hue of her heart necklace, and, with an upturned chin, she embodies the regal air implied by the title. Such flattering portraits truly reflected Rossetti’s undying affection for his wife.
Relationship with Rossetti’s family[edit source | edit]
As Siddal came from a working-class family, Rossetti feared introducing her to his parents. Lizzie Siddal was the victim of harsh criticism from his sisters. Knowledge that his family would not approve the marriage contributed to Rossetti putting it off. Siddal appears to have believed, with some justification, that Rossetti was always seeking to replace her with a younger muse, which contributed to her later depressive periods and illness.
Rossetti’s relationship with Siddal is explored by Christina Rossetti in her poem “In an Artist’s Studio”:
One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
Marriage, ill-health and death[edit source | edit]
Siddal travelled to Paris and Nice for several years for her health. She returned to England in 1860 to marry Rossetti. Their wedding took place on Wednesday 23 May 1860 at St Clement’s Church in the seaside town of Hastings. There were no family or friends present, just a couple of witnesses whom they had asked in Hastings. At the time of their wedding, she was so frail and ill that she had to be carried to the church, despite it being a five minute walk from where she was staying. There is a sanctuary lamp in the church commemorating the wedding and a memorial to Rossetti. After the wedding, as soon as Siddal was well enough, they left for a honeymoon in France.
In the previous ten years Rossetti had been engaged to her, he had broken it off at the last minute several times and was known to have had affairs with other women. Stress from the incidents had affected her and she used her frequent and serious illnesses to blackmail him.[3] She became severely depressed and her long illness gave her access to laudanum to which she became addicted. In 1861, Siddal became pregnant. She was overjoyed but the pregnancy ended with the birth of a stillborn daughter. Siddal overdosed on laudanum in 1862 shortly after becoming pregnant for a second time. Rossetti discovered her unconscious and dying in bed. Although her death was ruled accidental by the coroner, there are suggestions that Rossetti found a suicide note. Consumed with grief and guilt Rossetti went to see Ford Madox Brown who is supposed to have instructed him to burn the note – under the law at the time suicide was both illegal and immoral and would have brought a scandal on the family, and suicide would bar Siddal from a Christian burial.

One of three surviving leaves from the book of poetry buried with Elizabeth Siddall. Praise and prayer : manuscript, before 1862 MS Eng 769. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Overcome with grief, Rossetti enclosed in his wife’s coffin a journal containing the only copy he had of his many poems. He supposedly slid the book into Siddal’s red hair. She was interred at Highgate Cemetery in London. By 1869, Rossetti was chronically addicted to drugs and alcohol. He had convinced himself he was going blind and couldn’t paint. He began to write poetry. Before publishing his newer poems he became obsessed with retrieving the poems he had slipped into his wife’s coffin. Rossetti and his agent, Charles Augustus Howell, applied to the Home Secretary for an order to have her coffin exhumed. It was done in the dead of night to avoid public curiosity and attention, and Rossetti was not present. Howell reported that her corpse was remarkably well preserved and her delicate beauty intact. Her hair was said to have continued to grow after death so that the coffin was filled with her flowing coppery hair. The manuscript was retrieved although a worm had burrowed through the book so that some of the poems were difficult to read. Rossetti published the old poems with his newer ones; they were not well received by some critics because of their eroticism, and he was haunted by the exhumation through the rest of his life.
Seven years after his wife’s death, Rossetti published a collection of sonnets entitled The House of Life; contained within it was the poem, “Without Her”. It is a reflection on life once love has departed:
What of her glass without her? The blank grey
There where the pool is blind of the moon’s face.
Her dress without her? The tossed empty space
Of cloud-rack whence the moon has passed away.
Her paths without her? Day’s appointed sway
Usurped by desolate night. Her pillowed place
Without her? Tears, ah me! For love’s good grace,
And cold forgetfulness of night or day.
What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,
Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?
A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,
Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,
Where the long cloud, the long wood’s counterpart,
Sheds doubled up darkness up the labouring hill.
— From Without Her
In fiction, drama and song[edit source | edit]
Fiona Mountain’s 2002 mystery novel Pale as the Dead centres a “genealogical mystery” around the fictional descendants of Elizabeth Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In the novel, their newborn daughter is not stillborn but is stolen by the family doctor, who was in love with Siddal. Elizabeth Siddal’s mysterious ailments are explained as a genetic heart defect that has been inherited by her great-great granddaughter Bethany, a young woman who is modelling for photographs inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite paintings.[4]
Mollie Hardwick (author of Upstairs, Downstairs) wrote a mystery novel entitled The Dreaming Damozel in 1990.[5] The plot follows antique dealer Doran Fairweather, who is elated to find a small oil painting she believes to be of Elizabeth Siddal but is shocked when she happens on the body of a girl, floating dead in a pond. The death scene mimics the Millais painting of Ophelia featuring Elizabeth Siddal. Doran’ excited by the coincidence and mystery, ignores the advice of her husband who warns her the story of Rossetti and Siddal was plagued by unhappiness.[6]
In Tim Powers’ 2012 novel Hide Me Among the Graves, “Lizzie” Siddal is a victim of the vampire John Polidori, her husband’s uncle and author of what is likely the first vampire story. This becomes an explanation for her illness and death, as well as for her husband’s exhumation of her grave, which is not to regain his poems but is part of a strategy to defeat the vampire.[7]
Rossetti’s relationship with Siddal has been the subject of television dramas, notably Dante’s Inferno (1967), by Ken Russell, in which she was played by Judith Paris and Rossetti by Oliver Reed; The Love School (1975) in which she was played by Patricia Quinn; and Desperate Romantics (2009) in which she was played by Amy Manson.
Ghostland is a 2001 album by the Seattle neo-psychedelic band The Goblin Market named after a poem by Christina Rossetti, and the album is inspired by the exhumation of Elizabeth Siddal.
Elizabeth Siddal, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne are the subjects of the short comics story How They Met Themselves, by Neil Gaiman, drawn by Michael Zulli, and published in Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #3 (2000). The title makes reference to the Rossetti’s 1864 painting. In it, a dying Elizabeth drugged with laudanum revives the last New Year’s Day, in which the trio had a train trip to a magic forest owned by Desire, the androgynous sibling of Sandman.[8]
Notes[edit source | edit]

Fiona Mountain’s 2002 mystery novel Pale as the Dead centres a “genealogical mystery” around the fictional descendants of Elizabeth Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In the novel, their newborn daughter is not stillborn but is stolen by the family doctor, who was in love with Siddal. Elizabeth Siddal’s mysterious ailments are explained as a genetic heart defect that has been inherited by her great-great granddaughter Bethany, a young woman who is modelling for photographs inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite paintings.[4]

Mollie Hardwick (author of Upstairs, Downstairs) wrote a mystery novel entitled The Dreaming Damozel in 1990.[5] The plot follows antique dealer Doran Fairweather, who is elated to find a small oil painting she believes to be of Elizabeth Siddal but is shocked when she happens on the body of a girl, floating dead in a pond. The death scene mimics the Millais painting of Ophelia featuring Elizabeth Siddal. Doran’ excited by the coincidence and mystery, ignores the advice of her husband who warns her the story of Rossetti and Siddal was plagued by unhappiness.[6]

In Tim Powers’ 2012 novel Hide Me Among the Graves, “Lizzie” Siddal is a victim of the vampire John Polidori, her husband’s uncle and author of what is likely the first vampire story. This becomes an explanation for her illness and death, as well as for her husband’s exhumation of her grave, which is not to regain his poems but is part of a strategy to defeat the vampire.[7]

Rossetti’s relationship with Siddal has been the subject of television dramas, notably Dante’s Inferno (1967), by Ken Russell, in which she was played by Judith Paris and Rossetti by Oliver Reed; The Love School (1975) in which she was played by Patricia Quinn; and Desperate Romantics (2009) in which she was played by Amy Manson.

Ghostland is a 2001 album by the Seattle neo-psychedelic band The Goblin Market named after a poem by Christina Rossetti, and the album is inspired by the exhumation of Elizabeth Siddal.

Elizabeth Siddal, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne are the subjects of the short comics story How They Met Themselves, by Neil Gaiman, drawn by Michael Zulli, and published in Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #3 (2000). The title makes reference to the Rossetti’s 1864 painting. In it, a dying Elizabeth drugged with laudanum revives the last New Year’s Day, in which the trio had a train trip to a magic forest owned by Desire, the androgynous sibling of Sandman.[8]

Notes[edit source]

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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1 Response to Pre-Raphaelite Models and Muses

  1. Reblogged this on rosamondpress and commented:

    Boho Chic was modeled after the Pre-Raphaelites.

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