Tumbling locks of hair, a soulful, often tragic gaze into the distance, and a loose, glittering gown are but a few of the characteristics of the women immortalised in Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Portraying Biblical heroines, goddesses, historical, and literary figures, the images of these women have stood the test of time. But who were the models behind the paintings? And how did they come to be?
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal
Who was Elizabeth Siddal:
Elizabeth Siddal, c. 1860
In 1851 she began to model for Millais’s painting Ophelia. Millais was eager to recreate the image of Ophelia’s death by drowning, as reported by Queen Gertrude in act IV, scene vii of Hamlet. Siddal floated in a bathtub full of water to portray the drowning Ophelia, and Millais painted daily throughout the winter, putting oil 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, did not notice and Siddal did not complain. After this, she became ill with a severe cold or pneumonia. She never sat for Millais again.
Siddal suffered from ill health and melancholia during the last decade of her life and died of a laudanum overdose in 1862 during her second year of marriage to Rossetti. She was buried in the Rossetti family grave in Highgate Cemetery on the 17 February 1862. In August 1869, Rossetti had her coffin exhumed to retrieve a handwritten book of his poems which he had buried with her. The book was disinfected and Rossetti published the contents in Poems (1870).
Who was Annie Miller:
Annie Miller’s relationship with the Pre-Raphaelites:
William Holman Hunt, The Awakening Conscience, 1854
Famous paintings of Annie Miller
Who was Fanny Cornforth:
Fanny Cornforth (born Sarah Cox; 3 January 1835 – 24 February 1909) was the mistress and muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She also became his housekeeper. Cornforth came from the lower working class of English society.
Fanny Cornforth’s relationship with the Pre-Raphaelites:
Cornforth met Rossetti in 1856, and became his model and mistress in the absence of Elizabeth Siddal. It has been presumed that Siddal disliked Cornforth, but there is no proof that she even knew of her existence. In Rossetti’s paintings, the figures modelled by Cornforth are generally more voluptuous and sensual than those of other models.Cornforth’s first modelling role for Rossetti was for the painting Found. Found depicts a young countryman coming to London to bring a calf to sell at the market.. He sees his former sweetheart, who is now a prostitute, and attempts to reach out and save her from her terrible fate.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Found, 1854–1855, 1859–1881
Famous paintings of Fanny Cornforth
Who was Jane Morris:
Jane Morris (née Burden; 19 October 1839 – 26 January 1914) was an English embroiderer associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. She was married to designer William Morris and had an affair with artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Jane Morris’s relationship with the Pre-Raphaelites:
In October 1857, Jane and her sister Elizabeth attended a theatre performance in Oxford. Jane was noticed by Rossetti and Burne-Jones who were at that time painting the Oxford Union murals which were based on Arthurian tales. Struck by her beauty, they asked her to model for them. Jane sat mostly for Rossetti as a model for Queen Guinevere and afterwards for William Morris, who was working on an easel painting, La Belle Iseult.
Jane Morris, 1865, posed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
William Morris, La Belle Iseult, 1858
In 1871, Morris and Rossetti took out a joint tenancy on Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire. Morris went to Iceland, leaving Jane and Rossetti to furnish the house and spend the summer there. Jane had become closely attached to Rossetti and became a favourite muse of his, inspiring his poetry and paintings. Rossetti challenged conceptions of ideal femininity with his paintings of Jane by formulating a type of beauty characterised by thick, dark waves of hair, well-defined brows, large, expressive eyes, and an altogether more masculine look. Their romantic relationship is reputed to have started in the late 1860s.
Famous paintings of Jane Morris
Who was Alexa Wilding:
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Venus Verticordia, 1868
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Damsel of the Sanct Grael, 1874, (modelled by Alexa Wilding)
Wilding and Rossetti shared a lasting bond; after Rossetti’s death in 1882, Wilding, though not particularly financially well off, was said to have travelled specially to place a wreath on his grave in Birchington-on-Sea.
Famous paintings of Alexa Wilding
Who was Maria Zambaco:
Famous paintings of Maria Zambaco
Who was Fanny Eaton:
John Everett Millais, Jephthah, 1867 (close up of Fanny Eaton)
Famous paintings of Fanny Eaton