A Gallery of Pre-Raphaelite muses
Marie Spartali Stillman
Beatrice Flaxman and other mysterious muses of J.W.Waterhouse
Elizabeth Siddal, known as Lizzie
Lizzie Siddal was one of the best known and short lived muses of the Pre-Raphaelite era. She inspired the artists she modelled for and influenced the early phase of Pre-Raphaelite painting.
Lizzie became prominent as the model for “Ophelia” in John Everett Millais’ acclaimed painting and was renowned for being the beloved, but tormented muse and wife of artist and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Jane Morris (née Burden) was the wife of the designer and poet William Morris and became one of the favourite models of Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Her enigmatic, brooding beauty inspired many artworks by Rossetti, with her curly dark brown mass of hair, full, soft lips and long neck, Jane was quite unlike the rosy cheeked, golden haired, demure beauties of the time; she had intelligence and vibrancy which clearly appealed to the Pre-Raphaelite men who were struck by her looks. They invited her into the Pre-Raphaelite circle and persuaded her to model for them.
Read more about her life here*
Fanny Eaton was born Fanny Antwistle in June 1835, in St Andrews, Jamaica. Her mother was Matilda Foster, a woman of African descent, who may have been born into slavery. No father was named on Fanny’s birth records.
Fanny and her mother Matilda made their way to England sometime in the 1840s. At sixteen she was living in London, with her mother, working as a domestic servant, while her Mother worked as a laundress in St Pancras.
Aged twenty-two in 1857 Fanny married James Eaton, 25 a horse cab owner and driver from Shoreditch. They eventually had ten children together, six girls and four boys.
Fanny Eaton’s career as a model was short but intense, lasting for around ten years. She started modelling in her twenties working as a regular portrait model at the Royal Academy, which is potentially where she caught the attention of several of the renowned painters she sat for. She modelled out of necessity to supplement her earnings, when her employment as a charwoman was not enough to sustain her family of then, seven children.
Fanny Eaton’s visual presence in artwork represented a social group outside the traditional Victorian social boundaries.
Read more about Fanny Eaton here*
Of all of the beautiful women who modelled for Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Fanny Cornforth was the ultimate stunner, remaining his most loyal muse and longstanding affectionate friend.
However there was still little known about the life of Fanny Cornforth until relatively recently, she seems to have been overshadowed by Rossetti’s two other renowned favourite muses, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, and his lover, Jane Morris, whose iconic beauty and ability to ‘improve’ themselves through education, gained them approval and recognition. Not for poor Fanny, whose poverty stricken background, sparse education and candid nature would hinder her progress in society.
Marie Spartali Stillman
Marie Spartali Stillman was perhaps one of the most talented, without question the most prolific of the female Pre-Raphaelite artists. She painted over one hundred and fifty works in a career that spanned sixty years, from 1867 – 1919. She was a mother of two children and a stepmother to her widowed husband’s three children, so had a full family life to manage as well as her artistic vocation.
Read about Marie Spartali Stillman’s prolific life*
Euphemia Chalmers Gray, known as ‘Effie’ was a remarkable woman. Essentially she was a decent, educated lady, a faithful loving daughter, an affectionate mother and a loyal wife. These were attributes one might expect of a respectable Victorian woman, however Effie became the wife of two eminent Victorians, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais.
In an era when divorce was virtually impossible, the annulment of her first marriage to Ruskin became one of the great scandals of the 1850s, which would hound the three of them until they died.
Read more about Effie Gray’s full life*
Georgiana Macdonald was born in 1840, the fifth of eleven children of whom only eight survived.
Known as Georgie she was the second eldest of 4 very talented and remarkable sisters, each one of them succeeding in marrying accomplished men and/or bearing gifted children.
I knew little about Georgiana Burne-Jones before my research, but found her intriguing. Of the many elegant, ethereal women in her husband’s paintings, how often was her appearance visible ? It seems her beauty was an influence in Burne-Jones early work, yet as his skill increased he developed his own distinctive style of an ‘idealised woman’ easily recognisable as his, but slightly lacking in individual identity.
Like many women behind great artists, she was over overlooked and undervalued in her time. A promising artist herself, she had little support as a Victorian woman and any hope of pursuing her creativity ceased when she married and became a mother.
Read more about Georgiana’s life*
and other mysterious muses of J.W.Waterhouse
The women who modelled for John William Waterhouse were metamorphosed into exquisite muses of his own romantic vision. Waterhouse evolved a unique style that captured the essence and purity of female beauty, as well as suggesting the dangers of its allure.
J.W. Waterhouse, Lady of Shalott.pages
Little is known about the models that Waterhouse used most frequently, as there were no records kept. However, by chance in 1981 a name and an address was found on the back of an envelope alongside a pencil drawing of a young woman, the name was Muriel Foster and the sketch was a study for Lamia. Beatrice Flaxman was another popular Waterhouse Model, who along with Muriel Foster, inspired my ‘Lady of Shalott’ muse.
Beatrice modelled for Waterhouse from 1906 – 1916, appearing in his paintings as strong and dramatic female characters from literature and mythology.
Read more about the other elusive models of John William Waterhouse *