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repainting the muses / pre-raphaelite women

Updated: Mar 22, 2023





In 1848, a group of artists founded a movement that would reject the influences and instruction left by the Italian painter Raphael over 400 years previously that was being coveted and taught by the Royal Academy in London. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded by seven individuals educated at the Academy, including the painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Millais. They conducted secret meetings to encourage realism in subject and colour, to paint true to nature when depicting religious scenes or medieval romances usually reserved in poetry. They were also compelled by the writing of the prominent art critic and patron John Ruskin, whose volumes on Modern Painters, expressed that excellence came from a deviation from the Old Masters and a renewed focus on the details found in true nature.


The Pre-Raphaelites wanted to broaden the Victorian imagination, and break free from the rigid restrictions upheld by the Academy, who were considered the foremost authority in making and breaking contemporary artists. The likes of Ford Madox Brown, Walter Deverell and George Price Boyce joined in their endeavour, and they garnered the appreciation and patronage of Ruskin, who defended them against his fellow critics.


As well as a change in background and landscape, the Brotherhood wanted a cast of stylised

modern women as their heroines, which would set a new standard of beauty upon Victorian society. They were attracted to individuality, and 'stunners; a term they coined for their beautiful sitters, starting with Elizabeth Siddal, Annie Miller and Fanny Cornforth, working-class women plucked from the streets of London to become the figureheads of a new artistic movement.


It's hard to think that their red hair and slender bodies were considered unfashionable to a Victorian audience, but through persistent brushstrokes and countless canvases, they gained the notoriety akin to supermodels nowadays. With beauty comes scandal, even to the more tame representations of Effie and Sophie Gray, were not viewed without a whisper of impropriety.


The group became somewhat divided in their artistic focus by 1853, with Hunt and Millais focused on a realist approach, while Rossetti favoured the romanticism of the medieval aesthetic. The second wave of Pre-Raphaelites came with the indoctrination of designer William Morris and painter Edward Burne-Jones, as well as the inclusion of the latter's mistress Maria Zambaco and their wives Jane Morris and Georgiana Burne-Jones onto their canvases. The Pre-Raphaelites also began to paint under represented beauty through the stunner Fanny Eaton, a mixed raced professional model.


We wanted to explore the paintings and the lives of the women who garnered so much attention from the movement and became intrinsic to their art and success that has kept the public so entranced to this day.



Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Siddal



A sketch of Lizzie Siddal in Dante Rossetti's painting 'Regina Cordium'


The most notable of the Pre-Raphalite muses was Elizabeth 'Lizzy' Siddal, a working class milliner, who first caught the eye of Walter Deverell in 1849, a young artist and friend of the newly established group. He was struck by her unusual beauty that was so contradictory to the ideal standard among Victorian women. Lizzie was tall and very slender, heavy eye-lids covered her agate coloured eyes, a gaunt and structured face and mane of deep-red wavy hair perched on a long elegant neck. Deverell was entranced and acquired the aid of his mother to convince her family to allow her to pose for him.


The profession of an artist's model was disreputable, but Lizzie's mother and her father who earned a modest income as a cutler agreed to Deverell's terms, most likely because they feared Lizzie's delicate health was being worsened by her current work environment. Lizzie was cast as the cross-dressing Viola in his painting of Shakespeare's play 'Twelfth Night". So enthused by her look upon their first sitting, he proclaimed her 'a queen' of stupendous beauty during a visit to see Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. Both men must have been intrigued to meet such a creature, and soon they both acquired her as a model for their own paintings.


Arguably her most famous sitting was for their companion John Millais in 1852, depicting another Shakespearian heroine, Hamlet's unrequited love “Ophelia”. The experience almost lead to her death, having caught pneumonia from lying in a cold bath for hours to help Millais deliver an accurate depiction of a drowned woman. Soon after, she would model exclusively for Rossetti, beginning an artistically productive partnership that saw the creation of hundreds of portraits and sketches, but also a devastating love affair that would last twelve years.


It was clear that Rossetti was not only driven by a love of art but a lust for 'stunners', and could not remain faithful to Lizzie, as devoted she was to him. The couple remained unmarried for ten years, in which Lizzie had to contend with Rossetti's flirtations and the disapproval of his middle class family. What she endured in mental unrest and instability, she gained in education. During their time together, Rossetti encouraged and taught her to paint and was able to astonish John Ruskin, a prominent art critic and great admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, that he offered her his patronage. Her work was even displayed alongside her husband's colleagues for an exhibition and sold to a leading art collector. Though not up the technical standard of her male counterparts, due to their extensive education and experience, her work offered a more honest account of Rossetti's pouting sitter, her self-portrait displaying a deep set melancholy that is airbrushed in his paintings.


Ruskin was impressed by the speed in which she improved and honed her skills under his and Rossetti's tutorage, her raw depictions of ancient heroines showing great promise. Ruskin was also able to grant her great relief in paying for her medical expenses, which became rather extensive over the years. By this time Lizzie became dependent on laudanum, a drug that soothed an ongoing battle with depression and anorexia, and would slowly contribute to her deteriorating health. She had grown frail as she reached her thirties, and took time away from London to seek respite from her suffering and growing control Rossetti and Ruskin had over her life and finances.


After finding some freedom, Lizzie found herself returning to Rossetti with the promise of a long awaited marriage. Their wedded bliss did little to cure Lizzie of her sadness and ailments. She suffered the devastating loss of a stillborn daughter, the baby was most likely smothered by her continued drug use during pregnancy. Her distress also heightened her paranoia that her husband was maintaining affairs with the women who replaced her on his canvas. At the age of 32, Rossetti returned home to find Lizzie in a deep sleep, induced by a fatal overdose of laudanum. Three doctors could not revive her, and she sadly passed away, a supposed suicide note carefully concealed from officials by Rossetti, to save her and her family's reputation from further scandal.


Her image was inescapable to Rossetti even after her death. His portrait “Beata Beatrix” produced posthumously, depicted Dante Alighieri beloved muse Beatrice solemn in prayer, the pain of her loss etched upon her own face. Her tragic tale was not put to rest until seven years had passed. A friend had offered to publish Rossetti's poems, many of which had been buried with Lizzie as a romantic gesture of contrition for the years of unfaithfulness and neglect. Her body was exhumed in secret at Highgate Cemetery under the cover of darkness. An eyewitness gave an unreliable and embellished account of the sight as they prised open her coffin. According to him, the poems were sealed beneath the waves of Lizzie's curls, her iconic red hair, having grown in the years of it's confinement, now filled the space and formed the bed on which she lay. Her face remained unscathed by decay as though her endless portraits had rendered her features immortal. The book of poems however did not fair as well, damp and ridden with holes made by invasive worms and many of the poems were unusable.


The macabre twist to her misfortunate ending would further embed her image into a gothic culture that riveted the Victorian public's morbid imagination. Her face haunts a vast range of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and is regarded as the epitome of Pre-Raphaelite beauty. Rossetti would regret disturbing her final rest, his poems were panned by critics and he succumbed to the role of the fool, much like the one he sat for in Deverell's 'Twelfth Night' while Lizzie's Viola sat watching, her face filled with earnest longing.



Annie Miller




A sketch of Annie Miller in Dante Rossetti's painting 'Helen of Troy'


One of the first women to sit for the Pre-Raphaelites, was Annie Miller, the daughter of a widower and former soldier, who let his two daughters run rampant around the filthy streets of their Chelsea slum before she began work as a barmaid. It was at work that she had been spotted by William Holman Hunt, who became obsessed with the idea of transforming her into the ideal lady on and off the canvas. Annie went to his studio willingly and they soon became embroiled in a love affair. Her debut was her appearance in Hunt's "The Awakening Conscience" in 1853, as a kept mistress rising from her lover's lap, suddenly aware of her guilt upon hearing the notes of a telling song played on the piano.


In 1854, Hunt left for Palestine to bring more realism to his religious settings which were mostly based in the Holy Land. Before leaving he forbade Annie from sitting with certain members of his crew in fear they were not to be trusted. Hunt intended to marry Annie, imposing a strict plan to improve and mould the former street urchin into a respectable woman he could introduce to his parents. He loved the idea of rescuing Annie from life of a fallen woman, and being hailed her saviour. Annie however, proved she was fully capable of looking after herself. At first she agreed to his terms, attended her classes and sat for Millais, one of the few men he trusted to paint her, but after an absence that stretched for two years, she sought to go against his wishes


Annie sat for two painters he had prohibited her from working with. Not only did she sit for George Price Boyce and Rossetti, but she was seen out in public with them, socialising in bars and restaurants in view of everyone. She was said to have been involved the serial womaniser Viscount Ranelagh and Rossetti, leading him to incur the wrath of his own muse Lizzie, who in a rage threw his sketches of Annie out of a window. Safe to say the possessive Hunt was outraged upon his return, and his friendship with Rossetti was tarnished. Hunt deemed her behaviour frivolous and unreliable, eventually ending their engagement. He went so far as to erase her features from "The Awakening Conscience" later replaced with the face of his wife Fanny Waugh.


Annie was far from a fallen women, if anything she landed on her feet. On seeking advice from Viscount Ranelagh about how to handle Hunt's breach in their engagement, she was introduced to his cousin, Captain Thomson, who she later married. She was even able to get some money out of the newly married Hunt, by blackmailing him with their old love letters. She continued to sit for Rossetti and was painted as Helen of Troy in 1863, the legendary Spartan queen who was hailed the most beautiful woman of the ancient world. Where Hunt and Millais had often subdued Annie's look to fit their more respectable and realistic depictions, Rossetti embraced her allure, accentuating her attractive features to create a goddess.


Jane Morris




Sketch by tennyson of Jane Morris in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting 'Water Willow'


Jane Burden was spotted by Rossetti and newcomer Edward Burne-Jones as she attended a theatre performance with her sister Elizabeth. Her profile was striking by her strong straight nose and sharp jawline and jutting lips that sat in a sensually shaped pout. Head on, her features appear rather androgynous, her short forehead ending with a pair of bushy eyebrows and large deep set grey eyes. With such distinctive features, it is no wonder Rossetti eagerly invited to star as Queen Guinevere for their arthurian inspired murals at Oxford Union Library, started in 1857.


While she sat for Rossetti, she was also cast as the tragic heroine Iseult by a smitten William Morris, a fledgling member of the Pre-Raphaelites. His portrayal of her is the only painting he did on canvas, as he would be better known for his design work than his portraiture. Rather dejected by his inferior attempt at anatomical drawing, he wrote a simple declaration 'I cannot paint you, but I love you' at the back of the canvas. The couple were married soon after, but unfortunate for Morris, much like Iseult, Jane would never love her husband, instead enjoyed a long affair with his friend and mentor Rossetti.


Despite the loveless marriage Jane devoted her early married life to improving herself through education to better suit her new position in society. Up until then, she had little to no education as a child and her parents were illiterate, but within very little time she had developed all the social graces and talents of a well brought up lady. She became an avid reader, a proficient piano player and mastered French and Italian. Her manners were later described as 'queenly' and though she remained shy and reserved, she was confident in her newfound role.


The years following their marriage, Morris founded a decorative arts company, designing wallpaper, furniture, stain glass windows and textiles in a medieval aesthetic. He made great plans to decorate his own home and employed Jane and Elizabeth to embroider the many tapestries he had created. The sisters later became part of the embroidery department of The Firm.


After the death of Lizzie Siddal, Rossetti returned to the fray, acting upon their earlier attraction to one another and began an affair, despite his close relationship with Morris. He became a constant presence in their lives, co-founding The Firm and sharing a joint tenancy of the couples' rented Oxfordshire manor. He spent his summers alone with Jane, while Morris made several trips to Iceland, so that the lovers could convene without arousing scandal. He painted Jane obsessively during this period, as the mythical Persephone, who fittingly spent half the year trapped in the underworld with her husband.


The relations between Morris and Jane towards Rossetti soured around 1874 when Morris reordered his organisation, plans that omitted his former mentor and idol Rossetti from The Firm. Having received bad reviews on his poetry and out of commission, Rossetti had a series of mental breakdowns and became reliant on chloral and alcohol. Though she continued to correspond with Rossetti until his death, their long affair was over.


Despite the infidelity, the Morris' were a tight knit family along with their daughters Jenny and May. Both girls followed their mother's footsteps and became expert embroiderers, with May eventually heading her father's embroidery department and co-founding the Women's Guild of Arts. Sadly, Jenny, who had shown much academic promise, developed epilepsy during her teens, a condition that was untreatable in those days. Though the around the clock care that Jenny required was taxing on the family, her parents refused to hide her away, as was the custom among Victorian society or confine her in an institution.


Jane influenced a whole series of paintings, defining an era in Pre-Raphaelite art, becoming one of the most recognised faces of the movement after Lizzie Siddal. Her craft and influence lives on not only in her portraits, but through her work for The Firm and her craft that was passed on to her children.


Fanny Cornfort



Sketch by tennyson of Fanny Cornforth in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting 'Bocca Baciata'


In 1856, Rossetti acquired a new model Fanny Cornforth, a far cry from his shy and enigmatic Lizzie. Fanny was bold and brash, her face brimming with a healthy flush of lust. Rossetti would now curve his lines to fit Fanny's curvaceous figure onto the canvas, a hint of a large bosom and a round chin. Rossetti cast her in his paintings of a fallen woman. The drawing 'Found' differed from his sullen medieval heroines and he used Fanny to convey the struggles of a current working woman. These sittings may have contributed to her sordid reputation, which was rumoured to include prostitution, a charge also levelled Annie Miller.


Fanny was the daughter of a poor blacksmith, who had lost his trade on account that he did not inherit his family's forge. Her mother had died along with some of her infant siblings and her father's misfortunes continued, leaving her and her surviving sister in the care of an aunt. In 1856, the country bred girl found herself in London, and one night during a celebratory fireworks display at the Pleasure Gardens, she was singled out by none other than the charismatic Rossetti with a familiar offer. She agreed to sit for him as well other of his comrades, but it was between her and Rossetti that a romantic attachment prevailed.


His painting of her 'Bocca Baciata' was the first in many portraits Rossetti would create in his new style, which deviated from his crowded compositions to a complete focus on his subject, possibly inspired by his all consuming passion for his new principal model.


But Rossetti's golden haired beauty could not dissuade him from marrying Lizzie in 1860. This abandonment that must have aggravated Fanny, as not long after she hurriedly married. There is no evidence that suggests Lizzie knew of Fanny, though her suspicions may have contributed to her unstable health. After Lizzie's death in 1862, Fanny moved into to Rossetti's home almost straightaway under the pretence that she was to be his housekeeper, leaving her own husband behind. Rossetti was able to conjure many more portraits of her, though she was to share him with Jane Morris. She would remain at his address while he spent long periods of time with Jane at the manor he shared with her husband.


Unlike the other working class muses, Fanny did not seek to better herself through art or education. She was unapologetic about her humble beginnings, her coarse language and cockney accent which appalled Rossetti's family and friends, many of whom encouraged him to drop her. Rossetti did not heed their demands, and she became a lasting fixture in his life and art. Her modelling duties were eventually taken over by a younger Alexa Wilding, a dressmaker Rossetti had spied from his cab window. Alexa shared many of Fanny's features but her look was more commercially appealing, and she even replaced Fanny as his model for Lady Lilith.


His detachment from Jane due to poor relations with her husband and his drug abuse as well as his failed career as a poet did irreparable damage to his mental health. Fanny remained with Rossetti for many years, and nursed him through his mental breakdown and his struggles with an addiction to chloral.


Fanny was eventually forced out of the house by his family, who took charge of his upkeep, though he arranged to have her live nearby and travel with him. Before his passing in 1882, he bequeathed her with some of his paintings to help her financially in the future, as there was no hope his family would compensate her years of loyalty.



Effie Gray and Sophie Gray



Sketches of Effie Gray and Sophie Gray in John Milliais' paintings 'Peace Concluded' and

'Sophie Gray'


If the Pre-Raphaelite men had not courted enough scandals and forbidden love affairs, it was the turn of one of their more respectable members. Enter stage, John Millais, the shy child prodigy who unlike his peers had no interest in courting his models and leading a debauched lifestyle. Instead he remained at home were he was doted on by his family and financially supported them through his succession of well regarded works of art. It was not until he was singled out by John Ruskin and offered a coveted position as his protege, that he met Effie Gray, Ruskin's younger wife.


Ruskin had known Effie since she was a young girl, having written her a fairytale when she was twelve and he was a young man at 21. Their families, both Scottish, colluded to bring the two together upon her maturity, and they were married as she approached twenty in 1848. Though Effie had a have a collection of admirers waiting in the wings, her parents had greatly encouraged the union to secure her financially with the wealthy Ruskins. She endeavoured to be a good wife, but they suffered the first bump in the road on their wedding night, when Ruskin refused to consummate their marriage. He gave Effie a series of reasonings, so they agreed to wait five years so Ruskin could concentrate on his work, without the act distracting him.


The couple honeymooned in Venice, much of which was spent separately as Ruskin used the time to conduct research for his new book 'The Stones of Venice'. Effie was said to enjoyed flirtations with various Austrian soldiers that were stationed there. One man had been killed in a duel against another fighting for her affections, and Ruskin himself was challenged to a duel, which he politely declined. A return to London did not improve relations between the couple, made worse by the stifling presence of her in-laws who lived with them. Effie lead an increasingly independent lifestyle as a result, and requested the constant companionship of her sister Sophie to ward off comment or speculation. Sophie was fifteen years Effie's junior, and frequently stayed with the Ruskins and was privy to her sister's unhappiness in her marriage.


Its believed that after the fiasco in Venice and a belief he had been duped into marrying Effie to financially satisfy her family, Ruskin wished to seek a divorce either on the grounds of Effie's adultery or take the embarrassment of admitting non-consummation. In any case, what is known is that Millais was invited to join the couple on their holiday in Scotland in 1853, to paint Ruskin against a backdrop of Glen Finglas, but was subsequently left alone with Effie for a long period of time when Ruskin left for London. Ruskin had also encouraged the artist to paint his wife, which he did in the portrait 'The Order of Release' which shows a loyal Scottish wife holding her toddler and handing over an order of release to her Jacobite rebel husband's jailer. Her disillusioned expression hinting at disappointment in her husband's failure or that she had to make a personal sacrifice to secure his release.


During that time, the two fell in love and Effie began proceedings to seek an annulment. She had to undergo invasive tests to prove her virginity and be told that something about her person had dissuaded her husband from bedding her. After the humiliating and revealing ordeal, Effie was free but avoided Millais for some time to allow the scandal to die down, using Sophie as a go-between to deliver messages. It was around this time, Millais began to paint Sophie and would continue to do so after his marriage to Effie in 1855. Effie appeared in his work "Peace Concluded", her plaited head tilted towards her husband, whose lap she sits on as their children play around them. The painting represented her as the emblem of fertility and showcase dher as the ideal Victorian wife, a dig at Ruskin, who regardless of the slight, praised it as 'among the world's best masterpieces'.


Effie would refrain from appearing in Millais' work to avoid more public scrutiny and to focus on their expanding brood, so her sister took her place as his regular sitter. Her portraits differed from those of Effie. Millais adopted a similar style as Rossetti's close-ups of Fanny Cornforth for his portrait of Sophie. In it, she faces the viewer straight on her cold blue eyes staring directly at you, void of childish shyness or the reservation of a young woman. Her hair is loose and wild, her thick lips and cheeks are flushed red, a heart embroidered on her dress. People questioned the nature of their relationship, given his diversion from his usual demure representation of his female sitters. It was even rumoured that Sophie was sent away by with fears she had grown too close to her brother in law.


The sisters bond always remained strong, with Sophie visiting Effie on a regular basis. The Millais' were also supportive when Sophie began to suffer from anorexia nervosa in her mid-twenties, and placed her in the care of a doctor who specialised in mental illness. She was never able to recover from her ailments, and more difficulties arose when she married James Caird, a successful Scottish entrepreneur in 1873. The match was disapproved of by her parents, who thought Caird was selfish, preoccupied and neglectful. Sophie died in 1882 despite the efforts of her family to keep her healthy. The last portrait of Sophie by Millais was hung in their home, and is laced with a sadness, her already thin waist cinched in with a corset, her face lacking the glow of youth and now appears more emaciated, her pale eyes once more looking directly at the viewer, seem more vacant.


During their marriage, Effie became the mother to eight children and helped manage Millais' artistic career by procuring models and encouraging a broader style and a larger range of subjects. He subsequently ventured into book illustration and landscape painting, most likely to support his large family. Though some of his colleagues branded him a sellout, Millais' work gained in popularity and was made a Baronet by Queen Victoria and elected president of the Royal Academy. Effie was a supportive wife and efficient manager, instrumental in not only influencing and changing the course of his life but also his art.



Fanny Eaton


A sketch of Fanny Eaton in Dante Rossetti's sketch


Where many people believed Lizzie's image broke the Victorian standards of beauty and celebrated unconventional features, Fanny Eaton would carve the way for a truly underrepresented group of women, whose beauty was not recognised due to racist attitudes.


Fanny was born in Jamaica in 1835 to an African mother who had been freed from slavery the year before and an unknown white father, possibly a landowner or soldier. Mother and daughter made the arduous journey to London, and was recorded to have settled in St Pancras, with Fanny taking work as a domestic servant in 1951. A few years later she was married to a cab driver, together they would have ten children. After the birth of their first two children, Fanny began modelling at the Royal Academy earning her some much needed cash. She was predominantly drawn by the Jewish artist Simeon Solomon, who was associated with the second wave of Pre-Raphaelites. Fanny provided a historical accuracy that Solomon craved in his religious paintings, that the pale auburn haired Rossetti stunners could not provide. She shared their idolised high cheekbones, large eyes and long neck, but her beautiful complexion was dark and her hair was finely curled


Fanny played a dual role of Jochabed and her teenage daughter Miriam in Simeon's painting 'The Mother of Moses' in 1860, which marked her first public appearance in a painting. Unfortunately her beauty was not highly regarded by critics and the public, who were unaccustomed to praising the looks of a woman of colour. A year later, she sat for 'The Young Teacher' by Solomon's sister Rebecca, who worked with John Millais and Edward Burne-Jones in their studios. She was often cast in a maternal role, which suited her well given she and her husband had ten children, some of whom may have been painted alongside her.


Fanny's career accelerated as she began to sit for some of their close friends of the Solomon siblings. Joanna Boyce Wells, sister to Pre-Raphaelite George Price Boyce, painted her in profile for 'Head of Mrs Eaton'. Fredrick Sandys, also a close friend of Rossetti, sketched her for his portrait of Morgan le Fay, but unfortunately replaced her with another model for the final painting. Later advancing to the originals to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, appearing in Millais' painting 'Jephthah', as a witness in the background ushering the crowd away. Rossetti likening her to his favourite model and lover Jane Morris, produced various sketches and studies of Fanny for his painting 'The Beloved', which features her at the back of the composition, attending the bride in the foreground.


Unfortunately Fanny took a step back from modelling having succumbed to widowhood at a young age and having to look after her large family on her own. Her hard work paid off not only for her family, but making a stubborn Victorian society question their narrow minded attitudes and pave the way for other underrepresented role models to come forward.



Georgiana Burne-Jones and Maria Zambaco



Sketches of Georgiana Burne-Jones and Maria Zambaco in Edward Burne-Jones paintings


Edward Burne-Jones was part of the 'Birmingham Set' alongside his lifelong friend William Morris, a group of male artists who attended Oxford University, many of whom were born or educated in Birmingham. The group initially met up weekly to read and discuss poetry and literature, and like the Brotherhood, became fascinated by John Ruskin's work, and spent their free time exploring medieval churches to admire the architecture and art.


A friend of the group Henry MacDonald, son of a Scottish reverend, introduced them to his sisters Georgiana and Agnes. Burne-Jones had struck up a friendship with Georgiana years before when he and Henry attended the same grammar school. As an only child, he relished in visiting her friend's large family. Along with their other sisters Alice and Louisa, the young women were known as 'the MacDonald sisters', all of whom married notable gentlemen becoming the centre of many revered social circles, a far cry from their lower middle class and god-fearing upbringing which limited their education.


Georgiana and Burne-Jones were married in Manchester after a long engagement in 1860 when she was 19. Before their marriage, Georgiana had attended a design school and later was tutored by Ford Madox Brown. She seemed to prefer to work with woodcuts and watercolours enabling her to lend her skills to Morris' decorative firm. She took charge of painting tiles, and was able to spend a lot of time with her husband and his friends. She and Lizzie Siddal began a joint project to illustrate a book of fairy tales, but unfortunately it was never completed.


Georgiana featured in her husband's work. Her large blue eyes look back at you from his most famous paintings of a beggar maid a heroine from a Tennyson poem. The oval outline of her face is also visible in his work "Green Summer' were she is surrounded by a captive audience of women, that listen to her read. She was greatly liked and admired by their circle. When she lost her newborn child to scarlet fever in 1864, a concerned Ruskin, who by now was a family friend and admirer of both hers and Burne-Jones' work, had soft bark placed on the roads outside her home to soften the sound of traffic as she recovered. The birth of their elder son Philip, forced Georgiana to retreat from working at The Firm. She admitted to being devastated at being left out as she tended to her baby alone.


The same year of their daughter Margaret's birth in 1866, Burne-Jones acquired a new model, Maria Zambaco, who had recently returned to London from Paris, having left her husband and father to her two children. Maria came from a wealthy Greek and British background, the daughter of a merchant and niece of an influential art patron and dealer. Her cousin Marie Spartali Stillman, was a Pre-Raphaelite painter, who had also modelled for Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown. Along with their other cousin Aglaia Coronio, an embroiderer and great friend of Morris, the three beauties where referred to as the'Three Graces', after the mythological grecian Charities who bestowed inspiration to artists and poets.


Maria had been introduced to Burne-Jones by the way of her mother, not only to pose for him but to be tutored on drawing. Her father had died during her teens, leaving her with a sizeable fortune, giving her the independence that was so infrequently given to women. Her freedom gave her a confidence among men, and was able to ease herself into a friendship with Burne-Jones, which would turn romantic. His first portrait of her depicted 'Cupid and Psyche', the Roman god of love admiring his mortal lover.


Their relationship became turbulent, with Maria pressuring Burne-Jones to leave Georgiana but he ultimately chose to stay with his loyal wife. Maria threatened him with suicide, even offering him laudanum so they could be together in death. In the same vain as Psyche, Maria attempted to drown herself after her lover was about to leave her. Burne- Jones had to restrain her from jumping into Regent's Canal, causing a public scene.


The years of their affair were hard on Georgiana and their public spats must have embarrassed her among her circle. She relied very much on her circle of friends and family which included writer George Eliot and Rosalind Howard, a woman's rights activist. A great confidante of hers was Morris, whose own spouse was involved with another. They shared many of the same socialist beliefs as well as a strong affection for one another which was never consummated, though she inspired his poetry which spoke of a wish for her to leave her husband. In her husband's absence, she became an avid supporter of women's rights, and became involved with campaigns to secure an arts education for working class women.


Many of the couple's mutual friends admired Georgiana and encouraged Burne-Jones to end his torrid affair. The lovers did eventually split, but Burne-Jones continued to paint her, though in a subtly less flattering light. He painted her as Phyllis, the Thracian princess whom the gods turned into an almond tree when she hung herself when she believes her lover Demophoon will not return to her. When her lover does visit the scene of her demise, he embraces the tree and she comes back to life. In his painting, her lover's body moves away in surprise, preparing to run for his life as Phyllis latches onto him. She was also cast as Nimue, the enchantress who seduces and traps the sorceror Merlin in 'The Beguiling of Merlin'.


Maria eventually faded from Burne-Jones's art and life. She swapped drawing for sculpture and was tutored by Alphonse Legros and Auguste Rodin, and some of the medals she designed preside at the British Museum. Georgiana survived her husband, who died from a heart attack in 1898, two years after the death of their dear friend Morris. At his bequest, Georgiana wrote Burne-Jones' biography, keeping mention of Maria to a minimum.




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