10 March 2011

Jane Burden Morris

Jane Morris (née Jane Burden, 19 October 1839 – 26 January 1914) was an English artists' model who embodied the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of beauty. She was a model and muse to the artists William Morris, whom she married, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Jane Burden was born in Oxford to a stableman named Robert Burden and his wife Ann Maizey. 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 one of poverty and deprivation.

In October 1857, Jane Burden and her sister Elizabeth, known in the family as "Bessie", were attending a performance in Oxford of the Drury Lane Theatre Company. Jane was noticed by the artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones who belonged to a group of artists painting the Oxford Union murals, based on Arthurian tales. Struck by Jane's beauty, they sought her to model for them.

Jane initially sat mainly for Rossetti, who needed a model for Queen Guinivere. After this, Jane sat for Morris, who was working on an easel painting, La Belle Iseult (Tate Gallery). Like Rossetti, Morris also used Jane as his model for his rendition of Queen Guinevere. During this period, Morris fell in love with Jane and they were engaged.

Jane Burden's education was extremely limited and she was probably intended to go into domestic service. After her engagement, Jane was privately educated. Her keen intelligence allowed her essentially to recreate herself. She was a voracious reader and became proficient in French and later Italian. She also 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 would have no trouble moving in upper class circles and she appears to have been the model for Mrs Higgins in Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1914). She married William Morris at St Michael's Church, Oxford, on 26 April 1859. Her father was at that time described as a groom, in stables at 65 Holywell Street, Oxford.

Jane Burden and William Morris lived firstly at the Red House in Bexleyheath, Kent. While there, they had two daughters, Jane Alice "Jenny", born January 1861, and Mary "May" (March 1862–1938), who was the editor of her father's works. They then lived for many years at Kelmscott Manor, on the Gloucestershire-Oxfordshire-Wiltshire borders, which is now open to the public. Their lifestyle was both artistic and Bohemian.

During this time, Jane Morris became closely attached to the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti and became a favourite muse of his. The two shared a deep emotional, though not sexual, relationship, with Rossetti becoming increasingly obsessed with Jane. It was partly her awareness of this, together with her discovery of the extent of his dependence on the drug choral, that eventually led her to distance herself somewhat from him.

In 1884, Jane 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 the two. By 1887 at the latest, the pair had become lovers. Their sexual relationship would continue until 1894, and they remained close friends until Jane's death.

William Morris died on 3 October 1896 at Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, London. Jane died on 26 January 1914 while staying at 5 Brock Street, Bath.

in Wikipedia
(all paintings and drawings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

See more of Jane Burden Morris here.

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