Tag Archives: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

La Belle Burden – Jane Morris and La Belle Iseult

I’m pleased to be able to offer a blog post by a guest writer, Evelyn Luther, and hope you enjoy it! The subject of Jane Burden is particularly appropriate as it is 100 years since Jane’s death on January 26th, 2014.

imagesLa Belle Iseult is an interesting painting from a Pre-Raphaelite whose painting work is often overlooked. In truth, the paintings of William Morris arguably never had quite the substance of his carvings, illuminations, and craftworks – the intricately realised décor of the room in which Iseult stands reveals the true direction of his talents. Nonetheless, La Belle Iseult is a worthy work, not least in that it is imbued with much of Morris’s interests and emotions. Indeed, painting it was reportedly a difficult experience for Morris as he was crippled by his ardent admiration for the model. Jane Burden, who posed as Iseult for him, was the love of his life and he later married her in a move which would prove quite as emotionally fraught as one would expect from the romance of a Pre-Raphaelite.


Painted in 1858, La Belle Iseult was for many years taken to be a painting of Queen Guinevere. The lady’s queenly demeanour, sombre features, and Arthurian garb were considered in the context of Morris’s The Defence Of Guenevere – published that same year – and the conclusion was drawn that this painting must necessarily depict Guinevere in the height of her emotional turmoils. However, research has since convincingly argued that the painting in fact represents another melancholy Arthurian queen – Iseult, the lover of doomed Tristan. Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur tells of Tristan gifting Iseult a small dog, which she adores and keeps close by her at all times. The painting contains a whippet-like hound curled up in the bedclothes – a detail which argues strongly in favour of Iseult as the painting’s subject, as no dog is ever mentioned as the close associate of Queen Guinevere. Furthermore, the painted queen wears sprigs of rosemary in her hair – an age old symbol of remembrance – while gazing mournfully into a mirror upon which the word ‘DOLORES’ (‘Grief’) is inscribed. Clearly this is a lady lost in grieving memory. Guinevere, while anguished, never suffers from grieving remembrance, yet Iseult goes through such an experience for most of her tale as she remembers and pines for the banished Tristan. A saga involving adoration and adultery is a poignantly apt subject for this, the only easel portrait which Morris ever completed, given his later relationship with the model.

Jane Burden

Jane Burden, pictured here in the guise of Iseult, came from a deprived background but was possessed of a fearsome intelligence and vibrancy which clearly appealed to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. She was ‘discovered’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti at a Drury Lane untitledTheatre Company performance, which both she and Rossetti attended. Rossetti was struck on sight by her exemplary looks, and brought her into the Pre-Raphaelite circle as one of his models. During this time, William Morris became deeply enamoured of her, although many believe that Burden had long ago lost her heart to the charismatic Rossetti.

Morris and Rossetti

Rossetti, however, was not a good choice of paramour. Not only was he engaged to Lizzie Siddall, he was a renowned womanizer, known to visit prostitutes at a time when the spread of venereal disease was becoming of great concern to the authorities. Indeed, the Contagious Diseases Act clamped down on prostitution with the much publicised intent of cutting down STDs in men (the health of the prostitutes themselves apparently not being of much concern). Jane Burden was no fool. Knowing that it would be a mistake to get too close to Rossetti at this juncture, she tolerated Morris’s bashful advances. Driven to distraction by this enigmatic, enchanting woman, Morris found the experience of painting La Belle Iseult both intoxicating and frustrating in equal measure. He is said to have written ‘I cannot paint you, but I love you’ on the back of the canvas. A year later, the pair were married.

Love Triangle

Jane undertook an education to bring her up to the standard expected of a gentleman’s wife, and she quickly excelled at all she turned her considerable aptitude to. Two daughters were born to the pair – Jane Alice in 1861, and Mary in 1862. For a time, Morris was blissfully happy with his muse. However, some speculate that Burden married Morris simply to remain close to Rossetti. Now that she was inextricably linked to him through bonds of marriage to a member of the brotherhood, she perhaps felt safer in embarking upon an affair with him. This view of things is perhaps casting Jane in too cruel and manipulative light – she was, after all, a worthy, intelligent and capable woman while Rossetti was a compulsive philanderer. Nonetheless, Rossetti at some point began a sexual relationship with his friend’s wife which simmered in the background for decades. Some believe that the two were involved even before their respective marriages. Most agree that the two were embroiled in an affair when Rossetti and Morris took a joint tenancy on Kelmscott Manor in 1871. Jane and Rossetti spent a good deal of time together at this house while her husband was away researching Icelandic sagas. The pair became extremely emotionally as well as sexually close – and they remained good friends even after their affair ended.

untitledTill Death Do Us Part

Jane’s relationship with Rossetti is said to have lasted until she discovered the extent of his drug dependencies – upon which she distanced herself from him sexually, although they remained emotionally close up until his death. By this time, any joy had left the Morris marriage, and Jane was later to admit that she had never loved her husband in the first place. The pair remained married up until Morris’s death – although by this time Jane had engaged in another affair with the political poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. Jane Morris outlived her husband by eighteen years, dying in 1914 at the age of 75. In 1904 she was painted once more by Evelyn de Morgan. It is a striking portrait, of a lady elderly yet still beautiful. Her dignity and poise is almost palpable, yet there is something of a wistful melancholy in her eyes – an echo of the emotion she portrayed all those years ago when modelling as Iseult for the infatuated William Morris.

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#PRBDay Results

tumblr_mdvsjhjM8T1rbyvgco1_500Although this post is rather delayed, due to my attendance at the marvellous Pre-Raphaelite conference in Oxford last weekend, I thought a summary of the results of the #PRBDay vote on twitter might be in order. The voting went on all day, with many enjoyable virtual chats, and also enhanced by two new poems from our poet-in-residence, Sarah Doyle. The first was ‘On Top’, a fabulous wombat-related poem, while the second celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Pre-Raphaelite Society.

After counting the votes, the results were as follows:

First place: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix

Joint second place: Proserpine and Lady Lilith (Rossetti), Holman Hunt, The Lady of Shalott, and Elizabeth Siddal’s self-portrait.

Joint third place: Work by Ford Madox Brown, The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis, The Soul of the Rose by JW Waterhouse, Bocca Bacciata by Rossetti, and the newly discovered Red House Genesis.

The votes were spread across 59 paintings by 15 painters. Rossetti was the most popular painter, followed by Millais and then Holman Hunt. This was the same as last year but with votes for different paintings. In fact, last year’s winner, Millais’s Ophelia, received few votes.

There were more votes for women than last year, but still only 3! (Elizabeth Siddal, Julia Margaret Cameron and Evelyn de Morgan).

Many lovely Pre-Raphaelite bloggers joined in the celebrations, and you can read their posts here:

http://cultureandanarchy.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/celebrating-25-years-of-the-pre-raphaelite-society/      http://artisticdress.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/a-fashionable-hunt/


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Pre-Raphaelitism: Past, Present and Future – programme available

The final programme is now available for this conference. The cost is £60, or £30 for students. It’s filling up fast so do book now!

Pre-Raphaelitism: Past, Present and Future

13–14 September 2013, Ashmolean Museum and St John’s College, Oxford

Keynote speakers

  • Dr Alison Smith (Tate Britain)
  • Professor Isobel Armstrong (Birkbeck)

Context and aims

In the wake of recent major exhibitions and publications such as Tate Britain’s Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde and The Cambridge Companion to Pre-Raphaelitism, this two-day conference will present new and innovative approaches to the study of Pre-Raphaelitism by bringing together established academics, museum curators and research students. This conference also seeks to examine Pre-Raphaelitism as a bridge between Romanticism and Aestheticism, and to engage with current critical work regarding its relationship to Modernism in literature.

The breadth and diversity of Pre-Raphaelite art, literature and design will be drawn on in order to consider major questions such as: What is Pre-Raphaelitism? Where does the movement begin and end? Who should be included or excluded? What are its major influences, and to what extent has it influenced other artists and movements? How have perceptions of Pre-Raphaelitism changed or remained the same since its nineteenth-century beginnings?

Format and themes

This will be a two-day conference, organized jointly by Professor Christiana Payne and Dr Dinah Roe (Oxford Brookes University), Colin Harrison (Ashmolean Museum) and Dr Alastair Wright (Oxford University). Academic sessions will be held at the Ashmolean Museum (Friday 13 September) and St John’s College (Saturday 14 September). A programme of guided walks and talks around Pre-Raphaelite sites in Oxford will be held on Sunday 15 September.

<!–Topics for discussion might include, but are not limited to:

  • The interaction of word and image in Pre-Raphaelite painting, writing and design
  • Reactions to the exhibition, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde
  • The events of 1848–50, and the original aims of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
  • The importance of science and technology
  • International contexts, reception and influences
  • Pre-Raphaelitism and religious and intellectual history (for example, the ideas of Carlyle, Ruskin, the Oxford Movement)
  • The Pre-Raphaelites and Oxford, including new research on paintings and drawings in the Ashmolean Museum
  • The relationship between painting and photography
  • Music in Pre-Raphaelite art and literature
  • The Pre-Raphaelites as art and literary critics
  • The significance of collectors and patrons of the Pre-Raphaelites
  • Women in Pre-Raphaelitism, as objects of representation and/or as artists and writers
  • Urban and natural landscapes in Pre-Raphaelite art and literature
  • Poetic innovations of the Pre-Raphaelites
  • Developments in technique (painting, materials, sculpture and frames)
  • The influence of Pre-Raphaelitism on architecture and public space
  • Portrayals of Pre-Raphaelites in biography, fiction, film and television
  • Print culture and journalism
  • The effect of digital culture on the study of Pre-Raphaelitism


Provisional programme (subject to change)

Day One: Ashmolean Museum, Friday 13 September
09:00–09:30 Registration and Welcome (Headley Lecture Theatre)
09:30–11:00 Session 1 (parallel sessions)
1A. Origins (Headley Lecture Theatre)

Professor Stephen Wildman, Ruskin Library and Research Centre, Lancaster University Did Ruskin like Pre-Raphaelitism?

Dr Colin Trodd, University of Manchester A Modern Painter: William Blake and the Pre-Raphaelite Syndicate

Dr Judith Bronkhurst, Independent Scholar Hierarchies and influences: a fuller List of the Immortals and a rediscovered study for The Girlhood of Mary Virgin

1B. Techniques: poetry, drama and watercolour (Taylorian Institute)

Dr Jodi-Anne George, University of Dundee The Aristophanes of Hammersmith: William Morris as Playwright

Peter Faulkner, University of Exeter Poetic innovation: William Morris’s Love is Enough

Dr Fiona Mann, Independent scholar The Materials and Techniques of Burne-Jones’s Watercolours 1857–1880

11:00–11:30 Coffee
11:30–13:00 Session 2 (parallel sessions)
2A. Writing about Art (Headley Lecture Theatre)

Professor Daniel Karlin, University of Bristol Robert Browning’s poem ‘A Face’

Dr Paola Spinozzi, University of Ferrara Critical Aesthetic Prose in The Germ as the Foundation of William Michael Rossetti’s and Frederic George Stephens’s Art Criticism

Dr Nic Peeters, Northern Europe correspondent British Art Journal and Judy Oberhausen, Independent Art Historian ‘Why were there so many Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists?’

2B. Desire (Taylorian Institute)

Dr Patricia Pulham, University of Portsmouth Taking marble for a grave: Poetry, Form and Eroticism in Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s ‘Thoughts in Marble’

Dr Jose Maria Mesa-Villar, Universidad de Jaén ‘Sideways would she lean and sing a faery’s song’: an interdisciplinary approach to deception and failed communication issues in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s renditions of John Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’

Professor Anna Gruetzner Robins, University of Reading Doubling Desire: Michael Field and Rossetti in the 1890s

1:00–14:00 Lunch
14:00–15:30 Session 3 (parallel sessions)
3A. Music (Headley Lecture Theatre)

Dr Paul Barlow, University of Northumbria Millais’ Music

Annika Eisenberg, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany ‘Sing no sad song for me’ – Musical Reception of Dante Gabriel’s and Christina Rossetti’s Poetry

Dr Caroline Jackson-Houlston, Oxford Brookes University ‘Verses that no one would be able to tell from the original stuff’? ‘PreRaphaelite’ literary ballads

3B. Pre-Raphaelite Categorisation (Taylorian Institute)

Dr Amelia Yeates, Liverpool Hope University The Other Pre-Raphaelites: Narrative and Genre Painters of the 1850s and 1860s

Claire Yearwood, University of York The Arnolfini Doppelgänger: Mirrors in Pre-Raphaelite Painting

Madeleine Pearce, Birkbeck, University of London ‘Fair was the web, and nobly wrought’: Digital curation and the Pre-Raphaelites

15:30–16:00 Tea
16:00 Plenary lecture: Dr Alison Smith, Tate Gallery, Curating the Pre-Raphaelites: Past, Present and Future Headley Lecture Theatre
18:30 Wine reception and viewing of exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite Drawings, Watercolours and Manuscripts, Tapestry Gallery, Ashmolean Museum
Day Two: St John’s College
09:30–10:00 Registration (St John’s College Auditorium)
10:00 Plenary lecture: Professor Isobel Armstrong, Birkbeck, University of London, Mirrors, Folds, Mirrors: Pre-Raphaelite Poetry and Poetics                             St John’s College Auditorium
11:00–11:30 Coffee
11:30–13:00 Session 4 (parallel sessions)
4A. Materialism and the spirit world (St John’s College Auditorium)

Dr John Holmes, University of Reading Reading the Pre-Raphaelites in the Fortnightly Review

Professor J.B. Bullen, University of Reading and Royal Holloway, University of London Raising the dead: Pre-Raphaelite Spiritualism

Carey Gibbons, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London The Angelic and the Astronomical in Arthur Hughes’s Periodical Illustrations

4B. Mythology and Belief (seminar room)

Dr Stephen Cheeke, University of Bristol Rossetti and Pastiche

Dr Roberto C. Ferrari, Columbia University Pre-Raphaelite Exotica: Fanny Eaton and Simeon Solomon’s Mother of Moses

Dr Carolyn Conroy, University of York Saints and Demons: Simeon Solomon’s Artwork in the Ashmolean Museum Collection

13:00–14:00 Lunch
14:00–15:30 Session 5 (parallel sessions)
5A. Rediscoveries: Siddal, Woolner and Stanhope (St John’s College Auditorium)

Dr Serena Trowbridge, Birmingham City University My Lady’s Soul: The Poetry of Elizabeth Siddal

Dr Angie Dunstan, University of Kent ‘A Poetical Sculptor’: Thomas Woolner and the Past, Present and Future of Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture

Simon Poë, British Art Journal The Ascendancy of Christ by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope in St John the Evangelist, Hoylandswaine

5B. Art and the Senses, the Verbal and the Visual (seminar room)

Professor Catherine Maxwell, Queen Mary, University of London Swinburne’s Scented Language

Dr Christina Bradstreet, Sotheby’s Institute of Art The Odour of Rainbows and Such Stuff as Dreams are Made of: Millais’s The Blind Girl and Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s The Lover’s World

Martina John, Christian Albrechts University, Kiel States of Transition: D. G. Rossetti’s Multi-Panel-Paintings Before and After 1860

15:30–14:00 Tea
16:00–15:30 Session 6 (parallel sessions)
6A. The Pre-Raphaelite influence on avant-gardes (St John’s College Auditorium)

Professor Jason Rosenfeld, Marymount Manhattan College Pre-Raphaelite influences in film and popular culture

Dr Carol Jacobi, Tate Gallery Pre-Raphaelitism and C20th Modernism

Dr Elisa Bizzotto, IUAV University of Venice The Germ and its Offspring. An Interart and Intercultural Perspective

6B. Interiors (seminar room)

Professor Wendy Parkins, University of Kent New Approaches to Red House: Women at work in the Morris circle

Dr Margaretta Frederick, Delaware Art Museum ‘Products’ of ‘artistic effect’: the lighting designs of W.A.S. Benson

Dr Sally-Anne Huxtable, National Museums Scotland A Web of Time and Space: Reconsidering Holman Hunt’s The Lady of Shalott

19:30 Conference Dinner and viewing of murals in former Debating Chamber (now the Library), Oxford Union


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