When Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti spotted Alexa Wilding on a busy street, he immediately approached her to sit for him. A tall, pretty girl, she feared impropriety and didn’t show up at the agreed time.
Never one to admit defeat, Rossetti visited her and her mother to set their fears at rest. From then on, he paid Alexa a retainer, ensuring her availability whenever he needed her to pose.
Alexa’s given name was Alice, but dreams of the stage led her to adopt a more dramatic identity. Her theatrical aspirations never came to fruition, but she remains one of the most recognizable Pre-Raphaelite beauties to ever grace a canvas.
Alexa’s features created a new, exciting change in Rossetti’s work, to the chagrin of his longtime model Fanny Cornforth. Fanny’s appearance in his work had become less marketable, thus the need for a fresh face to paint.
Fanny need not have worried that Alexa would supplant Rossetti’s affections. He truly liked Alexa, but often remarked that he found her dull. His studio assistant described her as “without any variety of expression. She sat like a Sphinx, waiting to be questioned, and with always a vague reply in return… But she had a deep well of affection within her seemingly placid exterior.”
In his work, Rossetti created images of Alexa that are vibrant and striking. She is the quintessential Pre-Raphaelite beauty, and her face has captivated generations.