“In either case she is a wonder.”


Jane Morris appeared in a series of photographs posed by Rossetti

Water Willow, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Water Willow, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Throughout his relationship with Elizabeth Siddal, Rossetti painted and drew her repeatedly and almost obsessively, creating what Ford Madox Brown termed a “drawer full of Guggums” (Rossetti and Siddal’s pet name for each other).  In later years, Rossetti fixed upon Jane Morris as his muse and recreated her image again and again with the same diligence that he had applied to Siddal’s paintings and drawings, but with a new depth and style.  He had reached a new phase artistically and brought forth some his  most recognizable works.

Author Henry James had seen Rossetti’s paintings of Jane during a visit to Rossetti’s studios.  Upon seeing Jane in person, he had this to write:

“A figure cut out of a missal – out of one of Rossetti’s or Hunt’s pictures – to say this gives but a faint idea of her, because when such an image puts on flesh and blood, it is an apparition of fearful and wonderful intensity.  It’s hard to say [whether] she’s  a grand synthesis of all the pre-Raphaelite pictures ever made – or they a “keen analysis” of her –  whether she’s an original or a copy.  In either case she is a wonder.  Imagine a tall lean woman in a long dress of some dead purple stuff, guiltless of hoops (or of anything else, I should say) with a mass of crisp black hair heaped into  great wavy projections on each of her temples, a thin pale face, a pair of strange, sad, deep, dark Swinburnish eyes, with great thick black oblique brows, joined in the middle and tucking themselves under her hair, a mouth like “Oriana” in our illustrated Tennyson, a long neck, without any collar, and in lieu thereof some dozen strings of outlandish beads – in fine Complete.  On the wall was a large nearly full-length portrait of her by Rossetti, so strange and unreal that if you hadn’t seen her, you’d pronounce it a distempered vision, but in fact an extremely good likeness.”

Proserpine, D.G. Rossetti

Proserpine, D.G. Rossetti

Astarte Syriaca

Astarte Syriaca

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6 thoughts on ““In either case she is a wonder.”

  1. Thank you Celia. I had read the James passage before, but sort of filed it away in the back of my mind. Posting it here today has prompted a new idea or two. I’d like to study more about James and his connection to Rossetti.
    I absolutely welcome any comments from anyone who has read more or has anything to share on Rossetti and Henry James!

  2. Oh I forgot to add, Phillip
    You should share the Jane photo on your blog. I quite enjoyed the photograph you had of May Morris recently!


  3. Pingback: Henry James and the Pre-Raphaelites – Nick Louras

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