The Handwriting of Jane Morris

You may remember Dutch artist Margje Bijl from my previous blog posts about her project “Reflections on Jane Morris”. If you’re not familiar with her yet, let me introduce you to her. I believe she has an uncanny resemblance with Jane Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite muse who lived from 1839 till 1914.

As I described in my previous blog post, Margje traveled to some of the houses in which Rossetti, Jane and William Morris lived and made staged photos on location. She said: “Referring to Jane Morris’ life story, I made her environment as my own with modern clothes and poses”. A few months ago, the curator of the William Morris Gallery, Carien Kremer, offered her a slot in the 2014 programme, showing these photographs in the Discovery Lounge: “It would be great to mark the commemorative year with a contemporary take on Jane”.


A new pattern for the Empress
A new pattern for the Empress, 2011
© Margje Bijl, photograph by Hein van Liempd


I am thrilled to announce that earlier this week, the William Morris Gallery was crowned “Museum of the year 2013“! Margje is proud of the Gallery, which she visited before and after the huge refurbishment. She told me that she spent her most treasured moments in the archive where she was able to view and read Jane Morris’s letters. She felt she couldn’t get closer to understanding who Jane Morris was.


Reading the Times obituary of Jane Morris, 2009 William Morris Gallery
Reading the Times obituary of Jane Morris, 2009
William Morris Gallery


To Margje, another memorable moment at the William Morris Gallery was meeting Jan Marsh and Frank C. Sharp, the editors of the book “The Collected Letters of Jane Morris”. Margje wanted to find out what happened to the love letters between Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Jane Morris, from the first period of their affair, 1868-1875. Jan Marsh explained that Fanny Cornforth, Rossetti’s mistress and housekeeper, wanted to sell them, in order to blackmail Rossetti. It was very dangerous for Jane to own the love letters which could be seen as evidence of her extramarital affair, which could have cost her both her marriage and her children. Jane became scared that the letters were going to be made public and made sure they disappeared.

After the lecture, Margje asked Frank C. Sharp why there was not a single photograph of Jane’s handwriting in the book. He said that they had only capacity for a limited amount of images and that they chose the unfamiliar photographs of Jane’s friends instead.

The William Morris Gallery allowed Margje to photograph and publish some of these letters on her website. She wanted to share Jane’s own handwriting on this site, having found Jack Challem’s analysis of Rossetti’s and Siddal’s handwriting on my site She asked Jack Challem to analyze Jane Morris’s handwriting and he replied: “I found a page of Janey’s writing on your site … remember, I’m pretty rusty at this point, but a quick look showed these traits…fluidity (almost as nice as Rossetti’s!), emotionally expressive, literary, creative, intuitive, very high ambitions, but many of those ambitions are out of reach. I think I would have enjoyed knowing her.” Later, he continued: “Other important traits: Janey was very intelligent! Her smarts and intuition enabled her to understand people very quickly.”

We are very grateful to Jack Challem for he unraveling Jane’s character a bit. Now we are very curious, are we able to find someone to give a thorough analysis?! In the meanwhile, please enjoy her handwriting.


Jane Morris's letter to Lucy (1)
Jane Morris’s letter to Lucy Faulkner Orrinsmith, 1896
© William Morris Gallery


Jane Morris's letter to May (1)
Jane Morris’s letter to May Morris, 1896
© William Morris Gallery


If you wish to visit the collection in the archive of the William Morris Gallery and combine it with the exhibition A Memory Palace of her own of Margje Bijl, plan it between 11th January and 9th of March 2014. You could also combine it with a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, where Jan Marsh is planning a case display of works in the Collection, about the life of Jane Morris and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of her death.




3 thoughts on “The Handwriting of Jane Morris”

  1. Janey (Margje) visited me recently. We’d met before. There’s a connection in our work. Albeit my focus is on other women at the end of the Victorian age. It’s nice to see how she uses herself in connection to Jane Morris to make new art. I really like that as it resembles the way I live. There’s a chance I’ll be in England early next year for my new books and if so I will surely go to the exhibition.

    • That would be very nice, Alice, if we could meet in London and roam the streets in Victorian dresses together! But do visit my studio before, so I can show you all the works I am not showing online…

  2. oh my god.

    this is astonishing to me. i am thrilled to find out about this!! thank you so much for continuing to bring hidden treasures from the pre-raphaelite world out into the open. i am not familiar with marje and her work, but i will most certainly be looking into it. she’s a dead ringer for janie. beautiful. and the photo at the top of the page is strong and stunning. this is happy fun time! 😉


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