I don’t often do anything of a cultural nature on a Sunday but today was different. I saw a talk advertised and thought to myself, well that sounds interesting.
The talk was about the Letters of Jane Morris and was delivered by the authors of the book shown above. Now, the depths of my ignorance are great that I had no idea who she was but recognised her face from many of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings. Time to find out more, I thought to myself, so booked a place on the talk which took place at lunchtime at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford.
The talk was fascinating. Jane Morris (nee Burden) was bought up in poverty in Oxford. Her distinctive features brought her to the attention of Rossetti and Burne-Jones who asked her to model for them. Both these artists were close friends with William Morris, a key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. An introduction was made and the inevitable happened. Morris fell in love with Jane and they married even though it was highly probable that Jane was actually in love with Rossetti. Fortunately for Jane, Morris was a wealthy man. His money enabled her to be privately educated and to become refined to the extent she could move easily in the highest circles. She proved to be highly skilled in the art of tapestry and worked alongside her sister, Bessie, to bring to life the sketches made by her husband.
She continued to model for Rossetti and before long they began an affair. It was fairly common for an artist’s and his muse to become the lovers and this case was no exception. The affair lasted for many years and, as you can imagine, put a strain on the friendship between Morris and Rossetti.
Personally, I would not say that Jane was a beauty. She is striking and distinctive but to my mind, not a beauty. I always think she looks really miserable in the paintings. After the talk I went to the look at the Rossetti exhibition. It was an opportunity to compare photographs and sketches of Jane side by side. I am sure it is the only occasion when I will ever be in a room with some many Rossetti paintings and sketches of the same woman.
In case anyone is interested there are links below to the exhibition in Bradford and to a website that has more of the history of Jane Morris.
It is sometimes very rewarding to do something on a whim. I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon in Bradford.