27th May 2020
Jane Burden, wife of William Morris, is an interesting woman in her own right and we love to learn more about the Pre-Raphaelite women.
Did you know these things about Jane?
It was in a twist of fate that Jane was practically plucked from poverty. She became immortalised forever by some of the greatest Pre-Raphaelite artists and then has remained one of the most famous muses of all time. Jane was just 17 in 1857 when she attended a theatre in Oxford with her sister Bessie. She was spotted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones who saw her beauty and wanted her to sit for their art. She had the idealised beauty for the time, but didn’t actually go to their first arranged meet up. It wasn’t until Burne-Jones bumped into her that she was convinced. She went on to sit for some of the most famous art of their time – including Rossetti’s Queen Guinevere. By the next spring, she was engaged to Morris. Both being their muse and her marriage would alter the course of her life forever.
Though she married William Morris and they had two children together, Jenny and May, the love of her life was arguably Rossetti. It’s known they were attracted from the start to each other but Rossetti was already engaged to Lizzie Siddal. It’s known he told a friend before he died that he married Lizzie, “out of a mistaken sense of loyalty and fear of giving pain,” instead of true love.
Her romantic life was complex and it unfortunately often overshadows her accomplishments. She was born poor, but after her engagement, she was educated to become a gentleman’s wife. We feel often people use it to take away from what she achieved – yes she had tutors, but it was her intelligence that took her on to be referred to as her contemporaries as “queenly.” She almost reinvented herself through her education. Becoming an intelligent reader, proficient in French and Italian, an accomplished pianist and had notoriously refined speech and manners.
Jane actually is known to have been a skilled needlewoman and her embroideries are really beautiful. She passed this skill onto her daughters. You can see her work here on one of the last surviving pieces she definitively did, Honeysuckle. This was worked on by Jane and her daughter Jenny and based on Morris’s famous Honeysuckle design.
Whilst it’s not proven, we quite like the idea of this one. We don’t know that much of her childhood but it’s known she was poor. This is based on the fact she was born in Oxford to Robert and Ann Burden, a stableman and a laundress respectively. Her mother was illiterate and probably arrived in Oxford as a domestic servant. It’s assumed Jane would have followed her Mother into the profession if she hadn’t have met William Morris. For this reason, it’s claimed that she’s been the inspiration for a few novels and films. Notably Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and the later film My Fair Lady. Again, this isn’t proven but it’s quite possible. The link between George Bernard Shaw and the Morris family is quite strong because he’s known to have had a love affair with May Morris, Jane’s daughter.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little blog about Jane Morris, did you know all 5 facts? Have any facts about her you like? There’s so much to learn about the entire family and wider, the Pre-Raphaelite movement that we could sit and read for hours. If you like this blog and would like to read more – we have lots of blogs to read!