A Pre-Raphaelite Valentine

14th February 2019

Now, we’ll be honest and admit that Valentine’s Day isn’t something we’ve always been a fan of; there’s something to be said for being loving and also lovely all year round. However, a day full of love is never a bad thing and for that reason – Happy Valentine’s Day! We thought we’d use the opportunity to use this day to take a look at the great loves of a few of the Pre-Raphaelite women’s lives…


Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddal:

Married: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal was born in 1829 on the 25th January and was a well known English artist, poet and Pre-Raphaelite model. She sat for paintings and drawings many times by the Brotherhood artists including William Holman Hunt, Walter Deverell, John Everett Millais and her husband Rossetti. Notably, she sat (or rather, floated in a bathtub!) for Millais’ famous Ophelia painting.

She met her husband Rossetti in 1849, she was modelling for Deverell at the time. Rossetti loved painting her so much that she became his muse and was pretty much the only model he used. He also stopped her from modelling for his friends within the Brotherhood. In fact, she sat for him so often that it’s reported the number of paintings he did of her are in the thousands.

She married Rossetti on the 23rd May 1860 in Hastings at St. Clement’s Church. Once married, it’s clear they became more reclusive as they found themselves completely wrapped up in their bubble of love and mutual affection. Nicknames are said to have included ”guggums” ”gug” and Rossetti called Lizzie ”Dove.” He even changed the spelling of her last name so it was spelt with one L instead of two as it originally was.

Rossetti didn’t just create art inspired by her but poems too. The poem A Last Confession is about his love for her and he describes her eyes, ”as of the sea and sky on a grey day.”

She died young on the 11 February 1862. There’s arguments for how she died, some say she was suffering even on her wedding day two years before which could have been tuberculosis or an intestinal disorder, others say she was anorexic and others believe she was an addict for laudanum. It’s not clear and they didn’t have the medicines we have today nor the diagnosis so we will never fully know. It is clear that the indescrretions Rossetti took in their marriage and coupled with a heartbreaking birth of a stillborn daughter in 1861, both had a huge and profound affect on her and she was known to be severely depressed and had access to laudanum.

Years after she passed, Rossetti published a collection of sonnets, The House of Life, one is called “Without her” and has some beautiful lines, including, “Without her? Tears, ah me! For love’s good grace, and cold forgetfulness of night or day.”

Jane Morris

Married: William Morris

Jane Burden met William Morris in 1857. She attended a theatre performance by the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The pair were spotted by Rossetti and he invited her to model for his art mural. She actually didn’t turn up as arranged – it’s assumed that she was nervous of the attention and invitation. It was Edward Burne-Jones that bumped into her and at this point she agreed – sealing her fate as a Pre-Raphaelite model and the path to her marriage and life.

She mainly was painted by Rossetti at first when his muse Siddal (as above) was away with her illness. When he left to join her (it’s noted that she was worried that he wasn’t committing to marriage with her because he was distracted with other women and that could be why she called him away) Jane began to sit for William Morris’ art. Morris famously painted her as Queen Guenevere and wrote on the back of the canvas, “I cannot paint you, but I love you.” In stark contrast, it’s been suggested many times by Pre-Raphaelite experts and historians that she never loved Morris and always loved Rossetti but he was betrothed to Siddal.

She married Morris – by all accounts for social standing and wealth. Born into a poor family, she was destined for a life of domestic service like her mother. After her engagement, she was educated to become a gentleman’s wife. Her education shouldn’t be just dismissed or reduced to this though. She was intelligent and keen to learn and though her early education was limited, it didn’t hold her back. She recreated herself learning French and Italian well enough to be proficient. A great pianist with a love of classical music. In fact, her speech and manners weree so refined that people referred to her her as, “queenly” and she had no problem socialising with the upper class.

Jane Burden married William Morris on 26th April 1859 at St Micheal at the Northgate. They lived together at Red House and the decorating process led to the Arts and Crafts movement which you can read about in many of our other blogs. They had two children, Jenny and May.

It was after Lizzie Siddal died that Jane and Rossetti began their affair which spanned many years. It caused great hurt to Morris and he ended up entering into a join lease of Kelmscott Manor with Rossetti to cover up much of what went on and keep it private. He even took solitude in trips to Iceland during this time. Jane and Rossetti continued the affair from 1865 until his death in 1882. This affair was in varying degrees as the years passed and it was known to cause Morris a great deal of pain. Despite this, Jane and William stayed together until he died in 1896.


Christina Rossetti

There were three suitors in Christina Rossetti’s life. The first came at the end of her teen years, the painter James Collinson whom she was engaged to. Along with her brothers (Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Rossetti) was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in 1848. He reverted to Catholicism in 1850 and the engagement was broken.

She also refused to marry the second suitor, Charles Cayley on religious grounds. Cayley was a linguist.


Georgiana Burne-Jones

Married: Edward Burne-Jones

Georgiana Burne -Jones was born in Birmingham on the 21st July 1840. The second eldest of the MacDonald sisters, she was the mother of the painter Philip Burne-Jones and the aunt of famous writer Rudyard Kipling. Friend to Morris and George Eliot.

Personally, she was a wonderful painter and engraver. She was also a trustee of South London Gallery. Georgie’s older brother Harry went to King Edward’s School and through him, herself and her sisters were introduced to the Birmingham Set at Oxford University. This set included Edward Burne-Jones who was studying theology. Friends and then engaged when she was aged 15 in 1856, she visited his work – where his colleagues included Rossetti and Morris. She also met John Ruskin, she said of the time, “I wish it were possible to explain the impression made upon me as a young girl whose experience so far had been quite remote from art, by sudden and close intercourse with those to whom it was the breath of life… I felt in the presence of a new religion.”

Georgiana stayed at Ford Madox Brown and his wife Emma’s home in London so she was able to stay closer to Edward and they married two months later, four years to the day that they got engaged. Georgiana was 19 and Edward was 27. Their assets were £30 and a deal table which contained Georgiana’s engraving tools. They moved into their married rented rooms on Great Russell Street. The first years were wonderful, spending a summer at the beautiful Red House; William and Jane Morris’ home.

Philip, their first child, was born in 1861. Then in 1864 Philip caught scarlet fever and she then caught it. The fever caused her to give birth to her second child Christopher, prematurely. He caught scarlet fever and heartbreakingly, died soon after.

After Georgiana recovered, she understandably didn’t want to go back to Russell Street where the tragedy had occurred and so they moved to Kensington Square. Margaret, their third child, was born in the Summer of 1866.

During the 1870s, Edward was embroiled in a passionate affair with Maria Zambaco – a Greek model. Georgiana found the time understandably difficult and it seems she turned to William Morris. We mentioned earlier how Morris was going through a similar situation with Jane and Rossetti. It’s been suggested that Georgiana and William were in love. But, if he asked her to leave Edward, she refused but they remained close for the rest of their lives.

The Burne-Jones’ and the Morris’ stayed together another thirty years.


The love lives of the Pre Raphaelite were, it seems, quite complicated! It’s fun to review the relationships and what we know of them during Valentine’s Day! There was many other Pre Raphaelite couples and relationships that we cannot fit all in one blog!