A Pre-Raphaelite Valentine’s Day

14th February 2020

So Happy Valentines Day everyone! In this blog, we’re celebrating a Pre-Raphaelite Valentine’s Day! We’ve never been huge celebrators of Valentine’s Day being Brits, but as the custom grew, so did the idea that love should be celebrated. In any form, with the world as it is at the moment, any glimmer of love should be celebrated. So, whether you’re celebrating alone, with friends or with a partner, we hope you have a great day!

We thought we’d make the day topical by talking about a few of our favourite Pre-Raphaelite’s own love stories.

William Morris

Married: Jane Morris

Of course we have to start with William! Morris met Jane Burden in 1857 at a theatre performance by the Theatre Royal Drury  Lane. She was with her sister and initially, spotted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti who invited her to sit for his work. She didn’t turn up at their allotted time and it was only after Edward Burne Jones bumped into her that he convinced her to be their model.

She agreed and couldn’t possibly have known at the time this changed the course of her life forever. Not only as it led to her meeting Morris but it immortalised her forever as the muse and model to multiple pre-Raphaelite artists.

Rossetti was the artist that began painting Jane first but went to go tend to Lizzie Siddal who was ill and in the interim, she modelled for Morris. It’s clear from various records and her own words that it wasn’t love for Morris from her side that led to their marriage. He obviously felt differently, he famously painted her as Queen Guinevere and wrote on the back of the canvas, “I cannot paint you, but I love you.”

She did marry Morris though, for both wealth and social standing. Born into a poor family, it was almost predetermined she would go into a life of domestic service. Though following her marriage, she instead was dutifully educated to become a gentleman’s wife.

This was half what was expected of her but it shouldn’t be taken away from her that she was a keen learner – intelligent learning both French and Italian, learning to play the piano. Her speech and manners became so refined that people referred to her as ‘queenly’ and had no problems in socialising with the upper class.

Following Lizzie Siddal’s death, Rossetti and Jane began their affair which spanned many years and is known to have been a huge source of distress for Morris. He ended up entering into a joint lease of Kelmscott Manor with Rossetti and it’s been said that was to keep a lot of the affair private.

During this time he left the situation to travel to Iceland. Despite the affair, Morris stayed married to Jane until he died in 1896. They had two daughters together, Jenny and May.

Edward Burne-Jones

Married: Georgiana Burne-Jones

Georgiana met Burne-Jones through her older brother Harry as he went to King Edward’s School and he introduced her and her sisters to the Birmingham Set at Oxford University. Burne-Jones was there studying theology. They became engaged when she was 15 and in 1856, she visited his work and met Rossetti and Morris.

She also met John Ruskin and said, “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’s house and so was there to stay closer to Edward – they married two months later which marked four years to the day they got engaged. At this point Georgiana was 19 and Edward, 27. They had £30 between them and a deal table which contained Georgiana’s engraving tools. They moved into rented rooms on Great Russell Street. Their first years of marriage seemed very happy and even spent a summer at Red House, the beautiful home of Jane and William Morris.

They had a child, Philip in 1861, who in 1864 caught scarlet fever, who then passed it to Georgiana. The fever caused her to go into labour and gave birth prematurely to their second child, Christopher. He caught scarlet fever and devastatingly, died soon after. Their third child, Margaret, was born Summer 1866.

During the 1870s, Edward was involved in a passionate affair with Maria Zambaco, a Greek model. It’s clear her shoulder to cry on was William Morris, who was going through a similar thing with his wife. It’s been suggested by historians that they were in love, but if they were, neither left their spouse for each other and they both remained with their partners for another thirty years.

Christina Rossetti

During her life, there were three suitors for Christina. The first, James Collinson, a painter, during her later teen years. She was engaged to him and presumably met him due to her brothers, Dante Gabriel and William Rossetti as they were all founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was found in 1848, but he reverted to Catholicism in 1850 and the engagement afterwards broken.

The second suitor, Charles Cayley, a linguist, was refused again on religious grounds. Her third proposal of marriage came from John Brett, a painter, who she also refused.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Married: Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddal

Lizzie Siddal is a well known English artist, poet and Pre-Raphaelite model. Perhaps you will recognise her likeness in drawings and paintings by Brotherhood artists including William Holman Hunt, Walter Deverell, John Everett Millais and of course her husband Rossetti. She is the model in the most famous Millais painting, Ophelia. 

She met Rossetti in 1849 whilst modelling for Deverell. Rossetti was drawn to her and she became almost the only model and muse he used. He also wanted her to model for him exclusively – it’s said she sat for him so often that the works he did of her are reportedly in the thousands.

They married in 1860 and following their marriage, it’s known they became more reclusive as a couple, wrapped up in each other and their love. Nicknames are said to have included ‘guggums” “gug” and Rossetti called Lizzie, “Dove.”

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, in 1862, there’s a lot of speculation as to what caused her death. Some said she was suffering even on her wedding day two years before, from tuberculosis or an intestinal disorder, others claim she was anorexic, others believe she was an addict to laudanum.

The medicines, vaccines and diagnosis were not the same as we have today so we will never know for sure. From Rossetti, we know that after their heartbreak of a stillborn daughter in 1861, it obviously had a heartbreaking and profound affect on them and her, she was known to have become 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.”


It’s clear they had complex and passionate love lifes isn’t it! There’s lots more to read about these Pre-Raphaelites and others if you wanted to read more! Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

(P.s. are you keeping up to date with us on social media? We’ve also got lots of other blogs to read if you have a moment!)