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Rossetti's Obsession: Images of Jane Morris

Posted on Monday 12th May 2014
Picture of Pandora clutching Pandora's Box to her breast

'Pandora', 1878, Dante Gabriel Rossetti © National Museums Liverpool

Paintings, drawings and photographs of the Pre-Raphaelite star

On the centenary of her death a new exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery explores the role of Jane Morris as Dante Gabriel Rossetti's chief muse and the embodiment of Pre-Raphaelite beauty.

Rossetti's Obsession: Images of Jane Morris opens from 20 June to 21 September 2014. Bringing together rarely displayed works, the exhibition focuses on Rossetti's fixation with Morris and his depiction of her as the ultimate femme-fatale.

More than 30 paintings, drawings and photographs of Morris, including a number which were used as studies for some of Rossetti's most famous works, feature in the exhibition.

Sandra Penketh, Director of Art Galleries said: “More than 150 years since the founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, this radical, vibrant movement still excites audiences today. Jane Morris as a model, muse, wife, lover and artist in her own right was at the heart of this explosive group which challenged the art establishment of the time. Her striking features, tumbling long hair and haunting stare appear in so many of Rossetti's finest works that they have become indelibly associated with the movement.

"The Lady Lever Art Gallery has one of the best Pre-Raphaelite collections in the world so we're delighted to tell the story of the relationship between two of the movement's chief protagonists."

Born Jane Burden, Morris came to the attention of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites in 1857. In 1859 she married William Morris, but shortly after began a long affair with Rossetti.

Sharing a deep emotional attachment, Morris and Rossetti's relationship was the source of many of Rossetti's mid-to-late paintings, regarded by many as being among the best of his career. The exhibition includes the studies Pandora (1878), La Donna della Finestra (1870) and La Donna della Fiamma (1870) from this period but it is the painting Proserpine (1882) which had the deepest resonance with the couple.

In classical mythology Proserpine (also known as Persephone) was condemned to spend six months of the year in the Underworld. While away the world turned cold and dark and crops did not prosper until her return, when the weather improved and the land was fertile again. This was a painful parallel for Rossetti who had just spent an idyllic summer with Morris but was to be parted from her again for the winter.

Rossetti's obsessive depictions of Morris often cast her in mythological roles. Tender drawings, include a number of her as Astarte, an Ancient Greek goddess and to Rossetti the ultimate symbol of feminine power. This series of pen and ink, pastel, charcoal and graphite drawings expose a seemingly exhaustive effort to capture Morris’ beguiling beauty and her hold on him.

The exhibition also gives a small insight into Morris's life away from Rossetti's gaze. A stunning tapestry (267 x 150cm), designed by her husband William Morris and produced by Morris and her daughter Jenny, reveal a skilled embroiderer and an important member of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It is also a rare example of the collaboration between three members of the Morris family.

In later photographs and a drawing of Morris by Evelyn de Morgan, the striking features which so mesmerised Rossetti 20 years earlier are still visible, but by this time her famous thick hair is white and the alabaster skin, lined. These final images of the exhibition no longer evoke the idealised images of youth, myth and femininity, but instead a real woman with depth and passions of her own.

A programme of free talks, tours and family events accompanies the exhibition.

A touring exhibition from Bradford Museums and Galleries

The exhibition opens at the Lady Lever Art Gallery as the gallery embarks upon exciting plans for the future.

Following initial support* from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), National Museums Liverpool is hoping to make £2.8m improvements, which will see 500 square metres of gallery space transformed and returned to its original architectural splendour.

The scheme, which promises a revamp of more than a quarter of the venue, would also see more than 1,700 items of fine and decorative art redisplayed and new educational resources developed for local schools and groups.

Sandra Penketh said: “The redevelopment will restore the South End galleries to their former glory and breathe new life into the world-class exhibits.

“As we work on fundraising for the project and developing our plans we are keeping Lord Lever’s original aims for the gallery at the forefront, ensuring the gallery continues to inspire future generations for another 100 years.”

For more information on the project and how you can support it visit our website:

www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/leverplans

Notes to editors

Dante Gabriel Rossetti biography

Rossetti (12 May 1828 – 9 April 1882) was an English poet, illustrator, painter, translator and cofounder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. He was the main inspiration for a second generation of artists influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement.

His art was characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism. His personal life was also closely linked to his work, especially his relationships with his models and muses Jane Morris, his wife Elizabeth Siddal and Fanny Cornforth.

Jane Morris biography

Jane Morris (19 October 1839- 26 January 1914) was born in Oxford into humble origins. Spotted by Rossetti during a theatre trip she was quickly drawn into the Pre-Raphaelite circle as an artist's model. She married William Morris in 1859 following a period of education to prepare her for life as a rich man's wife. Highly intelligent, Jane learned quickly and become proficient in French and Italian as well as an accomplished pianist. This transformation is believed to be the model for novel Miss Brown (1884) by Vernon Lee, which was the basis of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1914) and later the film My Fair Lady (1964).
Bradford Museums and Galleries

Bradford Museums and Galleries operates five sites across the district of Bradford: Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Cliffe Castle Museum (Keighley), Manor House (Ilkley), Bolling Hall and Bradford Industrial Museum. The Service has been collecting for over a hundred years and looks after more than a million diverse objects, including some nationally important collections. All our museums are free and we welcome around 250,000 visitors a year. Rossetti’s Obsession started from one picture of Jane Morris in our collection.
www.bradfordmuseums.org

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.5bn across the UK.  www.hlf.org.uk.
Laura Bates, HLF press office, 020 7591 6027 lbates@hlf.org.uk   

*First-round pass

Heritage Grants* applications are assessed in two rounds.  A first-round pass is given when HLF has endorsed outline proposals and earmarked funding. A first-round pass may also include an immediate award to fund the development of the project. Detailed proposals are then considered by HLF at second-round and as long as plans have progressed satisfactorily and according to the original proposal, an award for the project is confirmed.

About National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool comprises eight venues, including some of the most visited museums in England outside of London. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic. We attract more than 2.7 million visitors every year. Our venues are the Museum of Liverpool, World Museum, the Walker Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, Border Force National Museum, Sudley House and the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

The Lady Lever Art Gallery houses one of the UK’s finest collections of fine and decorative art. It has the best collection of Wedgwood jasperware anywhere in the world and its collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings is internationally renowned.

Lady Lever Art Gallery Port Sunlight Village, Wirral L62 5EQ    Admission FREE
Open 10am-5pm every day    Information 0151 478 4136
Website www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk

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