Fanny Cornforth

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1859 July
Model: Fanny Cornforth


◦ Marsh, The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (1985)

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 160 (no. 283).

◦ Walker, Stunner: The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth (2006)

Scholarly Commentary


This is the earliest portrait of Fanny Cornforth (1835?-1906) that can be reliably dated. When DGR met her—she apparently accosted him on the street around Christmas of 1857—she was working as a prostitute, but he quickly turned their chance meeting to account and brought her into his studio to model for him. Madox Brown reported that he saw her at Chatham Place around 20 January, where she was sitting for DGR, Boyce, and Ned Jones.

Born Sarah Cox, she was not only a remarkably beautiful woman, she was frank and lively and clearly pleased DGR in all sorts of ways, so that she became both a lover and good friend to DGR. In love with him as he was not with her, DGR's marriage came as a dreadful blow. Shortly after DGR's marriage, she engaged herself to and married Timothy Hughes, a mechanic from Liverpool, though she and DGR continued to see each other. After the death of Elizabeth she left her husband and joined DGR at Cheyne Walk as his housekeeper, at which point their sexual liaison was renewed for a few years, but gradually turned to friendship. It is unlikely that they were sexually intimate after 1865 or 1866. How close they became is evident from the series of playful “Elephant” drawings he made for her. Among other comical nicknames, he called her “Fan” and “Elephant”, she called him “Rhinoceros”.

DGR's family always disapproved of Fanny and eventually persuaded him to let her go in 1877. It was a cruel blow for her but she remained a staunch friend to him to the end. In 1879 she married John Bernhard Schott, a widower friend.

Over the years DGR had not only given her many gifts but a large set of his works as well, especially drawings. Most of these works eventually found their way to the Delaware Art Museum, where they form a major part of that distinguished collection.

Fanny is the model for some of DGR's most important works, notably Bocca Baciata, Found, Fair Rosamund, and the original state of Lady Lilith (whose tenor can be gathered from the finished chalk study that DGR made around 1867). Fanny was also the model for the arresting photograph he made of her in June 1865—the first of DGR's forays into the medium that would culminate in the great series of photographs of Jane Morris done a month later. The intimacy of DGR's 1858 drawing of Fanny looking over the shoulder of George Boyce at work is startling for its time.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: s283.raw.xml