Mrs. William Morris

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1858 October
Model: Jane Burden Morris


◦ Grylls, Portrait of Rossetti, 235-240 (1964)

◦ Marsh, The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (1985)

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 174 (no. 364).

Scholarly Commentary


This is one of the two earliest known DGR drawings of Jane Burden, the woman who would become the wife of William Morris and subsequently DGR's lover. (The other is the drawing of her face dated October 1857.) Her face and emotional significance would dominate the later part of DGR's life, just as DGR's wife Elizabeth's image had dominated his earlier life. He drew and painted both women obsessively. Fanny Cornforth's image would have a nearly equal fascination for him.

Jane Burden came into the orbit of DGR and his friends in late September or early October 1857 while the Oxford murals project was a central preoccupation. Ned Jones met her and her sister as they were leaving the theatre in Drury Lane and Jane was persuaded to sit as a model for the group. Initially, through October 1857, she modelled almost exclusively for DGR. The first important picture for which she is clearly the model is Sir Launcelot in the Queen's Chamber, and she would shortly model for Princess Sabra in the watercolour The Wedding of St. George and the Princess Sabra.

Jane and Morris were married in April 1859 and they had two children, Jenny (born in 1861) and May (born in 1862). From that point their marriage began to show signs of mutual estrangement. It appears that the liaison of DGR and Jane did not begin until 1866 or perhaps 1867, although in 1865 she came to Cheyne Walk to pose for the famous series of photographs taken of her by Parsons under DGR's direction. It seems clear, as Marsh argues, that DGR had developed “an overwhelming passion” for her by the time he executed his 1867 watercolour Sir Tristram and La Belle Yseult Drinking the Love Potion. In 1868 she sat for the famous portrait of her “in a blue silk dress”, and from that point she would appear in various key pictures, as well as in many drawings and sketches.

DGR's single most elaborate act of homage to Jane Morris was the planned Perlascura project, which he never completed.

Production History

The drawing was made while DGR and his friends were still working on the Oxford Union murals. This was a drawing for part of the design for DGR's aborted mural Sir Launcelot's Vision of the Sanc Grael, in which the figure of Queen Quenevere rises up before Launcelot to obscure a vision of the Sanc Grael. Marsh, however, believes this study was not made for that design (see Marsh 122-123), and certainly the date of the drawing is a year later than the period when he (at least) began to work on the picture. Still, both Morris and DGR associated Jane with Guenevere from very early in their meeting with her.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: s364.raw.xml