Rossetti’s Obsession: Images of Jane Morris, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Wirral

Rossetti’s Obsession: Images of Jane Morris, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Wirral

There’s still time to catch Rossetti’s Obsession: Images of Jane Morris at Lady Lever Art Gallery, Wirral, before it closes on 21 September. Exploring the paintings, drawings and photographs of the Pre-Raphaelite star, the exhibition marks the centenary of Morris’ death and looks at the role she played as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s chief muse. Uniting rarely displayed works, the showcase details the artist’s fixation with Morris and his depiction of her as the ultimate femme-fatale.

Audiences can view 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. The female muse was born Jane Burden and only became Jane Morris after her marriage to William Morris in 1859. She came to the attention of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites in 1857 and began a long affair with Rossetti shortly after her marriage to William Morris.

The pair shared a deep and long-lasting emotional attachment and their relationship was the inspiration for 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 connection to the couple.

Proserpine is a character from classical mythology. She was condemned to spend six months of the year in the Underworld and while she was away the world turned cold and dark and crops did not prosper until her return. This story resonated with Rossetti who had just spent an idyllic summer with Morris but was to be parted from her again for the winter. The artist idolised his muse and his obsessive depictions of her often cast her in mythological roles. His heartfelt and tender drawings include a number of her as Astarte, an Ancient Greek goddess and to Rossetti the ultimate symbol of feminine power.

However, it is not just Rossetti who holds the attention of the audience in this exhibition, there is also space for Morris’ life away from the artist’s gaze. The collaborative artistic skill of the Morris family is honoured in a stunning tapestry, designed by her husband William Morris and produced by Morris and her daughter Jenny. The work is a rare example of the union between three members of the Morris family.

The show also features the late photographs and drawings of Morris by Evelyn de Morgan. The striking features which so mesmerised Rossetti 20 years earlier are still visible, but her famous thick hair has faded to white and her alabaster skin is lined. In moving through her influence over time the idealised images of youth and femininity slowly begin to disappear to reveal the real character of Morris with depth and passions of her own.

Rossetti’s Obsession: Images of Jane Morris until 21 September, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight Village Wirral, CH62 5EQ.

1. Jane Morris (1865) © Birmingham Museums Trust Albumen print, 390x330mm.