Fanny Cornforth by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c 1865 Pencil on paper
3 January 1835
Steyning, Sussex, England
Uncertain, probably in region of London
|Known for||Model (art), Housekeeper (servant)|
|Notable work||Portrayed by Rossetti many times in pencil on paper; less frequently in red chalk (sanguine), 1860s & 1870s. Also model for Edward Burne-Jones & J. R. Spencer Stanhope.|
Fanny Cornforth (1835 – c. 1906) was an Englishwoman who became the artist's model and mistress of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Later, Cornforth performed the duties of housekeeper for Rossetti.
William Michael Rossetti, the artist's brother, wrote that "she was a pre-eminently fine woman with regular and sweet features, and a mass of the most lovely blond hair – light-golden, or 'harvest yellow'."
It is believed that Cornforth's real name was Sarah Cox, but it is not known for certain when she adopted the name "Fanny Cornforth". Cornforth was the name of her first husband's stepfather, which she took as her surname. She is recorded in the 1851 census living in Brighton, working as a house servant.
Cornforth met Rossetti in 1858, and became his model and mistress in the absence of Elizabeth Siddal whom Rossetti married in 1860, under the impression that she was dying. Many biographers presumed Siddal disliked Cornforth, but there is no proof that Siddal even knew of her existence. Three months after Rossetti's wedding Cornforth married mechanic Timothy Hughes, but the relationship was short-lived. After Siddal's death in 1862, Cornforth moved into the widowed Rossetti's home as his housekeeper. The affair between them lasted until Rossetti's death. For much of the time Rossetti was engaged in an off-and-on relationship with Jane Morris who was married to his colleague, William Morris. Their relationship was not made public but his relationship with Cornforth was.
Cornforth came from the lower/rural working class of English society. Her coarse accent and lack of education shocked Rossetti's friends and family. Many never accepted her and pressured Rossetti to end the affair. Over the course of their relationship, Cornforth gained weight. Much has been made of this by biographers, but the growing girths of both Rossetti and Cornforth was a mutual joke. His pet name for her was "My Dear Elephant" and she called him "Rhino". When they were apart, he drew cartoons of elephants and sent them to her.
Role of Fanny Cornforth in Pre-Raphaelite Art
She sat for at least 60 oils, watercolours, pastels or pencil drawings by Rossetti. The paintings include:
- Bocca Baciata, by Rossetti (1859)
- Lucrezia Borgia, by Rossetti (1861)
- Fair Rosamund (1861)
- Fazio's Mistress (Aurelia) (1863–73)
- The Blue Bower (1865)
- Lady Lilith (1867)
- Found (1869) unfinished
- The Holy Grail (1874)
A small circular oil painting, 9¾ inches in diameter, made in 1862 and now at the Royal Academy, London is unusually (possibly uniquely) a straightforward portrait of her in this media by Rossetti - rather than her being depicted as a model, which was normal.
Rossetti substituted  the features of another model, Alexa Wilding for Fanny Cornforth in Lady Lilith (1864–68) for example, and since at first glance Wilding's head is not dissimilar, care should be taken in nominating these models.
The many drawings of her by Rossetti include:
Those by other artists include:
The Rossetti Archive has images of a large proportion of these.
Locations of likenesses
The following are locations of some of the recorded likenesses of Fanny Cornforth:
- D. G. Rossetti, portrait, 1859, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- D. G. Rossetti, drawing, c.1860, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
- D. G. Rossetti, portrait, 1865, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham
- D. G. Rossetti, portrait, 1870, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
- E. Burne-Jones, portrait
- J. R. S. Stanhope, portrait
- Photograph, University of Manchester Library, Charles Fairfax Murray collection, MS 1282 photographs 3
- Photograph, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington
- Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London
Notes and references
- Whittick, Christopher 'Cornforth , Fanny [Sarah Cox] (1835–c.1906)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 3 Jan 2013
- According to a publication originated in 1985, the dates of birth and death are uncertain - Jan Marsh in Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, pp 139–40, 353, 377, 397.
- William Michael Rossetti, Vol. 1, Chapter 21, page 203; in: Dante Gabriel Rossetti: his family letters, ed. W. M. Rossetti, 2 vols. (1895); Available on-line at: Dante Gabriel Rossetti on openlibrary.org – Retrieved 7 Jan. 2012.
- Gaunt, W, The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy (1968); Marsh, Jan, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (1985).
- 1841 & 1851 census
- 1851 Census England & Wales, Class: HO107; Piece: 1646; Folio: 421; Page: 35; GSU roll: 193551. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
- Spencer-Longhurst, Paul The Blue Bower: Rossetti in the 1860s (2006)
- Daly, Gay (1989). Pre-Raphaelites in Love. New York: Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0-89919-450-8.
- Marsh, Jan (1998) . Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. London: Quartet Books. ISBN 978-0-7043-0169-6.
- Stonell Walker, Kirsty (2006). Stunner : The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth. USA: Lulu Publishing.
- Drewery, Anne (2001). Re-presenting Fanny Cornforth: The makings of an historical identity. UK: With Julian Moore & Christopher Whittick, in The British Art Journal 2001:3.
- Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1940). Letters to Fanny Cornforth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press; Baum, Paull F (editor).
- Center for Whistler Studies
- Rossetti Archive
- Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery's Pre-Raphaelite Online Resource includes images of Fanny Cornforth