Fanny Cornforth

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Fanny Cornforth
FannyCornforth Rossetti.jpg
Fanny Cornforth by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c 1865 Pencil on paper
Born Sarah Cox
3 January 1835 (1835-01-03)
Steyning, Sussex, England
Died c. 1906 (2015-03-02UTC16:07)
Uncertain, probably in region of London
Nationality English
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.
Movement Pre-Raphaelites
Photograph of Fanny Cornforth

Fanny Cornforth (1835 – c. 1906)[1][2] 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'."[3]

In Rossetti's paintings, the figures modeled by Fanny Cornforth are generally rather voluptuous, differing from those of other models such as Jane Morris and Elizabeth Siddal.


Fair Rosamund, by Rossetti, modelled by Fanny Cornforth

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".[4] Cornforth was the name of her first husband's stepfather, which she took as her surname.[5] She is recorded in the 1851 census living in Brighton, working as a house servant.[6]

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.

It is not known when or where Fanny died. Apparently suffering from senile dementia, in 1905 she was cared for by her sister-in-law, Rosa Villiers née Schott (see Helen Ernstone).

Role of Fanny Cornforth in Pre-Raphaelite Art[edit]

She sat for at least 60 oils, watercolours, pastels or pencil drawings by Rossetti. The paintings include:

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 [7] 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:

A few fine finished coloured chalk portraits include one drawn in 1874 on pale green paper, 22 x 16 in. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. [1] Rossetti Archive S309.

Those by other artists include:

The Rossetti Archive has images of a large proportion of these.

Locations of likenesses[edit]

The following are locations of some of the recorded likenesses[1] of Fanny Cornforth:

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Whittick, Christopher 'Cornforth , Fanny [Sarah Cox] (1835–c.1906)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 3 Jan 2013
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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 – Retrieved 7 Jan. 2012.
  4. ^ Gaunt, W, The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy (1968); Marsh, Jan, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (1985).
  5. ^ 1841 & 1851 census
  6. ^ 1851 Census England & Wales, Class: HO107; Piece: 1646; Folio: 421; Page: 35; GSU roll: 193551. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
  7. ^ 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) [1985]. 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). 

External links[edit]