Monday, March 31, 2008

Jane Morris and Pre Raphaelite Beauty

While the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood regarded Jane Morris as a "stunner" it took a while for the rest of the world to accept her unusual beauty. In a time where conventional standards of beauty were powerful and unbending, Jane's strong features challenged the norm. Many regard the Pre-Raphaelite models as the first supermodels. They were certainly among the first to popularize a long, lean silhouette in a time when extreme curvaceousness was in vogue.

Jane Morris was a celebrity in the art world, and stories of her rare beauty and delicate constitution seem to have spread like wildfire. When novelist Henry James came to visit the Morris family in 1869, he seems to have been particularly fascinated by Jane and commented extensively on her appearance:
"Imagine a tall lean woman in a long dress of some dead purple stuff, guiltless of hoops (or anything else, I should say), with a mass of crisp black hair heaped into great wavy projections on each side of her temples, a thin pale face, a pair of strange, sad, dark Swinburnian eyes, with great thick black oblique brows, joined in the middle and tucking themselves away under her hair, a mouth like the "Oriana" in our illustrated Tennyson, a long neck, without any collar, and in lieu thereof some dozen strings of outlandish beads"(61-62).

The praise reserved for Jane Morris is rather remarkable. After meeting Jane at Kelmscott House, Bruce Glasier, a Scottish socialist exclaimed:

"I had heard of her great beauty and had seen her portrait in some of the reproductions of Rossetti's pictures, but I confess I felt rather awed as she stood up tall before me, draped in a simple white gown which fell from her shoulders down to her feet. She looked like a veritable Astarte--a being, as I thought, who did not belong to our mortal world"(85).

Of course, Jane Morris' looks did not appeal to everyone, and many were highly critical of her strong features and artistic style of dress. And even fans of the style admitted that it was a welcome fashion trend for women who were not conventionally beautiful. Mary Eliza Haweis, a woman's rights activist, and author of The Art of Beauty and The Art of Dress, confessed that the Pre-Raphaelites were "the plain girl's best friends." She declared that

"Morris, Burne-Jones and others, have made certain types of face, once literally hated, actually the fashion...A pallid face with a protruding lip is highly esteemed. Green eyes, a squint, square eyebrows, whitey-brown complexions are not left out in the cold. In fact, the pink-cheeked dolls are no where; they are said to have "no character" and a pretty little hand is voted characterless too. Now is the time for plain women. Only dress after the Pre-Raphaelite style and you will be astonished to find that so far from being an "ugly duck" you are a full fledged swan"(88-89).

Jane Morris actually reminds me of Audrey Hepburn, in a way. At the time when Audrey Hepburn became a star, voluptuous women were the beauty standard and long, lean women like Hepburn were often regarded as rather plain. Audrey always argued that her look was very "attainable." She once said that "Women can look like Audrey Hepburn by flipping out their hair, buying the large sunglasses, and the little sleeveless dresses.”

Work cited: Debra N. Mancoff. Jane Morris: the Pre-Raphaelite Model of Beauty San Francisco: Pomegrantate, 2000..


Susan Tuttle said...

Thank you for the art history/history lesson. This classic portrait is so stunning.


skatej said...

I'm in a jewelry making class; I'm an art minor. I'm also looking into Art Therapy as a career. Are you still looking for wire trees? Did I read that right? I'd be more than happy to do a commission piece for you ;). I hope one day to take a lot of commissions on the side.
The rose ring piece is definitely for my jewelry making/ metalwork class. The wire tree may end up being part of the showcase if I don't have enough pieces. I'm looking at doing a walnut locket (cast in sterling silver) and maybe even a gold sapphire ring as well.

K Spoering said...

I love paintings of Jane Morris- she must have been quite the model! When I visit my son in Boston, I also visit Jane, who is well represented there, both in the Museum of Fine Arts and in Harvard's Fogg Museum. But did she really have black hair? It always looks red to me in the paintings. Wonder if the paint has changed color, or if they painted the highlights. What amazing hair, no matter what the color!

M.KATE said...

i like reading here, it exposes me to a different world, tks for sharing :)