Monday, 19 November 2007
Jane was born in 1839 in St Helen’s Passage just off Holywell, in Oxford. It was a slum area known as Hell’s Passage. There are numerous descriptions of how she first met the Pre-Raphaelites but they all say that she met them at the theatre in Oxford in 1857.
Jane was eventually persuaded to pose for Rossetti at his lodgings in George Street. He wanted her to sit for a sequence of studies of Guenevere for the Arthurian frescoes he was creating at the Oxford Union with his new acolytes, including the young William Morris. Rossetti did not remain painting Jane for long - his fiancé, Lizzie Siddal called him to her sick bed. Morris took over where his friend left off and began painting Jane as Iseult, but had little aptitude for figurative painting. On the back of the painting he wrote “I cannot paint you but I love you”. Whatever Jane may have felt for Rossetti, he had a fiance and Morris was a wealthy man who seemed to love her passionately. As a poverty stricken girl who was only considered a beauty by Rossetti and his friends and who had compromised her reputation by modelling for artists there was nothing else she could do but accept Morris’s proposal, whether she cared for him or not.
Jane and Morris’s engagement was announced in the spring of 1858. Morris went off on holiday to France with Philip Webb and Charley Faulkner for some months after the engagement, during which time it has been thought that Jane went through some sort of grooming to prepare her for life as Morris’s wife.
Jane and William were married at St Michael’s Parish Church in Oxford on 26th April 1859. There is no record of the Morris family attending the wedding. Jane’s father and sister signed the marriage register. From that day forward her life was changed irrevocably.
Above is a view of the corner of Holywell Street, Oxford, photographed in 1880. William Morris would have seen Oxford just like this on 15th August 1880, when he stopped over for the night on his journey down the Thames on a boat he called “the Ark”. Jane had travelled down to Kelmscott by rail where she waited patiently for him to arrive.
Posted by Teresa Howard at Monday, November 19, 2007