Janey Morris: Pre-Raphaelite Muse

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2014 marks the centenary of Jane Morris’s death, and to mark this the National Portrait Gallery have a small exhibition devoted to images of Janey. This includes photographs and paintings of her friends and family, including a marvellous, though unsmiling, photographic portrait of the Morris and Burne-Jones families which gives a real sense of how closely the families were entwined (and explains why the children were described as ‘medieval brutes’). The images of May and Jenny, the Morris children, are appealing but they are in many ways only a shadow of their more dramatic mother: the star images here are the late photographs of Jane by Emery Walker.

These are a series taken in 1898 at Kelmscott. Georgiana Burne- Jones described Jane at this stage as ‘still a splendid looking creature’, and so she is – serious, dramatic, melancholy, she is pictured here in profile (still that strong line of her earlier image) and straight on, facing down the camera with a challenging stare. In one, she gazes slightly past the camera, as if she has lost interest and is thinking about something more important – what to have for dinner, perhaps…
I’m slightly dubious about the decision to use the affectionate diminutive Janey in the title of the exhibit – though Morris and others called her this, it seems a little patronising (and not something we do for all historical figures). Although small, though, this exhibition is worth a look: I can’t say it added to my knowledge of Jane Morris, but I left feeling as though I had encountered the woman herself and seen something mysterious in her eyes.

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You can read more about Jane Morris at the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood site.

One comment

  1. I agree with you – the 1898 photographs are amazing!

    The Morris/Burne-Jones family photograph is very well known. It wasn’t the habit to smile for the camera, perhaps because of the long exposure time.

    I was fascinated by the carte de visite, “The Pilgrims of Siena”, and by the photograph of Marie Spartali Stillman and her son.

    In the corridor outside there was a bust of George Whyte-Melville, nothing to do with Morris but a Northamptonshire man. Across the fields by our house is the village of Boughton and its pub, “The Whyte-Melville”.

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