Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Your Favourite Fanny: Perfect Pastels and Charming Chalks

Here we go with the last part!  Remember I want you to give me your votes on all three sections: the oils, the drawings and today's category, the chalk pictures of Fanny Cornforth.

In many ways, this has to be the section I have looked forward to the most because I think Rossetti was at his best when he was using pastels.  Unfortunately, his chalk pictures tended to coincide with failures in his health so I wonder if the medium held negative connotations for him?  He certainly could create a stunning quantity of beauty with those powdery little sticks...

Fair Rosamund (1861)
While I adore the oil of this image, the pastel is delicious.  Without all the clever detail and colour, Fanny stands before us, unadorned and leaning against a wall, awaiting her turn.  I love the way her hair is pressed up on the right-hand side as she rests against it.  The simplicity of the image makes it special.  It is a woman waiting her turn with her lover, which, in 1861, was exactly what Fanny was.

Lady Lilith (1866)
Despite the limited palette of colour used by Rossetti in his chalks, they normally have a very naturalistic look about them, unlike this striking rendering of Lady Lilith, aflame in red.  Somewhere between 'Woman Combing Her Hair' and 'Lady Lilith', this picture has a domestic feel, unlike the finished oil of the punishing devil-woman.  She is lost in thought, lost in her brushing and preparations for you and means you no harm at all.  The final, finished Lady Lilith looks like she will eat you alive if she can be bothered to look away from her own reflection for a few minutes.

Fanny Cornforth (1868)
When people talk about chalks and Fanny, they tend to mean this image.  It is possibly the most famous of his chalk pictures of Fanny and is very pretty indeed.  I have read many times how flattering this image is, as if by 1868 Fanny couldn't be pretty still, being all fat and knocking on a bit (at early 30s) and how he was buying her silence with pictures for her to sell.  What nonsense and how insulting to reduce the relationship of two people to such a crude smudge.  I think it is a warm and comforting image of someone he was extremely fond of.

Woman with a Fan (1870)
Seated in a similar fashion to Lady Lilith, here we have the glorious Fanny with a fan (pun-tastic!) looking magnificent.  I always imagine her in a white frock, possibly due to her being described in one in William Allingham's Diary, chasing the peacocks in Rossetti's back garden.  She looks out at us with challenge and I often think she is saying 'Go on, just try and shift me!'  This is a picture of Fanny, the adversary and I don't fancy the chances of anyone coming up against her.

Fanny Cornforth (1874)

Obviously I'm going to finish with the trio of chalks from 1874 because they are brilliant and I can't just feature just one.  Firstly, we have Fanny in her frilly lace collar, looking respectable.  That great wheel of hair plaited over her head gets me every time.  It's such a chunky braid, you can almost feel the weight of it, crowning her.

Fanny Cornforth (1874)
I love this picture of her, looking to the other side, her expression sharp.  She was still so beautiful, even if he had romanticised her (as he did with all the women).  The thing I love about the final chalks is that they were life size, if not bigger, so when you see them, it's like you are looking at Fanny and she is looking back.  Again, it is said that he drew these for her to sell, but she kept them for a long time so I doubt that to be the whole story.

Fanny Cornforth (1874)
If I had to declare a favourite, it might be this one, where she is nudey and pink.  Again her incredible hair is what draws me to her, just the sheer quantity of it.  At this point in their relationship, she had reclaimed him once more from his 'affair' with Jane, but she had won him back in a sorry state.  Rather than these being a pay-off, I wonder if they are a thank you for being there when he limped home.  His eyes were failing him, his mind was failing him, but she never would.

Right then, vote on, my Chums.  You can leave your comments here, on The Stunner's Boudoir on Facebook, or direct to me at  All in all, I need your vote for an oil, a sketch and a pastel (or any combination you feel like).  I have been mightily impressed with your response so far, so keep them coming.  I will reveal your favourites on PRB Day in September, so you have plenty of time...


  1. Definitely I'm going to vote for 'Fair Rosamund'. Absolutely lovely! But the colour of 'Woman with a Fan' reminds me of the chalk version of 'Prosperine'. I do love Rossetti's chalk drawings.

  2. Dear Kirsty
    This is the most difficult one I think, because, I agree with you that chalks are where Rossetti is at his best. I think they are all beautiful, but Fair Rosamund gets my vote here - the expression is so moving and tender.
    Best wishes

  3. They are all gorgeous. I'll vote for Woman with a Fan.

  4. Once again a difficult decision! But I have to go for Fair Rosamund - it's just so beautiful; there is a lot of thought and tenderness in that drawing. I think Rossetti's chalk portraits are the most lovely of his works.

  5. More torture! I could look at these all night, enjoying the details of each of them. But I'm drawn to the wistfulness and beautiful mouth of Fair Rosamund. She appears to be pining for her lover, so vulnerable. Did Rossetti ever see Fanny this way? Did he reproduce an idea, or did he draw what he saw?

  6. It will have to be Lady Lilith 1866 for me. I love the way she emerges from the darkness of the paper.

  7. I like Lady Lilith the best, though I can't imagine anyone with that quantity of hair combing it in that odd manner - artist's licence I guess! Also, I find it a bit sad that none of the pictures these past few days are happy at all. Not even a hint of a smile for Fanny anywhere. Was she told to stay serious ala most of the runway models of today who look grim in their couture, or was she just feeling that way while posing?

  8. I'll go for the second of the 1874 trio, the one in the gold frame. I've never seen any of these three, where are they?

  9. The 'frameless' two are in Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum and the one shown in the frame is at Harvard as part of the Fogg collection. The Harvard one was unidentified for ages but is obviously Fanny if you put it next to the other one with her dressed and styled the same.

    Thanks for your vote!

  10. I love Rossetti's pastels (especially because I was never very good with pastels). I have to admit to being partial to Confrontational Fanny (Fanny with a fan!) because I love the composition: Rossetti's soft and decorative framing devices with the square shapes. And probably because I'm fond of the colors green and coppery brown together...

  11. Woman with a Fan is my favourite - I love seeing Fanny in a confrontational mood. :)


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx