Friday, 26 February 2016

Fanny Cornforth: The Style Edition

Here we are at the end of our first Fanny-versary and after all the reading and stuff we've had this week I thought I'd end on a post to do with the visual.  It will come as no surprise to you that I am planning on knitting a Fanny Cornforth (I urge you not to google 'knitted fanny') and I was considering her dress and jewellery.  What would I dress her in?  Such decisions!

Fanny in the garden, 1863
Starting with fashion, we have at least two photographs of her ostensibly in her own clothes.  In the  photographs we have of her in the garden of Tudor House in Chelsea, she is wearing a voluminous dress with the half cape coming from the top of the sleeves.  It seems to have a sash with the same ruffled ribbon edging that goes around the collar, the cape and down the front.

Fanny at the mirror, 1863
I recently asked people what colour they thought the dress was because I hadn't really thought about it (other than unconsciously thinking it was dark grey).  The general concensus was that it was either dark green or blue, so I wondered if it was that wonderful sea green colour that Jane Morris often wore in Rossetti's art as that would have looked marvellous with Fanny's corn-coloured hair.  I was also interested by the chain that hooks on a button and attaches to her waist.  It's either a chatelaine or maybe a watch.  It's easier to see the ruffles along the edge of her cape in the mirror picture.  You can also see her earrings, but we'll come to those.

Fanny Asleep (1860s) D G Rossetti
Similar to her dress in the 1863 photographs is this dress which appears in many of Rossetti's drawings.  No ruffles around the top and certainly no cape, this is a full-skirted dress with frills around the bottom and a gathered bodice which Fanny secures with a brooch at the throat.

Fanny Sewing (1860s) D G Rossetti
It would be tempting to think this is the same dress as in the above drawing but whereas the sleeves in the first drawing are tight from the elbow down, these seem to gather at the wrists.  However, the bodice has a similar design, with the brooch at the throat.

Fanny Cornforth (1860s) D G Rossetti
In a few of Rossetti's drawings, Fanny's mass of hair is controlled by a hairnet or snood.  The dress she's wearing in this picture is without the brooch but I think it is the same dress, and I think it is the one in this oil portrait...

Fanny Cornforth (c.1860) D G Rossetti
If we believe the colouring in the painting to be truthful, Fanny's dress appears to be a bronze-brown.  It does seem to be cut in the same style as the ones in the drawings and it would make sense that it wouldn't be as ostentatious as the one she chose for the photographs.  This appears to be an everyday dress, although it isn't the dress we have an eye-witness account of...

Woman with a Fan (1870) D G Rossetti
In William Allingham's diary of 1864, he describes a visit to Rossetti's house on 27 June, where at half past eight in the morning he saw Fanny, dressed all in white, eating strawberries and looking at the 'chicking' (her plural of chicken).  The white dress she wears in the 1870 pastel Woman with a Fan is in a similar style to her earlier dresses, with lots of frills, but possibly the white dress she was wearing in 1864 was more like this...

Fazio's Mistress (1863-73) D G Rossetti
Hello Saucy! When you are pretty, buttons are obviously optional...

Bocca Baciata (1859) D G Rossetti

 Just visible beneath Fanny's black and golden braid jacket is a white chemise.  The dress she wears in Fazio's Mistress has somewhat transparent sleeves, leading me to suspect it's undergarments rather than a frock.  Mind you, I remember being surprised to find out that the seemingly substantial white dress worn by the mistress in Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience was actually her underclothes, hence the shawl around her waist.  It would be far too rude for her to be sat on a gentleman's knee in just her petticoats.  Dear me!  Anyway, back to Fanny's underwear...

Lady Lilith (Alexa edition) D G Rossetti
Although the face is Alexa, the boobs are still Fanny and so is what is barely hanging on to them. This is the sort of flimsy white affair that I suspect is going on beneath Bocca Baciata's jacket, and is very similar to Fazio's Mistress.  Heavens to Betsy! Anyway, as outrageous as Fanny was I don't believe she chased chickens around the garden in her underwear (although, to be honest, I have, but we'll move on).  The dress in the 1870 chalk is more likely the sort of thing she was wearing when Allingham saw her.  I can't imagine the Lady Lilith dress is warm enough, let alone the nightmare of keeping it up...

The Blue Bower (1865) D G Rossetti
It could be that the fur on the chair of Lady Lilith is from the same garment Fanny is wearing in The Blue Bower, and the green jacket might actually be an unbuttoned dress, possibly from one of the drawings at the top.  There is certainly a lot of fabric here but I think the attention of the viewer is immediately attracted to her hair clip and necklace. When I was last in Paris I was lucky enough to buy a copy of the necklace from the Musee D'Orsay shop...

Me in Paris in 2012 with my awesome necklace
Rossetti paintings are often known through the amazing jewellery he used - the pearl spiral pin being a special case, dotted in various models' hair from Jane Morris to Alexa.  From the diamond tassel-y thing hanging from Fanny's hair in Bocca Baciata to the costume jewellery necklaces, his 'performace jewellery' is as flashy and luxurious as the women he used. 

Fair Rosamund (1861) D G Rossetti

Regina Cordium (1860)
I had never looked at Regina Cordium and Fair Rosamund side by side before and today I was struck by the similarities, not least the coral bead necklace. In Fair Rosamund it is meant to symbolise the thread that will lead her lover and murder to her and her blood that will be spilt. In Regina Cordium it could be just another layer of red to add to the hair the background and the blush on her cheek, but it is tempting to read in some foreshadowing, like in How They Met Themselves.  If I was feeling naughty I might suggest that the two women, one wife and one mistress, are wearing the same frock as they both sit there, clutching flowers that represent their love.

Found (1852-1882) (and even then it wasn't finished)

Found sketch of Fanny (c.1856)
Rossetti liked to collect items of jewellery to use in his paintings, but on occasions the pieces seem to have belonged to the models, or at least adopted by them as a signature piece or talisman.  The earrings that first appear in the head sketch for Found are known in this household as the 'Fanny earrings' as they appear time and time again...

Fanny Cornforth (1860s) D G Rossetti
Look back up at some of the other sketches, not to mention the mirror photograph and you will see the same looped rings hanging from Fanny's lobes all through the 1860s.  You can even see them glinting through her hair in the oil circular portrait.   By Woman with a Fan she is wearing the flowers that are the same as Monna Vanna, and her earrings in 1874 are some grand affairs, but whenever I see a sketch of a Rossetti model I have to identify, I always look for the two linked rings hanging from her ears.

Fanny Cornforth (1874) D G Rossetti
 By the end of her modelling life, Fanny is back in a ruffled white dress, but not out chasing the 'chicking' anymore because her lover was spending more and more time away from home.  Even in her swansong as a model, she has her jewellery on, leading me to conclude that she liked to wear them in a way that was probably frowned on by people looking for an excuse to frown on Fanny. While Alexa is bedecked with gems in her paintings and Jane Morris' stately throat is encircled with golden ropes, teardrops of precious metals fall from Fanny's earlobes like jewel-like tears, like riches she can barely hang on to. 

How unfortunately apt...


  1. Loved this post! Do you know if you can order the necklace you bought in Paris on line?

  2. I think Rossetti, would have thrown them all out, if you strolled by!
    Leonardo used other body parts as well ( if I read correctly?)
    Thank you for such a wonderful story! I'm smarter for your hard work!

  3. Dear Kirsty
    I have really enjoyed the 'Fanny-versary' posts. She is lucky to have you as a champion to keep her memory as a real person, as well as a beautiful muse, alive.
    Best wishes


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