Jane Burden (later Jane Morris, 19 October 1839 – 26 January 1914) was an English artists' model who embodied the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of beauty. She was a model and muse to the artists William Morris, whom she married, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who may have been her lover.
Jane Burden was born in Oxford to a stableman named Robert Burden and his wife Ann Maizey. Around the time she was born, her parents were living at St Helen's Passage, in the parish of St Peter-in-the-East, off Holywell Street in Oxford. This has since been marked with a blue plaque. Her mother Ann was illiterate and probably came to Oxford as a domestic servant. Little is known of Jane Burden's childhood, but it was one of poverty and deprivation.
In October 1857, Jane Burden and her sister Elizabeth, known in the family as "Bessie", were attending a performance in Oxford of the Drury Lane Theatre Company. Jane was noticed by the artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones who belonged to a group of artists painting the Oxford Union murals, based on Arthurian tales. Struck by Jane's beauty, they sought her to model for them. Jane initially sat mainly for Rossetti, who needed a model for Queen Guinivere. After this, Jane sat for Morris, who was working on an easel painting, La Belle Iseult (Tate Gallery). Like Rossetti, Morris also used Jane as his model for his rendition of Queen Guinevere. During this period, Morris fell in love with Jane and they were engaged.
Jane Burden's education was extremely limited and she was probably intended to go into domestic service. After her engagement, Jane was privately educated. Her keen intelligence allowed her essentially to recreate herself. She was a voracious reader and became proficient in French and later Italian. She also became an accomplished pianist with a strong background in classical music. Her manners and speech became refined to an extent that contemporaries referred to her as "Queenly". Later in life, she would have no trouble moving in upper class circles and she appears to have been the model for Mrs Higgins in Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1914).
Jane Burden and William Morris lived firstly at the Red House in Bexleyheath, Kent. While there, they had two daughters, Jane Alice "Jenny", born January 1861, and Mary "May" (March 1862 – 1938), who was the editor of her father's works. They then lived for many years at Kelmscott Manor, on the Gloucestershire-Oxfordshire-Wiltshire borders, which is now open to the public. Their lifestyle was both artistic and Bohemian.
In 1884, Jane Morris met the poet and political activist Wilfrid Scawen Blunt at a house party given by her close friend Rosalind Howard (later Countess of Carlisle). There appears to have been an immediate attraction between the two. By 1887 at the latest, the pair had become lovers. Their sexual relationship would continue until 1894, and they remained close friends until Jane's death.
Jane Morris was an ardent supporter of Irish Home Rule.
Paintings of Jane Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:
Photographs of Jane Burden by Rossetti are available at .
By William Morris:
By Evelyn De Morgan:
Possibly based on Jane Burden (Morris) / "Venus Verticordia" — oil — 1863–8. Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth.