Campaign to remember Pre-Raphaelite model

Following the discovery of the answer to a century-old mystery of a Steyning-born Pre-Raphaelite model, a fundraising drive has been launched in Chichester, led by fans of the muse and model Fanny Cornforth, to commemorate her life and contributions to the art world.

Thursday, 20th October 2016, 10:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 1:51 am
Bocca Baciata, 1859, Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Bocca Baciata, 1859, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The beauty behind iconic Pre-Raphaelite paintings Bocca Baciata, The Blue Bower, Found, and Fair Rosamund, Fanny Cornforth is best known as the model and muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It’s been suggested that Cornforth inspired a shift in Rossetti’s artistic style, and Bocca Baciata, his first painting of her, sees the artist begin to experiment with Aesthetic beauty.

Although clearly a significant figure in the Pre-Raphaelite artistic movement, Fanny’s tale is also one of mystery. For many years, she seemed to have disappeared from history after the death of Rossetti in 1882.

Until recently, only the first few acts in the life of Fanny, born Mary Cox in Steyning, were known. After a life spent as Rossetti’s muse and model, Fanny simply vanished in 1906, and although her colleague attempted to find her, the only news he received of her was an indication that she had been taken her to live in Hove as she had become ‘difficult’. This was not the case, as writer and researcher Kirsty Stonell Walker, Fanny’s biographer, discovered. Kirsty traced Fanny’s life through archives, and found out that after being placed in the care of the West Sussex workhouse, Fanny eventually became too much for her landlady to deal with, and she was taken to Graylingwell Hospital, the asylum in Chichester,in1907. There, Fanny contracted bronchitis which developed into pneumonia, and she passed away on February 24, 1909 at the age of 74 years old. She was buried in the Chichester District Cemetery.

#RememberFanny is an initiative, supported by the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, which is hoping to raise money to commission a fitting memorial to Fanny in this cemetery.

Sarah Rance-Riley, who is championing the #RememberFanny campaign, was also the manager of the Graylingwell Heritage Project. This was a Heritage Lottery Funded project which worked with the community to put together a history of the asylum where Fanny spent her last days.

She said: “It really is heartbreaking to know that like others during that period, she was buried in an unmarked grave and essentially forgotten. We hope to remedy this and create a suitable space for people to pay their respects to Fanny in the coming years.”

Support the #RememberFanny campaign at

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