Fanny Cornforth: Pre-Raphaelite muse and ‘patron saint of overlooked women’ to get memorial she deserves

[This story was published on January 16 on the i News website. Read the original story at inews.co.uk/essentials/culture/arts/fanny-cornforth-pre-raphaelite-muse-patron-saint-overlooked-women-get-memorial-deserves.]

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A campaign to create a memorial for a working class woman who became one of the most recognisable faces in Pre-Raphaelite art, only to be largely forgotten by history, has hit its fundraising target.

Fanny Cornforth was the model and muse who inspired an experimental shift in the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, leading to his famous representations of ‘aesthetic beauty’, but was then relegated to the background of the artistic movement. Rossetti’s elite companions disliked Cornforth’s supposed lack of breeding and intellect and never accepted her, pressuring him to end their relationship.

Erasure from Pre-Raphaelite history

Until recently, how Cornforth spent her final years remained a mystery. In 1906, Cornforth vanished and although Rossetti collector Samuel Bancroft attempted to find her, he was incorrectly informed she had become ‘difficult’ and was moved from London to live in Hove as a result.

It was only after the National Archives publicly released the Lunacy Records of Britain in 2015 that writer and researcher Kirsty Stonell Walker, Cornforth’s biographer, discovered the truth of her last days and final resting place.

West Sussex Lunatic Asylum

It transpired that Cornforth had been placed in the care of the West Sussex workhouse before being admitted to the West Sussex Lunatic Asylum in 1907, where she would remain until her death in 1909.

After being maligned by the art world, sent against her will to a workhouse, admitted to a lunatic asylum, buried in a common grave and forgotten by history, the team behind the #RememberFanny project decided this important icon deserves a better commemoration.

Patron saint of overlooked women

Ms Stonell Walker told i Cornforth is “the patron saint of overlooked women” and always “in the background of so many stories about other people”.

Not only did Cornforth play a key role in the Pre-Raphaelite art movement, but she was also influential in establishing a major collection of Rossetti’s work, which eventually became part of the Delaware Art Museum.

#RememberFanny

#RememberFanny is a fundraising initiative led by a team based in Chichester, the location of Cornforth’s final resting place, which aims to commission local artists to create a fitting memorial to mark this site.

The project’s initial target of £1,500 has now been reached and the #RememberFanny team has now moved the target to £2,200.

The memorial will be a carved bench with an inlaid stone or metal plaque with some fitting words and Cornforth’s portrait located near her grave at Chichester District Cemetery.

Any additional funds will go towards another bench at the nearby Graylingwell Chapel, on the site where the hospital once stood.

This chapel is currently being transformed into a multi-purpose community venue. The project team hopes that Cornforth’s tribute can be unveiled on 9 April.

Ms Stonell Walker said: “This is the date of Rossetti’s death and in the eyes of many of his contemporaries it should have been the day that Fanny was wiped from Pre-Raphaelite history. I think it is wonderfully and wickedly fitting that we should unveil the memorial to her on that day.”

Fundraising will continue until the end of January. Donations can be made here. West Sussex artists interested in getting involved with this project can also contact the GoFundMe page.

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