The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

return to surnames beginning with ''

Fanny Cornforth, 1824-1906

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1824
Place of Birth:
Date of Death: 1906
Place of Death:


Fanny Cornforth, born Sarah Cox, became model, mistress and housekeeper to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Cornforth married Timothy Hughes, a mechanical engineer, ca 1858. However, they quickly separated. In 1879 she married John Schott.


Cornforth met Rossetti ca 1858, before her marriage to Hughes. According to William Bell Scott, Rossetti, finding her on the Strand cracking nuts with her teeth and throwing the shells around, asked her to model for him. She posed for his famous Bocca Baciata (1859; Mrs Suzette M. Zurcher), the first in a series of sensual female half-lengths inspired by the rich colouring of the Venetian masters and also by the physical beauty of Cornforth herself. William Michael Rossetti described her as 'a pre-eminently fine woman, with regular and sweet features, and a mass of the most lovely blonde hair'. She stood in marked contrast to the thin, ethereal Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal whose features had dominated Rossetti's Arthurian watercolours of the 1850s.

In 1859, following her separation with Hughes, Cornforth lived close to Rossetti at Tennyson Street in Battersea. She became Rossetti's mistress, certainly after the death of Elizabeth Rossetti, née Siddal, in 1862 and probably before this date. She moved in with Rossetti at Tudor House, Cheyne Walk, in the winter of 1862, as his housekeeper. Throughout the 1860s she modelled for the artist and appeared in works such as The Blue Bower (1865; Barber Institute of Fine Art, Birmingham) and Lady Lilith (1868; Bancroft Collection, Delaware), works which with their concentration on beauty, colour and music within a boudoir setting bear a close relation to Whistler's paintings of Jo Hiffernan around this date.

Rossetti remained loyal and affectionate to Cornforth throughout his life, calling her his 'Dear Elephant'. In 1868, while he was suffering from depression and failing eyesight, he wanted to make a deed gift of all his property to W. M. Rossetti. Half of the sum he intended for Cornforth. However, Rossetti's family and friends, including W. M. Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, Hall Caine, Frederick James Shields and Algernon Charles Swinburne despised Cornforth because of her lack of breeding, education and intellect.

In September 1877, Cornforth gained a degree of independence from Rossetti when she became the proprietess of the Rose Tavern at 96 Jermyn Street following a loan from her lodger (later husband) John B. Schott.


Rossetti, W. M. (ed.), Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Family Letters with a Memoir, 2 vols, London, 1895; Minto, W. (ed.), Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott, London, 1892; Surtees, Virginia, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882): A Catalogue Raisonné, Oxford, 1971; Rose, Andrea, Pre-Raphaelite Portraits, Oxford, 1981.