Portrait of a Muse
Portrait of a Muse
Frances Graham, Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Dream
The first biography of Frances Graham, the muse of leading Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones for the last 25 years of his life. Her life is a study in power – artistic, social, political, familial, sexual – and fascinating for being played out from a perennial position of weakness. The tale of a remarkable woman living in an age on the cusp of modernity.
‘You haunt me everywhere.’ So wrote Edward Burne-Jones to Frances Graham, his muse for the last 25 triumphant years of his life: ‘I haven’t a corner of my life or my thoughts where you are not’. He drew her obsessively, included her in some of his most famous paintings, and showered her with gifts. Even when she betrayed him to marry, he would return to her. To him ’all the romance and beauty of my life means you.’ This is the first biography of his muse.
What makes a muse? The word conjures up for the artist a human cocoon of sexual allure and worship: part inspiration, part lover and protector. Yet however beguiling, demanding and volatile a muse could be, it remained a life surrendered to the art of another. In Victorian England this was especially so with the hierarchies between the sexes so firmly entrenched. The life of a muse to a Pre-Raphaelite artist was no different: Ruskin and Effie Gray, Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal, both powerfully destructive relationships that ended respectively in divorce and death. The one who survived was Frances Graham. She had a restless, irrepressible intelligence, able to mix at her small dinners politicians and aristocrats with writers, artists and the up and coming, be they Oscar Wilde or Albert Einstein. In time, she became the confidante of three government ministers, including Asquith, the Liberal leader.