Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 'The Day Dream'

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 'The Day Dream'

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82)
'The Day Dream'
Portrait of Jane Morris
England
1880
Oil on canvas
Width 92.7 cm x height 158.7 cm
Museum no. CAI 3
Bequeathed by Constatine Alexander
© Ronald Stoops

Here Dante Gabriel Rossetti shows a beautiful woman as sex object, blurring distinctions between the aesthetic and erotic. The model was William Morris' wife, Jane, described by Henry James as 'guiltless of hoops' (meaning she daringly used neither supports nor stays leaving her voluptuous curves explicit). The imagery is as explicit as her body: in an unambiguously erotic gesture with the honeysuckle, she encourages sap to rise. Inspired by a Tennyson poem - 'Her full black ringlets downward roll'd' - Rossetti wrote a sonnet of his own on the frame. His vocabulary suggests a ripe sexuality: 'nursed in mellow intercourse', 'sheathed', 'tongues', 'buds'. Tennyson had written, 'Beyond the night, across the day/Thro' all the world she followed him'. This painting of a predatory woman with a keen sexual appetite is as erotically intense as it was possible to be in 1880.

Stephen Bayley, Guest Curator