The Rags to Riches Life of the Pre-Raphaelite Art Model Annie Miller
The Early Years
A street urchin, gutter rat, lice-ridden, wild and filthy - these are just a few unapologetic words associated with the famed Annie Miller as described by neighbors and acquaintances who witnessed her growing up in her earliest years. Annie had an unfortunate start in life.
Born in 1835, she was reared as a motherless child with a war veteran father plagued with ill health, in light of these harsh circumstances, unintentional neglect allowed her free reign over the poorest streets of Chelsea.
Eventually, Annie and her father moved in with relatives and by the time she became of age, she took on work as a barmaid at a local pub. This may have been where she first met the artist William Holman Hunt although some speculate that he might have known about her existence even before when growing up on the streets, running rampant, dirty and wild. Unbeknownst to Annie, their meeting was the beginning of what most would consider a very fortunate yet tumultuous relationship.
"She looked more beautiful than ever."
~ George Price Boyce remarks about Annie while sitting for a portrait by artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The Modeling Years
From the moment when artist William Holman Hunt took the impoverished Annie Miller under his wing, there's no doubt that he had envisioned her as his ultimate Pre-Raphaelite muse and future wife. He invested in her - taking the painstaking steps of molding her into the reverent version of a woman who he had hoped for - on and off the canvas - enhancing her appearance with feminine finery and spared no expense by giving her a proper education.
In 1854, Hunt traveled to the Palestinian Holy Land, leaving Annie with strict instruction - a list of trusted fellow artists she was allowed to work with like John Everett Millais. However, not on his list were no other than Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George Price Boyce, both known to be ardent womanizers. Little did Hunt know that Annie shrugged off his possessive demands - she had a free-minded spirit and iron will of her very own.
When Hunt returned from his two-year stint, he found that everything he had counted on involving Annie had backfired on him. Not only had she fallen in league with Rossetti and Boyce whom he had warned her about, but also taken up with the questionable company of Lord Ranelagh, a notorious womanizer known throughout London's high society.
Rumors had circled that she had been seen in the Chelsea Pleasure Gardens with Rossetti, or strolling on the arm of Boyce, and possibly having an illicit affair with Ranelagh. Altogether incensed, Hunt had had enough of Annie's gallivanting and called off their relationship and financial support. His fury did not stop at just ending his ties - he also went as far as eventually replacing her face from one of his most prized works, (1853) for that of another art model and his soon-to-be wife, Fanny Waugh. The Awakening Conscience
"The very hem of the poor girl's dress, at which the painter has labored so closely, thread by thread, has a story in it, if we think how soon its pure whiteness may be soiled with dust and rain, her outcast feet failing in the street"
- Art Critic John Ruskin to the Times on 25 May 1854 about The Controversy
Friendly Competition and Spurned Jealousy
At the time Hunt ended his relationship with Annie, both Rossetti and Boyce immediately vied for the spurned model's attention to sit for them. Of course, Rossetti had won the competition hands down, creating such works as Dante's Dream and the unforgettable Helen of Troy.
Rossetti's enchantment with Annie seemed to create a rift in his relationship with his wife, art model Elizabeth Siddal whom purportedly became so furious over his time with Miller that she had thrown his paintings of her out the window. Some might even speculate that Siddal's jealousy was caused due to her bouts of depression. leading to an untimely death.
Of all the Pre-Raphaelite art models, including names such as Fanny Cornforth, Jane Morris Burden or Alexa Wilding - Annie seemed to have flourished happily despite her fangled relationship with Hunt. After the alleged liaison with Ranelagh, she fell in love with his cousin, Captain Thomas Thomson and they eventually married.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Affection
The Sittings of Annie MillerClick thumbnail to view full-size
"a buxom matron with a carriage full of children"
- William Holman Hunt about Annie Miller some years later
The Final Years
Annie Miller carried on with life and had two children, lived in a well-to-do house in a fine neighborhood, and remained married to the same man for more than 50 years. The beautifully renowned art model died in 1925 at the ripe old age of 90 years having lived her life to the fullest - she managed to transcend a poverty-stricken childhood by her own free will - rose above her notorious reputation and found a long-lasting happiness.
Marsh, Jan. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Painter, and Poet. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999. Pg 49
Marsh, Jan, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, Quartet, 1985, p.228
Stephanie Graham Piña. Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood: Annie Miller, July 8th, 2008: http://preraphaelitesisterhood.com/annie-miller/
The Victorian Web. Portrait of Annie Miller: http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/dgr/drawings/18.html
© 2018 Ziyena Brazos