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The Pre-Raphaelite Art Model: Annie Miller

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An Arts Major and Published Indie Author who writes on various subjects pertaining to Humanities.

Portrait of Annie Miller - Il Dolce far Niente - 1859 by William Holman Hunt

Portrait of Annie Miller - Il Dolce far Niente - 1859 by William Holman Hunt

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.

Born in 1835 and reared as a motherless child with a war veteran father plagued with ill health, it’s no wonder Annie grew up wily. Considering these harsh circumstances, unintentional neglect allowed her free rein over the most impoverished streets of Chelsea, London.

Annie and her father moved in with relatives. By the time she became of age, she took on work as a barmaid at the local Cross Keys pub where she first met the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. Some researchers speculate the artists might have already known of her existence beforehand while growing up on the streets, running rampant, dirty and wild. Unbeknownst to Annie, their meeting was what most would consider a very fortunate, yet tumultuous relationship.

 The Awakening Conscience (1853) by Pre-Raphaelite Artist William Holman Hunt

The Awakening Conscience (1853) by Pre-Raphaelite Artist William Holman Hunt

Art Modeling Career

From the moment the enthused Hunt took the impoverished Annie under his wing, he had envisioned her as his ultimate muse and future wife. He invested in her, taking the painstaking steps of molding her into the respectful 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 as a list of trusted fellow artists she could work with like John Everett Millais. However, he omitted Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George Price Boyce from the list, both known to be ardent womanizers. Little did Hunt know Annie shrugged off his possessive demands thanks to her free-minded spirit and iron will to do as she pleased.

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 she had 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 visited Chelsea Pleasure Gardens with Rossetti, seen strolling on the arm of Boyce, and having an illicit romantic 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 replaced her face from one of his most prized works, The Awakening Conscience (1853) for that of another art model and his soon-to-be wife, Fanny Waugh, as seen in the image above.

Portrait of Art Model:  Annie Miller by Pre-Raphaelite Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Portrait of Art Model: Annie Miller by Pre-Raphaelite Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti

She looked more beautiful than ever …

— George Price Boyce remarks about Annie while sitting for a portrait by artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Friendly Competition and Spurned Jealousy

When Hunt ended his relationship with Annie, both Rossetti and Boyce 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 as seen in the image below.

Rossetti’s enchantment with Annie seemed to create a rift in his relationship with his wife, art model Elizabeth Siddal, who became so furious over his time with Miller that she had thrown his paintings of her out the window. Some researchers speculate that Siddal’s jealousy was because of her bouts of depression that lead to an unforeseen death.

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A copy of Rossetti's 'Helen of Troy' modeled by Annie Miller and painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Resides at London's National Portrait Gallery.

A copy of Rossetti's 'Helen of Troy' modeled by Annie Miller and painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Resides at London's National Portrait Gallery.

Miller's Final Years

Of all the Pre-Raphaelite art models, the damaged Annie seemed to have flourished the most despite her fangled relationship with Hunt. After the alleged liaison with Ranelagh, she fell in love with his cousin, Captain Thomas Thomson, and they married.

Annie Miller carried on with her life. She bore two children and lived in a well-to-do neighborhood. Given her humble beginnings and the unstable amorous choices of her youth, there’s no lack of surprise that she remained married to the same man for over 50 years.

The renowned art model died in 1925 at the ripe old age of 90 years. Having lived her life to the fullest, through a twist of fate she transcended a poverty-stricken childhood by her own free will and rose above her notorious reputation to find long-lasting happiness.

Most Recent Art Discovery of Annie Miller

  • The Harp Player
    Dante Gabriel Rossetti finished this drawing around 1857. W. H. Doeg originally bought the artwork from DGR in 1872. Sotheby's auctioned the find in March 1971, item 128. Maas Gallery sold artwork to a Private Collection in June 1996.

Cited Sources and Works

  • The Rosseti Archive
  • Marsh, Jan. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Painter, and Poet. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999. Pg 49
  • The Victorian Web. Portrait of Annie Miller
  • Kirsty Stonell Walker. Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang: Fifty Makers, Shakers and Heartbreakers from the Victorian Era – Unicorn Publishing Group, February 15, 2020
  • Marsh, Jan, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, Quartet, 1985, p.228
  • Stephanie Graham Piña. Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood: Annie Miller, July 8th, 2008
  • Angelica Frey, The Women of Pre-Raphaelite Art , Art &Object, November 4th, 2020. Retrieved 01/15/2021

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 ziyena


ziyena (author) from the Somewhere Out There on April 15, 2021:

Very much an empowered woman born before her time ... really, all of them! Thank You

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 14, 2021:

Ziyena, I always learn from these well-written articles about Pre-Raphaelite models.

Annie Miller sounds like a woman I would have befriended had I lived in her time. She led life on her own terms, which proved to provide the pot at the end of the rainbow for her.

Excellent article, Ziyena!

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