Pre-Raphaelite Sisters: Making Art

A conference to be held at the University of York on 12–13 December 2019, in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Pre-Raphaelite Sisters (17 October 2019 – 26 January 2020).

Deadline for abstracts: 28 September 2019.

Keynote speakers confirmed:

  • Dr Jan Marsh (Art Historian and Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London)
  • Kirsty Stonell Walker (Author, Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang)

Opening remarks by Professor Elizabeth Prettejohn.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, Elizabeth Prettejohn wrote:

It is not sufficient merely to add some women to the Pre-Raphaelite canon.  Instead it is a matter of writing a wholly new, and different, story about Pre-Raphaelitism – a story in which the activities of women are no longer incidental, but necessary to the plot.

the art of the pre-raphaelites (London: tate publishing, 2000), p.69.

This two-day conference will take up Prettejohn’s challenge and explore the roles played and diverse contributions made by women to the creation of Pre-Raphaelite art.

According to popular history, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848 when three disillusioned and rebellious young artists undertook to revolutionise the traditional art being produced by the British Royal Academy. In order to fulfil their aim of truth to nature, every detail was painted from life, with members often posing for each other to ensure individualism. They continually sought ‘Stunners’, or models possessing a unique natural beauty, to differentiate their work from the conventional portraits painted by conformist academicians. As well as becoming models, these women also became the artists’ lovers, wives, and in some cases pupils, producing their own works which played a significant role in the development of Pre-Raphaelite art.

The faces of the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters gaze from iconic canvasses such as John Everett Millais’s Ophelia (1851–2, London, Tate Gallery) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Bocca Baciata (1859, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass. USA).  Their male creators are celebrated for their skill and ingenuity, while art history has selectively ignored the critical reality that these works simply would not exist without the contribution made by the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters.

We welcome proposals for twenty-minute papers (or optional ten-minute snapshots for MA students) relating to any aspect of the life, work and aspirations of the twelve women featured in the exhibition (listed below) or any others associated with the Pre-Raphaelite circle:

  • Effie Millais (née Gray, also Mrs John Ruskin)
  • Elizabeth Eleanor Rossetti (née Siddall)
  • Annie Miller (later Mrs Thomas Thompson)
  • Christina Rossetti
  • Joanna Wells (née Boyce)
  • Fanny Cornforth (born Sarah Cox, later Mrs Timothy Hughes and subsequently Mrs John Schott)
  • Georgiana Burne-Jones (née Macdonald)
  • Jane Morris (née Burden)
  • Marie Stillman (née Spartali)
  • Fanny Eaton (née Antwhistle)
  • Maria Zambaco (née Cassavetti)
  • Evelyn de Morgan (née Pickering)

Each of these women is important to the history of Pre-Raphaelitism. Though their backgrounds and lives are wide-ranging, every one of them made a significant contribution to the creation of Pre-Raphaelite art, whether fulfilling the role of model, muse, maker, wife, lover, collector or poet. This contribution demands recognition.

Please submit abstracts (maximum 200 words) to Glenda Youde ( by 28 September 2019.

Header image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rossetti sitting to Elizabeth Siddal, 1853. Pen and ink on paper. Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery. Reproduced under Creative Commons Zero licence (CC0).

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