ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Life of Pre-Raphaelite Art Model Alexa Wilding

Updated on May 25, 2019
ziyena profile image

An Arts, Literature and History Buff, Humanities Major, Published Indie Writer, Avid Photographer, and World Foodie & Travel Enthusiast

Alexa Wilding was born an only child into a working-class family. Her father was a piano craftsman and her uncles all butchers. Their trades attested to the fact that her life had not been poverty-stricken.

Luckily, Alexa learned to read and write. By the time she reached the proper age of employment, she had taken up work as a dressmaker despite her calling of becoming a stage actress. Although she’d never physically grace a theatre’s stage, the world would still come to know her, especially the outline of her classical beauty thanks to Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The two happened to cross paths while walking along the Strand.

On the prowl for his next great muse, Rossetti saw her and immediately jumped out of his cab to hail her. He begged for a sitting, and she agreed, but never showed up the next day. Of course, the artist had been disappointed. Weeks went by and he in his misfortune had scrapped any hopes of ever painting the alluring Wilding, but fate had decided their paths would cross once more.

Of all his art models, Rossetti seemed to have treated Alexa with the utmost respect as is evident in a letter of correspondence that she had sent him explaining that of mother’s permission to sit. The message made the situation entirely proper, platonic, and businesslike given the artist’s known penchant for feline philandering:

23 Warwick Lane, Newgate Market. 8 April 1865. Miss Wilding presents her compliments to Mr. Rossetti and will feel obliged if he will send any letters to the above address, as she has obtained her Mamma’s permission to sit for any picture after the specified time of three weeks. I am, Sir, yours respectfully,

A. Wilding.

P.S. If you should require me to sit, let me know, and I will come if possible.

Alexa Wilding: (Lady Lilith – Study for the Head Dante Gabriel Rossetti circa 1872)
Alexa Wilding: (Lady Lilith – Study for the Head Dante Gabriel Rossetti circa 1872) | Source

Women are important in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. But while their faces are seen everywhere – in oil paintings, watercolors, drawings – their voices are never heard.

— JaJan Marsh, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (Quartet Books, 1985)

The Modeling Years

Alexa Wilding may not have been the wife or a lover of Rossetti, but she seemed to be favored for her versatile features more than any other Pre-Raphaelite muse, including the other modeling contemporaries such as his wife Elizabeth Siddal, or Annie Miller. Perhaps the cordial platonic relationship between Rossetti and Wilding provided a safe haven. The artist’s lack of romantic or sexual interest in his muse may have helped him to fully concentrate on his subject without the deterrence of a lover’s persuasion or strife thus achieving the ultimate freedom of expression and inspiration.

Interestingly enough, Wilding was the only art model that had not been connected to him as part of his numerous romantic liaisons. Most likely, the reason for the limited information on her personal history given that she was spared from the spotlight of salacious gossip. In some ways, Alexa could be compared to another of Rossetti’s muses, Jane Burden Morris – in the singular way that she carried herself with comportment – soft-spoken and somewhat refined in manner although not as intellectually stimulating as often described by other acquaintances within the artist’s circle. The historical record shows us that Rossetti found Alexa to be physically beautiful yet somewhat dull and uninteresting. Even still he had not dismissed her as just a passing fancy to be forgotten. On the contrary, the two remained friends for the rest of their lives.

After her modeling stint, Wilding invested her earnings into a boarding house that she ran, which seemed to be a plight for Rossetti as he mentions her in a letter written in 1873, complaining that he had to help Wilding with her financial burden. Forever indebted to his kindness and inspired dedication to making her unknown facade one of the most talked about classical faces in the movement at that time in such paintings as Sibylla Palifera or Veronica Veronese, Alexa remained a faithful friend to the core. Upon and after his death in April of 1882, she had traveled more than once to Birchington-on-Sea to place a wreath at his grave.

Sibylla Palifera by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Sibylla Palifera by Dante Gabriel Rossetti | Source

The Final Years

Throughout the course of her modeling career, Alexa had suffered bouts with a mysterious illness that had kept her from sitting on a few occasions. Rossetti recognized Alexa’s discomfort. Most likely, he much felt guilt over his neglect of his wife, Elizabeth and her untimely death. In turn, these feelings might have caused him considerable concern for Wilding, making sure to send the young woman home for care when predisposed of pain.

Not long after Rossetti’s death, Alexa had been diagnosed with a splenic tumor, and within 16 months she would succumb to peritonitis. She died on April 24th, 1884 at just 39 years old.

Cited Sources & Works

  • Clifford, David and Roussillon, Laurence. Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now. London: Anthem, 2004.
  • Grylls, R. Glynn. Portrait of Rossetti. London: Macdonald, 1964. Pg 114
  • Rossetti Papers:1862 to 1870, ed. W. M. Rossetti, pp. 95-96.
  • Dunn, Henry Treffry, ed. Rosalie Glynn Grylls Mander (1984) Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his circle (Westerham) p. 46.

© 2019 Ziyena Brazos

Comments

Submit a Comment
  • diogenes profile image

    diogenes 

    8 weeks ago from UK and Mexico

    Sad to see such beauty taken at just 39. Life is a lottery for all of us.

    I enjoyed reading about her.

    Bob

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    8 weeks ago from UK

    This is an interesting biographical artical. So sad that she died at a relatively young age.

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)