The Life of Pre-Raphaelite Art Model Annie Miller
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.
Annie was born in 1835 and 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 most impoverished 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 location may have been where she first met the artist William Holman Hunt, although some speculate that he might have known about her existence beforehand while 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 artist William Holman Hunt took the impoverished Annie Miller under his wing, 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 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 in the form of 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 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 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 went as far as eventually replacing 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.
Friendly Competition and Spurned Jealousy
At the time when 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. who 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 that lead to an untimely death.
Of all the Pre-Raphaelite art models and with a twist of irony, the damaged 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.
A buxom matron with a carriage full of children …— William Holman Hunt on Annie Miller some years later.
The Final Years
Annie Miller carried on with life and had two children. She lived in a well-to-do house in an elegant 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 and rose above her notorious reputation to find long-lasting happiness.
Cited Sources & Works
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