Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Having it away...

Nothing cheers me up like an illicit liaison.  Okay, maybe not exactly what I mean, but in times of stress and general malaise there is nothing like escapist, naughty romance to brighten the otherwise dreary firmament. With that in mind, I went in search of some scandal...

The Tryst Jean Leon Gerome
Nothing like a chap on a camel, stealing a kiss from his lady-love.  Do you think that is why camels have such long legs? Maybe that's why they always look remarkably hacked off. Poor noble creatures, ships of the desert forced to hang around while their friend smooches up someone they fancy.  No, hang on, that was me at school discos. This chap is obvious rich enough to employ a servant and own a camel so you have to wonder why they have to smooch illicitly.  Maybe its because he's the sort of bloke who smooches your daughter through the bars of her window...

The Tryst (no really, again) Jean Leon Gerome
From the other side, you can see that rather than have a camel indoors, she stands on her maid.  She stands on her maid!  That's just rude.  They are welcome to each other. I've never felt so utterly seized by passion that I've stood on domestic staff.  Buy a step ladder, for heavens sake. Don't stand on the woman who makes your dinner.

Welcome Step (1883) Lawrence Alma Tadema
This is more like it. I'm sure I've hidden somewhere, waiting for the object of my affections.  Sorry, that sounded a little scary, like I've waited in a hedge with some binoculars.  What I mean is that I've listened out for their step on the stair, the sound of their knackered Ford Fiesta spluttering down the road.  This young lady has brought a nice tiger skin rug with her to make the trysting more comfy, and her lover has brought flowers because chicks love flowers.  I rather love her necklace, those amber beads seem to glow with excitement.

The Intercepted Love Letter Carl Spitzweg
If you wish to have a passionate affair with the woman downstairs, be careful who you dangle your missives of love in front of.  This young man wishes to woo the industrious young lady, but she's so busy sewing it's the woman in the enormous bonnet who sees him lowering his love letter from above.  The woman looks really shocked - I wonder if it's addressed to 'Mrs Sexy Knickers'.  I wonder if she thinks it for her?

The Indiscretion (1895) Constant Aime Marie Cap
Not sure what is so indiscreet about this image, but then maybe peeking inside a ladies carriage is particularly saucy.  I'm guessing she's not flashing him a boob from behind the fan, although the open fan may signify 'I well up for it, Handsome!' or something more elegant but amounting to the same. Holding an open fan in your left hand means 'stop talking to that woman', which is odd as he's talking to her.  She has flowers in the carriage, and possibly has been out seeing her official, acceptable gentleman acquaintance.  On the way home, however, her carriage comes to a halt and this chap, I won't say 'gentleman', sneaks a look in as if to say 'Hello Ladies!  Going my way?'  What a saucepot!

An Idyll Hans Olaf Heyerdahl
Look, don't judge me, but snogging your beloved down a grim back alley is not my idea of a sparkling indiscretion.  Lawks, it looks bleak, maybe the kissing makes it better.  Because it looks so grey and broken, the only fun these two can have is with each other, with their eyes shut.  At least then you won't have to look at how much that gate needs mending.  Really, who can get up to saucy nonsense with that back gate? It would put me right off.

Temptation Gustav Osterman
Hurrah!  This is much more like it.  If you do wish to seduce me, please do it on a lovely sofa.  Look at the brocade on that!  Again, I am a sucker for a satin dress, and the nefarious possibilities of masks.  This shiny young lady has slipped hers off as a young man approaches. Her fan is shut which might mean 'Do you love me?'.  If she held it shut against her heart it would mean 'You have my heart', but I'm not sure what holding it shut on your lap meant. Well, I'm far too much of a lady to say so.  I am reliably informed that opportunities for illicit liaisons were rife at masked balls, which is cheering, especially when you consider the large quantity of satin and gorgeousness that were around.  On a chilly, dark November day, it's rather delightful to think of having your satin crushed by some nice chap on a rather splendid sofa. That would brighten up a Wednesday no end.

Whilst in no way endorsing adultery, I do recommend a bit of saucy Victorian art to cheer you up as the days get shorter and chillier.  The inevitable drag of commercialised Christmas hell might get you down but if you take a little time to yourself to live vicariously through Victorians up to saucy shenanigans then I'm sure we'll all make it through December.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Review: Time and the Tapestry

Here I am again, recommending loveliness that I have been sent to review.  Goodness me, it's a wonderful perk of the job that I get to see such marvellous stuff and then ramble on about it to you lot.  This week I have the pleasure of reviewing Time and the Tapestry by John Plotz...


Subtitled 'A William Morris Adventure', the story begins on a rainy Monday afternoon in the front room of Jen and Ed's Grandma's house. Jen (age 13) and Ed (age 10) live with Grandma since the death of their parents, but her finances are looking shaky.  All they have left is a tapestry from her time at Morris and Co.  That and a talking blackbird called Mead. In an Alice-esque moment Jen and Ed tumble into the tapestry and find themselves not in Wonderland, but in Victorian England, hot on the heels of William Morris, who maybe able to help them mend the tapestry and save their Grandma's house.

Detail of Jen and Ed flying on the back of Mead
Along the way, they visit Oxford, London, Kelmscott and Iceland, finding knights, dragons, viking ships and members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The children have a quest but will Mead the blackbird be able to carry them home?

William Morris and his Trellis design

John Plotz has brought the world of William Morris alive in an unexpected way.  This book is aimed at children, yet I thoroughly enjoyed the rip-roaring adventure, tracing the items that are listed in a poem while simultaneously telling the story of Morris' life.  The illustrations by Phyllis Saroff are beautifully detailed and reminded me in a way of Kit Williams' work, with the same love of nature and close study.

A horse at Kelmscott
The book is perfect for parents who want to introduce their children to the world of William Morris.  Morris is portrayed as a visionary, a tireless worker, a man of infinite imagination.  It is lovely to see him as such a positive character, freed from any taint of cuckold.  The children's interaction with him and May Morris are the strength of the book and give you a glimpse of what an amazing family they were.  Their achievements both artistic and political are addressed here, together with Morris' own personal journey from acolyte to leader.


Finally, I must say how much I appreciated the note in the back explaining the typeface used in the book.  It is set in Golden Type ITC Standard, a modern font closely based on Gold Type, designed by Morris and Emery Walker for the Kelmscott Press.  It is such attention to detail and love of the subject that makes this book a delight to read. 

You can get a copy from Amazon UK here and US here

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Remembrance of Things to Come


Today is about remembering.  The last few days challenged us to comprehend the way the First World War affected us as nations and individuals.  From poppies in buttonhole, to the Cenotaph, to people all over the whole remaining silent for 120 seconds, the act of remembering has been both unavoidable and almost insurmountable.  If you stop to think about how 100 years ago people went off to war unaware of how utterly it would alter us, it seems a cruelty as vicious as the war itself.  We have an image of the Edwardians, frivolous and careless, stumbling a generation of young men into a muddied hell, but were they really as innocent as all that?  My post today is a harbinger of what was to come, a painting that foreshadowed so much.

The Boer War, 1900-1901 Last Summer Things were Greener (1901) John Byam Liston Shaw
 True story: I got Mr Walker to watch both The Sound of Music and Gone With the Wind because I told him they were war movies.  So they both are, and this painting is war art, although if you had to guess the theme of it, it is unlikely that would be high on your list.  A woman gazes out over a river, lost in thought.  She is a lone black mark in the lush summer foliage, and we can assume from her dress that she is bereaved. The title gives us a context, a cause for her grief.  


The second part of the title comes from the poem ‘A Bird Song’ by Christina Rossetti: ‘Last Summer things were greener, / Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer.’ The poem is about waiting, putting your life on hold while a loved one is away.  The narrator of Rossetti’s poem expects the loved one to return, denoted by swallows who come and go from distant lands, but remain loyal.  The narrator wishes to fly as well, be together with the one who has their heart.  Until that person comes back there is no enjoyment, no pleasure to be felt or noticed.  The seasons have rolled round, marking a year, but the swallows are the first thing that alerts the speaker to so much time passing.  It shows the difficulty or unwillingness to mark time when the focus of your attention is absent.  As it is, the past seems more sweet, more beautiful for the existence of a lover within it. 

The woman in the painting is lost in thought and not aware of the riot of green, the fecundity of nature all around her.  If anything has her attention it is the ravens, a sad echo of the hopeful swallows from Rossetti’s poem.  The bird motif continues in a single swan feather floating in the river.  Swans mate for life, the absence of the swan who left the feather echoing the absence of the woman’s lover.  I am fairly sure there is no ring on the finger of the left hand clutching the loop of wool, so she has lost her potential husband, her potential place as a wife with children.  I wondered at the wool in that loop hanging forlornly.  It echoes the flowers in the riverbank but is like the woman, a potential rather than a flower.  The wool remains unknitted, it is not and possibly shall not become anything.  It is a rich and wonderful colour but its owner can only wear black now and so it shall remain unfulfilled, it cannot become anything.

The model was actually the painter’s sister, Margaret Glencair, who was at the time in mourning for their cousin who had been killed in South Africa.  I think that somehow makes the pathos of the figure more real, more painful. One thing we do not seem to credit the world before The Great War with is an awareness of war grief.  It seems that we believe the Victorians to be callously unaware, hurling their children into battle without any notion of what the grief of a generation who will outlive their children could possibly feel like.  I think this painting shows a different side, an acknowledgement of the devastation of stolen future that would be felt so painfully by their children.

It was Victorians who fought the First World War, scraping into the Edwardian children by the bitter end.  Margaret Glencair considering her lost cousin on the banks of the river became these young women, all robbed of their loves...

Diana Manners on her wedding day

Katheryn Horner, widow of Raymond Asquith

Letty Manners, widow of Hugo 'Ego' Charteris
These three women were the daughters of The Souls, a group of Victorian art lovers.  They married the sons of other Souls and were bereaved.  In the case of Diana Manners, she lost loves and ended up marrying the only one of her suitors who returned.  Almost all the sons of the Souls died, an entire generation of young men taken away.  As their parents had passed on a love of Pre-Raphaelite art, I cannot help but suspect the deaths of these glittering youths was connected to how unfashionable the works became.  After the horror of war the world became a less wonderful place and there was no use for beauty.

Oh, last summer green things were greener,
Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer.

Friday, 7 November 2014

The Satin Romance of Vittorio Reggianini

After all the dark and blustery weather we've been having I felt like doing a post on something light and pretty.  You catch me in a romantic mood so I think it's appropriate that I present the work of Vittorio Reggianini...

Who Wins?
Let the whimsy begin!  Reggianini was born in Northern Italy in 1853 but drew his lush inspiration from half a century before.  It's no coincidence that his images crop up on the covers of Georgette Heyer novels because that is what you are looking at.  This is a world of romance, of courtship, of flirtation and acres upon acres of satin...

An Illicit Letter
Do you know what your life is missing today?  It is missing a trio of giggling, shiny women with scooped necklines, little pointy shoes and a little bit of scandel. I want to know what the letter contains!  Does it read 'Dear Pinkie, What's going on with the side of your frock? Love, Your Concerned Suitor xxx'  I hope the lass on the left gets a squizz at the letter too, it seems unfair that she has to be lookout while the other two enjoy it.  Hang on...

The Letter
It's okay, she does.  The thing about Reggianini is that you could accuse him of being a bit same-y, and there are definite groupings of pictures.  You have the trio of saucy maidens, such as the two lots above, and these...

The Secret

Awaiting a Visit
The three graces appear in their palace-like home and enjoy intrigues and secrets and all manner of lovely shiny things.  They are adorable, but look how much fun it is when you lob a chap into the picture!

The Recital

Section two of the Reggianini album is entitled 'Women like a man who can play/read' or 'Look at the shine on his breeches!'  There are any number of images of a pair of young women admiring the young man who has come to entertain them.  It's all very lovely at that moment but you know hair pulling will ensue when they work out that both of them fancy the same chap.

Who Wins?
This one is very blatent in its message.  This young man can have a wife in pink or blue, although Pinkie is going the more direct route and has shut her fan.  Oh, hang on, don't the fan positions mean something?  Shut means 'I await your decision' or something and open means 'If you're getting up can you bring me some chips?' as far as I can remember.


The Reading
I believe it was Jane Austen who wrote 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you get a hot man in the room with a bunch of girls, it is on like Donkey Kong'.  There is no way this will end well and I personally worry for the poor man's safety.  Maybe the rug is a hint as to what happened to the last young poet who entered that room.  Also, why is he wearing spandex disco pants? 

Anyway, if you want a bit more action, Reggianini has an entire series of 'Oh no!' pictures of high drama...

A Shocking Announcement
What on earth has gone on here?  A chair has gone over, the maid is smiling and a chap has been forced to leave. The shame!  The horror!

A Music Scene
This young woman looks a little startled by the size of the chap's cello and her friend has passed out. Lawks!

A Flirtation
Good heavens, not in front of the good coffee service!  This pair look rather too jolly in their canoodling and should be careful.  All that satin, they'll be lucky if they don't just slide right off of each other.  Everyone just behave themselves for a moment!

Back on safer ground, Reggianini did a nice series of women with animals, like these gorgeous examples...

The Pet

Good Companions
My personal favourite has to be this one...

The Interruption
The elegance of the long limbed dogs perfectly complement the high-waisted dresses of their mistresses and the smooth coats glimmer like the satin that surrounds them.  I love The Interruption because there is a spontaneity of movement, a giggly connection to the audience that the others don't have.  We are part of that shiny satin world, if only for a moment, and we are invited in to join in its pastel perfection.  On such a gloomy, cold November afternoon I wouldn't mind pulling on a nice frock and enjoying some intrigues and flirtations. 

Now, where did I put my fan?


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Strawberry Thief: The Game!

I make no secret of the fact that Strawberry Thief is my favourite of all of William Morris' designs.  Despite its continual use on biscuit tins, tea-towels and all manner of kitchen paraphernalia, I find it endlessly fresh and intriguing.  Imagine how excited I was therefore when I read there would be a computer game based on the design...


Sophia George has taken the complex visual of the design with its entwined shoots and flowers and speckled thieving birds with fruit plucked in their beaks. Sophia, a Bafta-winning games designer was invited by the Victoria and Albert Museum to adapt one of their designs for a game and her choice was Strawberry Thief, the 1883 design from Morris.

Scene from the game
The game revolves around being a little bird who flies over a canvas uncovering the design for Strawberry Thief.  You are guided by little flowers to find beautiful clumps of strawberries which you steal, unleashing bursts of petals and butterflies.  There are different levels which show more and more of the design.  The beautiful complexity of the floral entanglement is vivid and populated by insects and animated flowers and fruit.  It is gorgeous to look at, calming and wonderful to play and even fabulous to listen to, with music provided by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.


It is a relaxing addition to any iPad, and makes you feel smug while playing a game because it is so unashamedly arty.  Even though it is such marvellous quality that I wouldn't have objected to paying for it, the game is available free of charge for download.

I hope this is such a success that further Pre-Raphaelite games are made - you could help the knight through the brambles in Burne-Jones Briar Rose, or help Rossetti keep all his animals alive...

To download the game, follow the link from here.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Tears, Idle Tears

I am an inveterate cryer.  I will weep at the drop of a hat, really I'm awful.  I believe the technical term for it is a 'self-defuser' which means that whenever I get angry or a bit too happy or generally overcome by un-English levels of emotion, I start crying.  Ridiculous creature.  Anyway, this week I came across this picture of someone having a good cry...

The First Place (1860) A Erwood

This charming genre piece is of a young maid overcome with the misery of her position in her first post away from home.  She was sweeping up the rug and just felt like having a sob into her pinny.  We've all been there love.  My first job after I left home with Mr Walker was as a temp receptionist at a business that sold doors.  I spent all day on the phone with people shouting because they hadn't received their doors.  It was all a little rum.  Anyway, I got to thinking that I should do a piece on people having a bit of a cry...

A Wife J E Millais
I wonder what's up with her?  Has her husband been cheating on her, gambled all their money away or maybe just not slept with her for five years?  Probably the latter as this is Millais.  I'm guessing she has found out her husband's deep, dark secret and it has rendered her unable to sit on a chair.  The horror!  The shame!  The implication for property prices in her area!  I dread to think what Mr Walker's deep dark secrets are; some of the stuff I already know is worrying enough...

Recalling the Past Carlton Alfred Smith
There are people who just cannot move beyond a moment in time.  Pinkie here seems to be weeping over some letters, love letters I'm guessing, and the recollections are not happy ones.  Did she leave him?  Did he leave her?  I'm not one to dwell on past love affairs (because there aren't any), mainly because stuff that happened in the past rarely makes me cry unless it affects my present.  Maybe Pinkie never got another offer.  Maybe she turned down a man for not having enough money, he then went on and made a fortune and married her sister.  She weeps because Jeremy Kyle will not be available for her to vent her spleen for another 150 years.  Smith seems to have done a lot of paintings of women contemplating - women gazing into fires, women looking out of windows.  A sizable body of his work could be entitled 'Do you remember that thing that happened in the time before now?  I feel a bit sad about it.'

At the Altar (1870s) Firs Zhuravlev
Oh deary me.  Well, it's leaving it a bit late when you're all dollied up in the big white frock but I suppose better now than five years down the line.  Is that who she is marrying?  Is that her father?  I don't mean to be personal as he does look a bit perturbed by the whole scene and that his bride (I'm guessing) has become a big meringue-y puddle on the floor.  Advice to the person in the doorway:  don't get involved, Love.  Leave them to it and see if you can your present back from the gift table.  Just in case.

The Restitution (1901) Remy Cogghe
I've used Cogghe's works a few time in my posts and I think he is a very interesting painter.  This is a curious picture as it is uncertain what is being restored to whom.  If the sturdy chap is giving the lass back something then why does she cry so much?  Has she returned something that doesn't belong to her and feels ashamed.  If she is the villain of the piece, he has painted her in such vibrant green and gold that it is impossible not to feel the compassion that our priest here seems to feel.  Is the woman being 'restored' to the church?  I love the gold of her hair in the middle of the canvas, echoing the gold in his hand, and I think the viewer is being told that she is the treasure that is being restored.

Lesbia Weeping Over a Sparrow (1866) (detail) Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Everyone gets sad when pets die, especially metaphoric, possibly phallic symbols of pets, but few of us have chosen to show our grief by sitting around with a dead sparrow on our lap.  It's time to bury that sparrow and move on.  The sparrow is meant to symbolise the passion of her lover and now it's all dead in her lap.  Well, that's the problem with symbolic pets.  Plus she doesn't seem very weepy.  I get a lot more soggy than that.  She looks a bit bored.  She should be thanking her lucky stars it wasn't a Great Dane.

Tears, Idle Tears E R Hughes
This young lady is managing dignity in crying, something that eludes the best of us otherwise.  Named after the Tennyson poem, either the girl is reading his work or reading something that is reminiscent of 'the days that are no more'.  I really like Tennyson's poem, he sums up the problem of feeling sad with no real reason other than things are not as they should be or were.  Sadness springs from nowhere, from memento mori in life, passing time, the seasons, remembering the dead, but then he mentions this: 'Dear as remembered kisses after death, / And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign'd / On lips that are for others'.  That is a very complicated sadness, for things that never existed, of unrequited love, mentioned in a poem mostly about time passing and death.  Maybe the young lady in the picture is being moved to tears by the thought of never kissing the lips of the one she loves, but who does not love her?  Sad thought indeed.

Old School Fellows (1854) Alfred Rankley
There are obviously very few or no images of men having a good cry.  The Victorians went as far as men leaning manfully upon their male manly companion in times of manly need, but that's all.  When one feels extreme levels of grief, one remembers one is English and one bites ones knuckle and thinks of the Queen.  One would never cry until one makes the snorty noise. 
 
So, to those who only know me virtually, feel lucky that you never have to put up with me dissolving unexpectedly.  To those who do know me, at least I bring my own hankie...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sleep Shall Fold Her Hair Round Me

Whilst looking around the Rossetti's Obsession exhibition the other week I was struck by the pen and ink sketches of Jane Morris.  It wasn't just the small, intimate beauty of them, but that Rossetti had felt compelled to capture her completely, reclining and sometimes asleep.  This led me to consider the relationship between Rossetti, his muse and sleep...


Elizabeth Siddal (1854)
The use of sleep in Rossetti's work appears in both his art and his poetry.  Whilst only one of his oils contains the themes of sleep and dreaming, countless sketches exist of his models sleeping, but not just any models.  Beginning with Elizabeth Siddal in the 1850s, Rossetti continued to draw the women he was intimately involved with as they slept, not just once, but repeatedly.  These images tended to encompass the whole sleeping form in a domestic setting.  Why did he make these images and what did they mean?

Elizabeth Siddal (1853-8)
From early in the relationship, Rossetti sketched Elizabeth as she slept.  Maybe he was trying to capture a domestic image, a moment of adult bliss, content in their home.  It is a very informal image in comparison to the art that he and his Pre-Raphaelite brothers were creating, a snap-shot of home in the midst of all the art.  As he had 'taken' Elizabeth away from the others in terms of her being their model and potential mistress/wife, it could be argued that the images are marks of ownership.

Elizabeth Siddal (1856)
I find it interesting that most, if not all, of Rossetti's images of the sleeping Elizabeth are of vertical construction, that she sleeps sitting up, as if she were alert a moment ago but has slipped into unconsciousness.  Could it be that the transformation is what he is trying to capture?  There is a tension in these pictures, that even though she slept she remained unyielding.  The 1854 image at the top shows her almost displayed, rigid and perfect, like a medieval saint. 

There is no hint of impropriety in the images; even though she is asleep she did not become so doing anything improper.  It is unsurprising that she was the original model for Beatrice, the doomed but untouched love...

Dante's Dream on the Day of the Death of Beatrice (1856)
Saintly and pure, Beatrice/Elizabeth is almost sitting up as Love kisses her.  For Rossetti, sleep and Elizabeth were linked primarily to purity and ultimately death.  Within his poetry, such as 'My Sister's Sleep', the saintly sleeper slips from life: '"God knows, I knew that she was dead." / And there, all white, my sister slept.' In 'Autumn Song', the act of sleeping is linked to death, to rest, to an end well-deserved after the seasons of beauty.  Elizabeth's own death was linked to sleep, an overdose of laudenum that induced a deathscene reminiscent of 'My Sister's Sleep' as she slipped from sleep to death before Rossetti's eyes.  By that point however, sleep had come to signify something else.

Fanny Cornforth (1862)
Reclined and dishevelled, the next woman to sleep in Rossetti's company was there for entirely other reasons.  Mirroring the sentiment of the poem 'Nuptual Sleep', the horizontal form of Fanny Cornforth is unlikely to sleep alone, even if the artist can remain conscious long enough to draw her: 'Sleep sank them lower than the tide of dreams / And their dreams watched them sink...' In another poem, the narrator watches as Jenny, a prostitute, sleeps.  The intimation in both cases is that sleep follows sexual activity and the change of position in the sketches, from vertical to horizontal changes the inference of what happened before the subject fell asleep, which raises this interesting example...

Ruth Herbert (1858)
If the women that Rossetti sketched asleep were his lovers, then was he intimate with Ruth Herbert?  She is not fully reclined, but her skirts and legs continue outside the frame.  It was no secret that Rossetti admired and desired her but her professionalism has always drawn people to the conclusion that the passion was all on the side of the artist.  Could this image be an act of longing on the part of Rossetti, that he wished to add her to his list of lovers?  Maybe it was a way of possessing her in art that he could not manage in life.

Jane Morris (1870)
Certainly the next and last woman to be drawn asleep was a deep and obsessive love.  The images of Jane supine almost outnumber the ones of her upright.  It is believed that a back complaint made it easier for her to pose for Rossetti from the comfort of a sofa, but also among the works are images of unmistakable sensuality.

Jane Morris (1873)
This maybe my favourite of his sketches, and the image is unmistakably intimate.  Contrasting with the superficially similar image of Elizabeth that I placed first, Jane's hair is scooped from her bare neck, and her pose is languid and open.  It is unsurprising that she would replace Elizabeth in Dante's Dream...

Dante's Dream (1869-72)
A tumble-haired Beatrice is pulled towards Love's kiss as she reclines, eyes shut. In many ways it is surprising Rossetti revisited the death in sleep motif of Beatrice after it so cruelly foreshadowed the death of his first love, but for love and money there was not many things that Rossetti would not revisit. Added to this, sleep, death and disappointment in love were linked in his art and poetry,and sleep was the state that he most desired.  In the poem 'Dream Land', he envisaged 'sleep that no pain shall wake' and in 'Almost Over', a man dying of a broken heart longs for the moment 'Sleep shall fold / Her hair round me'.  Sleep and Death become female, become sexual and linked to fulfillment in Rossetti art and poetry.  There are two rare instances of male sleep in his art, firstly in a panel for the copy of Dante's Dream in Dundee Art Gallery (where Dante is shown asleep, dreaming) and this image of his brother from a letter to Thomas Woolner...

William Sleeping (1853)
The awkward portrait, roughly sketched in the letter, provides a homely scene for the absent Woolner.  Little sketches and letters were sent to keep him informed of events at home and to provide comfort while he was away trying to establish a new life.  Maybe the image of the sleeping brother is simply that, a moment from home which Woolner would have been familiar with, but possibly this, and the other images Rossetti drew of unconsciousness spoke of other things.  There might be a hint of superiority, of being the one awake in the presence of very human weakness.  The artist has the strength to stay awake, to think, to draw and record.  The act of sleep is personified as feminine in his poetry despite often referring to the poet's dreams. Women sleep, men are watching, recording.

It could be that the image of his lover sleeping was a positive one, signifying satisfaction on the part of the woman.  A woman who sleeps is content, and the artist records the vision, claiming responsibility.  Also a woman (or brother) who sleeps is not complaining, not accusing, not crying.  It is no coincidence that the majority of the pictures we have of our daughter in the first year of her life are of her asleep.  Goodness knows she howled like a banshee at all other times and slept about five minutes a day.  During those five minutes we made the most of her...

Lily-Rose, about 8 years ago, extremely asleep.
Just out of shot are her exhausted and slightly unhinged parents.
A woman asleep is contained, controlled, static.  The images of Elizabeth asleep show her almost frozen, as if she simply stopped for a moment rather than slipped into relaxed unconsciousness.  The images of sleeping women are mostly whole images. During a period where Rossetti's art focused on half-length or three-quarter-length pictures of women, Jane and Fanny are wholly inside the frame of the image, from head to foot.  In a world beyond understanding and control in the wake of the death of one you love, there is a certainty in these images, every part is known and is seen.  Maybe an envy lurks in that all-seeing eye, watching his muse enjoy the peace of sleep that illudes him.  In watching others enjoy being folded into sleep, the artist vicariously enjoys the peace while repeatedly reminding himself that there would be no peace until the end. 

The sleep the artist ultimate envisages is death and possibly that was the only sleep he felt he deserved.