Death of 19th century supermodel uncovered

A painting of 19th century supermodel Fanny Cornforth
A painting of 19th century supermodel Fanny Cornforth
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DETAILS of the last days and final resting place of the beautiful muse of eminent Pre-Raphaelite artist Rossetti have been discovered – in a former mental hospital.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted more than 60 pieces featuring his lover, the golden-haired supermodel of her time, Fanny Cornforth.

But it was not until her patient case notes from former Graylingwell Hospital, in Chichester, were unearthed that her sad demise was discovered.

Graylingwell is now a luxury housing estate and all case notes were transferred to West Sussex Records Office.

It revealed she entered the asylum in 1907 and died in 1909 at the age of 74, suffering from senile dementia.

She was buried in Chichester Cemetery in a common grave without a headstone.

The discovery about her final days was first made at the Record Office by Christopher Whittick, the biographer of Fanny Cornforth for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), and shortly afterwards by Kirsty Stonell Walker, the author of Stunner: The Fall and Rise of Fanny 

An update of the entry for Fanny Cornforth, pictured right in a painting by Rossetti, is due to appear in the online ODNB at the end of May.

The records are being digitally recorded for the Graylingwell Heritage Project.

Sarah Rance-Riley, project manager, said: ‘The whereabouts and the final part of Fanny’s life have been a complete mystery until now. But now, thanks to this research, we have found Fanny’s patient case book, doctors’ notes, death certificate and even a photograph of her whilst she was there. It is a truly incredible discovery.’

Fanny, who was born Sarah Cox at Steyning in 1835, became Sarah Hughes – the name used in the case book – on her first marriage and Sarah Schott on her second.

She was widely regarded as the face of the Pre-Raphaelite style, today her image can be seen on chocolate boxes, calendars and art books throughout the world.

Renowned paintings such as Lady Lilith, Fair Rosamund, Bocca Baciata and The Blue Bower were all modelled by Fanny whose voluptuous figure and abundant golden hair became the signature of Rossetti’s later paintings featuring the single female figure.