Study for The Bower Meadow
The Maas Gallery - Private collection
A study for the figure on the right (Alexa Wilding) in The Bower Meadow (1872). Alexa Wilding's relationship with Rossetti, unlike with a number of his other models including Lizzie Siddal, Fanny Cornforth and Jane Morris, was free of emotional and physical complications. One of his favourite models during the 1860s and 1870s, Wilding sat for Rossetti regularly during this period and appears in an astonishing number of major works including Venus Verticordia (1864-8, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth), Monna Vanna (1866, Tate Gallery), La Bella Mano (1875, Bancroft Collection, Wilmington, Delaware), and The Blessed Damozel (1875-8, Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard). Although we do not know Miss Wilding's date of birth, it is thought that she was in her late 20s or early 30s when she began modelling for Rossetti.
They met quite by chance one summer evening, as Rossetti was on his way to The Arundel Club. Walking alongside a young woman, Rossetti was struck by her beautiful features and her auburn hair and followed her for some distance. Finally building up his courage, the artist approached Miss Wilding and asked her to visit his studio and sit for him. They agreed for her to visit the next day; however, to his great disappointment she failed to appear and he gave up hope of seeing her again. Some months later, Rossetti chanced upon her again on The Strand and convinced here there and then, to visit his studio. On learning that she could earn more money in a single sitting than in a week as a dressmaker, she agreed to model for him exclusively. For a number of years in the late 1860s and 1870s, Rossetti paid Alexa a retainer of £2 a week to sit for him exclusively.
Rossetti's assistant Henry Treffry Dunn is recorded as stating 'Miss Wilding's was a lovely face, beautifully moulded in every feature, full of quiescent, soft, mystical repose that suited some of [Rossetti's] conceptions admirably, but without any variety of expression. She sat like the Sphinx waiting to be questioned and with always a vague reply in return; about the last girl, one would think, to have the makings of an actress in her; and yet to be that was her ambition.' Dunn also noticed that 'she had a deep well of affection within her seemingly placid exterior.' When Rossetti died in 1882, she was one of the few who travelled down to Birchington-on-Sea, even though she could ill afford it; a testament to the depth of their friendship.