Design for Jane Morris Stationery

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1872-74
Subject: stationery design for Jane Morris

Scholarly Commentary


DGR began designing this stationery for Jane Morris while staying with the Morrises at Kelmscott in late 1872. DGR's factotum, Charles Augustus Howell, negotiated the particulars of the design with the London engraver, Strongitharm.

Producing envelopes and notepaper adequately fitted to DGR's conception proved problematic. Strongitharm, a respected firm situated in Pall Mall, was perhaps not ideally suited for executing “such small work” (Fredeman, Correspondence 72.172). Indeed, DGR clearly expressed his displeasure with Strongitharm in his letters to Howell, and his precise inventory of his dissatisfaction provides a special vantage from which to view his standards for decorative arts:

“The note paper &c. looks certainly a little louder than I expected; and on the paper, the heartsease flowers are rather coarsely cut. It seems to me these might be made rather lower in relief, more like the leaves, and some unnecessary scratches on the petals removed. The centres, which I had drawn correctly as heartsease, are not so cut, but have a sort of rose centre substituted (on the paper - the envelope is correct). Why is this? The one seen from the back alone is rightly cut, and I suppose the executant thought that the starry centre would look too much like the end of the stalk at the back of the other one: but at present they are quite incorrect and no one would know them for heartsease. Even the shape of the top petals is not rightly given. I dare say the man lost my sketch before the thing was done. I am sorry for this. . . . The gold colour looks louder than I expected, and the natural flower colour would be louder still, so I think that idea can be given up. . . . I think the silver one would look very nice on an unglazed paper, which being rather warmer in tone, would show up the grey silver very delicately” (Fredeman, Correspondence 73.34).

In many ways, these letters exhibit the same sort of conceptual rigor and exacting standards for quality of paper and accuracy of engraving which DGR had demanded for his book designs.

The amount of stationery produced to DGR's specifications remains unclear. In February 1873 he requested that Howell place an order for “two reams” of notepaper, some on grey paper and some on gold paper (Fredeman, Correspondence 73.41). Later letters to Howell, however, indicate additional changes, and, in March 1874, more than a year after he had first conceived the design, DGR was still lamenting “the endless paper job” (Fredeman, Correspondence 74.47). Howell's note of 15 March 1874, “Paper and envelopes now in hand” (Cline 349), appears to indicate that the project had been completed.


DGR's use of heartsease for this design takes on a suggestive resonance when viewed from within the context of his relationship with Jane Morris at Kelmscott in the early 1870s. Heartsease thrives throughout Britain; folk-medicine ascribes the flower with restorative powers for broken-hearted lovers, and contemporary botanical manuals record numerous traditional names for the “wild pansy,” including “Love-in-Idleness,” “Live-in-Idleness,” “Loving Idol,” “Love Idol,” “Call-me-to-you,” “Meet-me-in-the-Entry,” and “Kiss-her-in-the-Buttery.” Finally, DGR's floral design almost certainly recalls the French name for heartsease, pensées, a word which opens up the design as an uncannily appropriate emblem for a correspondence of private “thoughts” passing back and forth by means of public post. Taken in these terms, the heartsease design finds its complement in DGR's meditation on epistolary secrets, “The Love-Letter.”

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