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The Day Dream

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    England, Great Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    1880 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti, born 1828 - died 1882 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Paintings, room 81, case EAST WALL

The sitter for this painting was Jane Morris, the wife of William Morris, who often posed for Rossetti. At the time this was painted Rossetti was involved in an illicit love affair with Jane. He shows her sitting in the branches of a sycamore tree and holding a sprig of honeysuckle. This sweet-smelling climbing plant symbolised the bonds of love for the Victorians, and Rossetti may have included it here as a subtle reference to the relationship between artist and model. Rossetti was also a poet, and the title relates to his poem of the same name which ends:
She dreams; till now on her forgotten book
Drops the forgotten blossom from her hand.

Physical description

The Day Dream, oil on canvas, 158.7 x 92.7 cm.

Place of Origin

England, Great Britain (painted)


1880 (painted)


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, born 1828 - died 1882 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas


Height: 158.7 cm estimate, Width: 92.7 cm estimate, Height: 195.3 cm frame, Width: 128.8 cm frame

Object history note

Commissioned by Constantine Alexander Ionides for 700 guineas (£735) by 31 October 1879, CAI.3 was finished by December 1880 (cf. letters from the artist to C. A. Ionides between 31 October 1879 and late 1880 in the N.A.L [MSL./1979/2601/1-5] and from the artist to C. A. I dated 15 September and 9 December 1880, private collection). The work is listed in Ionides' inventory of November 1881 as 'Day Dream' by D.G. Rossetti with a valuation of £800; Constantine Alexander Ionides, by whom bequeathed in 1900.

Historical significance: Rossetti's last finished work, to which he gave great attention, considering the numerous letters he sent to his patron while executing the painting. He was confident with the quality of the painting, and wrote to Ionides on 18 march 1880: 'I am glad to say it is far advanced & will be beyond question as good a thing as I ever did.' (National Art Library, 86.WW.1
Rossetti was very directive concerning the way the work should be exhibited in Ionides' home: 'The picture itself need not stand more than a foot at very utmost from the ground, to be seen to advantage by a seated person. (...)The picture should slope forward (...). It should be as far away from the white dado as possible, & the stand not made light but dark. The picture cannot help looking dull otherwise, though it is very brilliant if it gets a chance. It ought to stand with the light from the left of spectator, as here, otherwise it will lose in effect.' (undated letter, private collection).

Descriptive line

Oil on canvas, 'The Day Dream', Dante Gabriel Rossetti, England, 1880

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Baker, Malcolm and Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997. 431 p., ill. ISBN 1851773088.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in London, the son of a refugee Italian scholar. Poet (as was his sister Christina Rossetti), painter, and designer, Rossetti had a profound influence on English cultural life of the period. One of the founding members, in 1848, of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Rossetti is credited with bringing to the movement its interest in the symbolism and mystical spiritualism of the art and literature of the Middle Ages.
A friend of the American-born artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who lived and worked in London from 1859, Rossetti in his later years came to share Whistler's idealisation of women; Rossetti took as his feminine ideal the image of his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, who died in 1862. (His impressive portrait of her, painted in 1864 and now in London's Tate Gallery, Beata Beatrix, was titled after the romantic memorial character of Beatrice in Dante's The Divine Comedy). The art patron Constantine Ionides visited Rossetti's studio in the late 1870s and saw over the chimneypiece the artist's large chalk drawing of Jane Burden Morris (fig. 118), the wife of William Morris, which inspired him to commission The Day Dream (the title taken from the poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson [see also cat. 9]), another highly romanticised female portrait and Rossetti's last masterpiece.
Ionides, whose grandfather had moved the family business of banking, shipping, and stockbrokering from Greece to London in 1815, was one of the principal collectors in England of contemporary art from the mid-1860s to his death in 1900. He bought an Edgar Degas at auction in Paris in 1881 some five years after it was painted, a late Gustave Courbet, and flower pieces by Henri J.-T. Fantin-Latour-the kind of modern art then unrepresented in any British public museum. Ionides was also interested in the work of contemporary British painters associated with the Pre-Raphaelite brethren, including Edward Burne-Jones as well as Rossetti. The Day Dream was included in the 1900 Ionides bequest to the Museum, all of which was being shown together by 1908. By 1935, though still on display, The Day Dream was described in Muirhead's London guide simply as a "portrait" by Rossetti, evidently overshadowed in this later era by the French works in the Ionides collection.

Lit. Surtees, 1971, vol. I, pp. 153-4, vol. II, plate 388

C. J. H., 'The Constantine Alexander Ionides Bequest', article 1, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, vol. 5, n. 17 (August 1904), p. 456.
'The Day Dream (...), while rather more typical of Rossetti's attitude and of his power as a painter than many of his other oil-paintings, cannot be really ranked with such pictures as those in the Tate Gallery in which his genius concentrates itself more passionately, or with the two or three other works in oil, such as The Beloved, in which he is a great and completely equipped master. In such company The Day Dream would appear diffuse and lacking in conviction'
Doughty, Oswald, A Victorian Romantic: Dante-Gabriel Rossetti, London, 1949, p. 619.
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985, p.178
The following is the full text of the entry:

"Dante Gabriel Rossetti
British School
Signed lower right D. Rossetti 1880
Oil on canvas, 158.7 X 92.7 cm
CAI.3. Ionides Bequest.
The Daydream is one of the last major oils executed by Rossetti before his death. The idea for the painting was first mentioned by the artist in 1872, but hints of the composition can be seen in many of his earlier drawings of Jane Morris (the model for this work). There are also photographs of Jane Morris, posed by Rossetti in 1865, which show his preoccupation with a certain way of portraying his close friend and confidante. The mood of the sitter and the style of the dress that Jane Morris wears is particularly reminiscent of The Daydream. In fact this work perfectly expresses Rossetti's vision of women. For years he was obsessed by a particular type of female beauty, epitomized by his wife and model Elizabeth Siddal, and Jane Morris. The break from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the early 1850s enabled him to develop a more personal poetic vision and explore themes from Dante and the idea of courtly love.

The Daydream is the culmination of his sense of fantasy and the way in which he wished to elevate and deify women he admired. A large woman seated in a highly decorative tree, with leaves resembling William Morris wallpaper, at first presents an odd juxtaposition, but as a portrayal of a mood the painting works very well. Originally Rossetti called it 'Vanna Primavera'. This is a reference to Dante's Vita Nuova, when Guido Cavalcanti's love Primavera is described as going before Beatrice as Sprinz precedes Summer.
From a lengthy correspondence with Jane Morris it appears that the painting presented Rossetti with many problems. The main one was to link the seasonal theme of Spring with appropriate flora, which would in turn enhance the overall design of the picture. The original drawing for The Daydream, now in the Ashmolean, shows Jane Morris holding a convulvulus flower. In the final painting honeysuckle was chosen, to match the rather full blown sycamore leaves of the tree.
The painting of the figure, especially the head and hands was reworked several times. There is a heaviness and lassitude about the female form which probably reflects Rossetti's own tiredness and approaching death. The static nature of the piece enhances the mood of dreamlike contemplation, summed up so well in a few lines from the sonnet Rossetti wrote to accompany the work:
'Within the branching shade of Reverie
Dreams even may spring till autumn; yet none be
Like Woman's budding daydream spirit fann'd.'

Alex Noble"
Treuherz, Julian, Elisabeth Prettejohn and Edwin Becker. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. exh.cat. London; New York, N.Y.: Thames & Hudson, 2003, p. 216, cat. no. 154
The following is the full text of the entry:

The Day Dream
(s 259)
signed and dated lower right:
D.G. Rossetti 1880
oil on canvas, 158.7 x 92.7 cm
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
exhibited at Liverpool only
figure 71

The subject matter of this work evolved through a number of vicissitudes. It began as a drawing of Jane Morris, certainly in existence by 1872, when Rossetti referred to it Simply as 'the lady seated in a tree with a book in her lap' (D & W, III, pp. 1067-8). Thus the visual image, as often in Rossetti's work, seems to have predated any specific idea for a subject, although the resonances of the motif of the woman in a tree are intriguing. As Andrew Wilton has noted, this motif, important in the Symbolist art of the later 19th century, might recall any of the women in ancient myths who are metamorphosed into trees, or Eve and the Tree of Knowledge (Wilton and Upstone 1997, p. II; perhaps the book alludes to the idea of knowledge).
In 1879 Rossetti was commissioned to execute the design as a full-scale painting, and he worked assiduously at it throughout the next year. At first he called it Vanna Primavera, with reference to a passage in the Vita Nuova in which Dante sees a woman called Giovanna ('Vanna') but nicknamed 'Primavera' (or 'Spring') walking before Beatrice (D.G. Rossetti 1911, p. 331). But the spring flowers Rossetti planned, a snowdrop and a primrose, proved too delicate for the extraordinary shape of Jane Morris's hand, as painted by Rossetti; meanwhile, the foliage of the sycamore tree grew too full for the season. Finally he abandoned the spring subject and renamed the picture The Day Dream. The new title preserves the emphasis on dreaming characteristic of many of Rossetti's Dante subjects; it also recalls the earlier drawing of Jane Morris, Reverie (cat. 139). Finally, Rossetti wrote a sonnet, which clearly relates not to the first conception of the picture, but to the way it had developed in the working process:

The thronged boughs of the shadowy sycamore
Still bear young leaflets half the summer through;
From when the robin 'gainst the unhidden blue
Perched dark, till now, deep in the leafy core,
The embowered throstle's urgent wood-notes soar
Through summer silence. Still the leaves come new;
Yet never rosy-sheathed as those which drew
Their spiral tongues from spring-buds heretofore.

Within the branching shade of Reverie
Dreams even may spring till autumn; yet none be
Like woman's budding day-dream spirit-fann'd.
Lo! tow'rd deep skies, not deeper than her look,
She dreams; till now on her forgotten book
Drops the forgotten blossom from her hand.

(D.G. Rossetti 1911, p. 231)

The picture is among Rossetti's finest designs, particularly in the subtle management of shades of green (the dress appears to be the same green silk as in Astarte Syriaca, cat. 153, and Proserpine, cat. 155) and in the complex intertwining curves of the limbs and branches. Most fascinating of all is the honeysuckle, slightly wilted, in the long, wan hand resting wearily on the book - 'forgotten', as the sonnet says, along with the spring subject, but at the same time a poignant reminder of the importance of flowers, as symbols of perfect beauty, throughout Rossetti's work."

Exhibition History

(Victoria & Albert Museum Gallery 39, Exhibition Hall 05/03/2016-03/07/2016)
The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco 18/02/2012-17/07/2012)
The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 (Musée d'Orsay 13/09/2011-15/01/2012)
The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 (V&A 02/04/2011-17/07/2011)
A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)


Canvas; Oil paint


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Flowers; Trees; Women; Books; Dresses; Reading; Honeysuckle; Morris, Jane; Romanticism


Paintings; Portraits

Collection code


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