Eccentric, egotistical, yet extremely sensitive, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a force to be reckoned with. Early on, he alternated between painting and poetry, but he is best known for founding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood along with John Everett Millais. Rebelling against English academic painting's soft forms and what appeared to be a lax morality, the Brotherhood aspired to a crisp, emotional style embracing the purity and simplicity of Italian art before Raphael. Using minute detail and elaborate symbolism, they painted from nature. Rossetti expanded the group's aims by linking poetry, painting, and social idealism and by interpreting the term Pre-Raphaelite as synonymous with a romanticized medieval past. In the second phase of the movement in the mid-1850s, Rossetti gained a powerful but exacting patron in the art critic John Ruskin.
Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Rossetti painted and drew mostly languid and sensuous female portraits, using his lover Elizabeth Siddal almost exclusively as a model. These paintings later influenced the Symbolists and also proved popular with collectors: Rossetti grew affluent enough to employ studio assistants to make copies.
Rossetti published his complete poems in 1870, after exhuming them from Siddal's grave. Following a physical and mental collapse and a suicide attempt, he recovered enough to continue painting and writing but only as a semi-invalid and recluse.