Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born on May 12, 1828, in London. His father, who had fleed Italy, was a professor at King's College, and his mother was a teacher. Rossetti therefore received an excellent school education and had drawing instruction already as a young child. In 1842, he enrolled in the art school Cary's Academy. This was regarded as a springboard to the Royal Academy.
He was accepted to the Royal Academy four years later. Because the instruction there did not meet his expectations, he asked the painter Ford Madox Brown to be his teacher. Brown also fell back on the conventional academic teaching methods, and so Dante Gabriel Rossetti distanced himself from Brown as a teacher, though they remained friends.
In the beginning, he was undecided as to whether he should dedicate himself to painting or poetry, but through the influence of his friends William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, he decided for painting. They shared an opinion on the sad state of British art and named themselves thereafter the "Preraffaelites," in order to programmatically distance themselves from the reigning trend in painting to imitate Raffael.
Under the acronym PRB, they founded the "Preraffaelite Brotherhood" with four other friends, including Rossetti's brother. The resulting works excited much enthusiasm, but after the press learned about the programmatic background of the group, vehement criticism followed, which sent Dante Gabriel Rossetti into a depression. The PRB began to dissolve in 1852.
In 1858 in cooperative work with other young artists, he painted the assembly hall of the Oxford University Union with scenes from the legend of King Arthur.
Rossetti gave up oil painting after 1860 and thereafter worked mainly with water colors in small format, which sold well thanks to the sympathetic art critic John Riskin, whom he had met in 1854.
In 1860, he married his long-time (since 1850) model Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal. This feminine ideal of the Preraffaelites was Rossetti's muse and source of inspiration until her suicide in 1862. In that year, he moved to Chelsea. Between 1871 and 1874, he lived and worked at the country home of his close friend William Morris, with whose wife he had an affair. He is considered one of the most unconventional painters of the 19th century.
Through his methods, he distinguished himself from the Preraffaelite movement; he showed no interest on the exact representation of details, avoided complicated backgrounds, and tended away from landscapes. He therefore chose primarily mythological or literary motives, though with no narrative moment. In 1872, he suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti died on April 9, 1881, while vacationing in Birchington-on-Sea near Kent, after many years of drug consumption.