What a very modern expression! No, actually, this dates to the 1860s when pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) coined the now horribly non-PC expression ‘stunner’ to describe a beautiful, enchanting woman. In 1848, he was one of the founder members of the artistic movement, the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Being a somewhat naughty chap, Rossetti usually persuaded these stunners to pose for his paintings and several became his mistress. Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862), an artist in her own right, became his wife. She’s most famously depicted as Ophelia and one suggestion for her early death is due to the time spent immersed in cold water whilst Millais painted her. Like many of Rossetti’s muses, Siddal was a redhead.
Redheads have always had a raft of pejorative nicknames thrown at them. L M Montgomery’s eponymous heroine, Anne Shirley of Green Gables, famously verbally attacked anyone commenting on her red tresses and even smashed a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head when he called her carrots. Rossetti is amongst the few who celebrated auburn locks focussing on their ‘cult of beauty.’ Another of his famous red headed models was Alexa Wilding (1847-1884) depicted in one of his most famous paintings La Ghirlandata (circa 1873). This wonderful picture can be viewed at the Guildhall Art Gallery, London.
For Rossetti’s biography and some online examples of his work see the Tate website.