Sunday 5 June 2011

The Endymion Tennyson: Full Page Fabulous

And here we are once more.  So, we have covered the little title images and the random motifs, but as you flick through the Endymion Tennyson, the things that really take your breath away are the densely illustrated full page images, for example...

This accompanies 'St Agnes’ Eve', a short poem about a nun wishing to die and join God, her ‘husband’ in heaven.  Brickdale incorporates the last four lines of the first stanza and a thick border or entwined snowdrops, with a small image of a praying nun in the centre. 

Brickdale does very good borders in her illustrations, sometimes, as in the case of St Agnes above, they take up almost as much space as the pictures themselves, but they always add something extra to the picture, for example…

I love the acorns, so simply and neatly drawn, in curving pairs. The Talking Oak was one of the first of the poems where I thought ‘Oh, I know of a painting of that!’ namely this one, by William Maw Egley:

The Talking Oak (1857) William Maw Egley
Both illustrate the moment when the young daughter from Sumner Place steals out to hug the oak (who turns out to be a kiss-and-tell), but Brickdale shows the girls sleeping at the foot of the tree, just before the Oak drops an acorn (his best acorn, mark you) on her, because she made his sap rise.  Yes, I think it’s best to move on…

Fair Rosamund (1861) D G Rossetti
Ahh, Fair Rosamund from 'A Dream of Fair Women'.  She is a Stunner, is she not?  Rather than have her waiting in her secret lovenest, like Rossetti, about to be killed, Brickdale has her looking paranoid in the wood wishing she had been born ugly and poor (Don't we all, Love?).  I like the little touch of the rose, echoing her name and the sweetpeas climbing from the title.
While we are on the subject of Rossetti Stunners, here is Brickdale’s illustration for The Gardener’s Daughter, together with Rossetti’s image of the subject.

Marigolds or The Gardener's Daughter (1874) D G Rossetti
'Mariana' in her moated grange, high up like Rapunzel, presents a fairly bleak picture of despair, different to Millais’ blue-dressed beauty or Henrietta Rae’s equally bored young lady.

Mariana (1851) John Everett Millais

Mariana Henrietta Rae
Brickdale’s ability to approach the subject in a different way is most apparent in her illustration for ‘The May Queen’.  It is a strange poem where a young woman becomes Queen of the May and then dies in the next year.  For most of the illustrations and pictures I can find on the subject, artists concentrate on moments rather than try and show the whole story at once, so you get ‘beautiful young woman’ pictures like…

Yes, yes, very lovely, lots of blossoms and lovely ladies.  However, good old Brickdale goes the extra mile and crams the entire story in one picture:

This has a marvellous ‘oh I’m pretty’ then ‘oh, I’m dead’ structure with flowers and crowns.  The poem has a theme of the folly of adulation and the two pictures mirror this, showing a girl being admired by others, then buried by them, her fame as brief lived as the flowers she is so closely linked with in all the pictures.

The illustrations seem to presume knowledge of the poems and are not just pretty pictures for the sake of it.  A good example of this is ‘Oenone’, the deserted wife of Paris, who dies of a broken heart (taking her time about it, it’s quite a long poem).  The illustration is the three goddesses awaiting the judgement of the errant Paris.  Interestingly, the fruits around the border are grapes not apples, but this ties in with her name being linked to 'the gift of wine'.

The one of the pictures for ‘Maud’, above, always reminded me of Madox Brown’s Stages of Cruelty, which would fit well with Maud’s icy nature.  It also echoes The Proscribed Royalist by Millais and has a quite early Pre-Raphaelite feel to it in composition.  

The Proscribed Royalist J E Millais
Stages of Cruelty (sketch) Ford Madox Brown

I suppose there are only so many ways you can show sneaky hand-kissing...moving on.

While looking for comparative illustrations for Tennyson's poems, the work I was surprised to find a lot of pictures for was ‘Lady Clare’.  For example…

Lady Clare (1857) Elizabeth Siddal

Lady Clare (1900) J W Waterhouse

Two diverse works, yet springing from the same movement.  Waterhouse’s Lady Clare also has the white hart, like Brickdale’s, but shares the graphic design of Siddal's background.  Being more familiar with the images than the poem, especially the Waterhouse, I never realised how at odds with the title her mode of dress is, but the humble dress of the woman who believed herself 'Lady' Clare only to find herself a pauper foreshadows the acceptance of her lover even when poor.  The pure white hart stands not only for their love but for her worth as a person separate from the money and lands she was thought to have owned.  Siddal's Lady is the 'before' picture, while her clothes are still rich and she is begged not to tell her beloved that she is poor, but both Waterhouse and Brickdale go with the 'after' Clare, poor but honest.  I love that Waterhouse has Clare sporting a small handbag, because now that she's poor she doesn't need a big one anymore....

Well, we've reached the conclusion of my three-day EFB extravaganza, and I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.  I will no doubt talk to you all again in a day or so, and will leave you with a final image...


  1. Thank you Kirsty,
    I have greatly enjoyed your tour of this wonderful old volume, and all the parallels and observations you have made. I love the covers, too. Something to treasure.

  2. Hi Kirsty,

    Just stumbled across your blog and wanted to say how much I enjoyed Stunner. Thank you for igniting my passion for the pre-raphaelites, and particularly for Fanny Cornforth!

  3. Thank you both for leaving comments, I do love comments ! I like to think it is my primary function to ignite passions. Hang on, that sounds a bit wrong...You know what I mean.

  4. Love your blogs Kirstie - you are a stunner!!!


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx