Now, you know me, I love to read mid-century opinion of Pre-Raphaelite art as it is often so contrary and harsh. No aspect of Pre-Raphaelitism was safe from criticism and the lack of fawning respect (just because something is old) is refreshingly honest. When art historians and curators of the time bothered to turn their attention to Millais and the crew, they were addressing the unfashionable, the reviled, the stuffy, morbid, cloying Victorian nonsense. So why did the good people of the Bournemouth choose to celebrate Festival year with the Pre-Raphaelites? Does it tell us anything about why the Tate are doing the same thing 61 years later?
|The Triumph of the Innocents provided the cover image for the exhibition catalogue|
|Gladys Holman Hunt (or Mrs Michael Joseph, as she became) by her Dad|
Peacock prefaced the catalogue with an interesting Note. He states that there were two main difficulties in producing the exhibition and its catalogue. Firstly, many museums had been unwilling to share their works, depleting their walls during Festival year. This tell us that although the works were not considered fashionable at this time, they were valued. If I was feeling facetious, I might suggest that some of them are so big, they cover up a nice amount of space, but I'm sure certain images remained popular, even though the accepted history would tell us that they weren't. So what is missing? Well, this is conspicuous by its absence...
|Oh come on, I'm not telling you what it is, you all know...|
Good old Carlos provided a very useful little potted history of all things Pre-Raphaelite in his Introduction. He acknowledged that although the Victorians seemed remote from the 'modern' age, 'it was in fact the beginning of our era'. He wrote that as the Industrialism altered the traditional pattern of life, the Pre-Raphaelites found an attraction in fleeing to a perceived 'old order', a rediscovery of the romance of history and the medieval period in particular. This coupled with a discontent at the 'heartless' state of painting drove our young revolutionaries to take up their paintbrushes and revolt. Especially Rossetti, he was really revolting...
Interestingly, Peacock emphasised the contribution of the other brothers, William Michael Rossetti, Thomas Woolner, F G Stephens and Charles Collinson, in the introduction and some of their work is featured in the exhibition, as you would expect (except William Michael Rossetti, who was more Treasurer/Secretary/The One With A Proper Job), but Woolner is omitted, but then the works included are only two dimensional.
I was delighted to see this by Fred Stephens...
|The Proposal F G Stephens|
|For Sale (1857) James Collinson|
|To Let (1851) James Collinson|
Collinson is definitely ignored in the grand scheme of things, he didn't even get mashed into a fictional character in Desperate Romantics. These are both fairly well known Victorian images, both hinting at the negotiable nature of women's virtue (how rude), but being somewhat lighter in tone than, for example, Thoughts of the Past by Spencer Stanhope. It's also a good lesson that being a Pre-Raphaelite didn't always involve Medievalism or death. Or Medievalism and death. Collinson's modern girls are a good link to one of the most important works in the show...
|The Awakened/Awakening Conscience (1853) William Holman Hunt|
Hunt is very well represented, 24 of the works are from him and a great many are from his daughter's collection. This is double the amount of Millais (12) and more than Rossetti (19), and certainly gives weight to his role in the history of Pre-Raphaelitism. Coupled with the fact that a lot of the catalogue entries are to do with him (due to his daughter's input), you would be forgiven in thinking that Hunt was the leading PRB, which is not at all the impression we have today. Currently it is a bit of a toss up between Millais, who has the early talent (Exhibit A: Ophelia) and Rossetti, who had the personal charisma and stuff (Exhibit B: the hot bloke from Being Human). Carlos Peacock reasoned that Hunt had a perfectly legitimate claim to King Pre-Raphaelite, as he never wavered from the path of PRB painting, and the exhibition shows his consistent (if a little deranged) output...
|The Eve of St Agnes (1848)|
|The King of Hearts (1862)|
|London Bridge at Night (1863-4)|
Millais is given slightly shorter shrift. Anyone who had the pleasure of seeing the Tate's exhibition a few years back was left in no doubt that although his subject matter changed, his ability to render even the most revoltingly cute child into art was astounding. Nowadays, it seems that we judge Millais as being the talent of the operation, the child prodigy who gave Pre-Raphaelitism the legitimacy and edge that keeps us talking today. Without the punch of Ophelia, what's left?
|The Bridesmaid (1851)|
|The Order of Release (1853)|
|The Woodman's Daughter (1851)|
As for Rossetti, he is a curious fish and no mistake. In 1951 his fiery Latin temperament seems to have helped and hindered in equal measure, and there is a suspicion that he was all talk and no action, telling people about the PRB (we all know that the first rule of PRB is you don't talk about PRB) and generally being a bit of a womaniser. Mind you, the pictures selected show he could rival the best in terms of wow-factor...
|Fazio's Mistress (1863-73)|
|Venus Verticordia (1864)|
|The Artist's Wife, Mrs Dante Rossetti|
|The Artist's Wife, Mrs Dante Rossetti|
Now, before you think that the only way Lizzie will appear is as Rossetti's wife, fear not, she'll be here again tomorrow, but as the model to all three of the Brothers, she gets featured quite heavily. In that amazing pencil sketch of her 'Ophelia' face, and as the original Sylvia in Hunt's Two Gentleman of Verona (the sketch is featured, however I couldn't find an image of it), Elizabeth Siddal (spelt 'Siddall' in 1951) is present everywhere. I was pleased that there is no lingering on her death, unlike today's rendering of the poor woman. Really, do we just condense them down to death and virginity? How depressing.
Before I leave you for today, The 1950s insist I include Ford Madox Brown in this discussion of the first generation of Pre-Raphaelites. Brown is a difficult figure to fit into the narrative (yes Desperate Romantics, I'm looking at you again) but Carlos Peacock cites him as the original Pre-Raphaelite, taking inspiration from the Nazarene school of art (who he claimed were pre-Raphaelite in style and aim).
|An English Autumn Afternoon|
|Take Your Son, Sir (1851-57)|
|Tell's Son (1877)|
I purposefully left the exclamation mark off of Take Your Son, Sir! as that is how it is in the catalogue, and the accompanying text doesn't say anything about illegitimate children. I need to research further, obviously, but do we know for definite that Brown intended it to be about a woman accusing her seducer, or could it just be a woman presenting a man with his son? Tell's Son is the author Ford Madox Ford, who was Brown's grandson. Ford Madox Ford is not so well known these days, but I suspect that might change after the BBC show an adaptation of his novel series Parade's End staring Benedict Cumberbatch in September. I look forward to seeing how the Tate handle Ford, because I know they have borrowed Work from Manchester. Ah, there you go, Work is missing from 1951's exhibition, again I would argue, like Millais, it seems a pity to miss out what could be the artist's key work, but you can only borrow what you can borrow.
Right, I'm off for today, but I shall return on the morrow with the 'second eleven' Pre-Raphaelite artists, those who were not in the original Brotherhood, but without whom it would be impossible to imagine Pre-Raphaelite art as a whole. I wonder who is missing...