Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Best of British - Part Two: Defining Pre-Raphaelitism

Welcome to Day Two, as we look at who else was included in the 1951 exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art, held in Bournemouth as part of the Festival of Britain.  Obviously, the inclusion of Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti was given, as was Stephens and Collinson (being founders), but when you start picking 'followers' who do you include?

As you might have guessed from Grace's comment yesterday, there is a bit of a shock, announced loud and proud at the beginning of the catalogue.  Carlos Peacock, what a fabulous name, gave us the fact that 'in the past it has been customary to include paintings by Burne-Jones as examples of Pre-Raphaelite work.'  Well, uh-oh, I feel trouble coming.  Burne-Jones is now unquestionably part of the Pre-Raphaelite story, but in the humble opinion of Mr Peacock, Ned symbolised 'the wan ghost of Pre-Raphaelitism', offering 'necromantic' 'bloodless aestheticism'.  Meow.  However, as he thought Ned was a pretty good draughtsman, he included a couple of his drawings. How kind.

Head of a Girl
Seated Woman Holding a Musical Instrument

These were the pictures Mr Peacock chose, and I am left somewhat underwhelmed.  Where is The Beguiling of Merlin?  Phyllis and Demophon?  Let alone The Depths of the Sea?  Ned is relegated to a mention about the group that painted the Oxford Union Debating Chamber, along with William Morris and Arthur Hughes.  Mind you, Arthur Hughes gets far more page room...

Ophelia (1852) Arthus Hughes
             Fair Rosamund (1854)
The inclusion of the two decent sized Hughes mark him as a man to notice, as does the mention of him in the introduction.  His journey to the Oxford Union, together with his adherence to the Pre-Raphaelite cause make him a worthy inclusion, it seems.  Arthur Hughes is definitely spoken of within the inner circle, and I can imagine that Ophelia, together with the almost certain April Love and The Long Engagement will be in evidence at the Tate.  The latter two, with their clarity of colour and strength of emotion, are things of beauty indeed.

Clerk Saunders (1857) Elizabeth Siddall (sic)
If you remember my ramblings about mid-century Pre-Raphaelite appreciation, then I expressed shame-faced surprised at the inclusion of Elizabeth Siddal in the Pre-Raphaelite role call.  It's not that I don't think she deserves the place, it's just that I was surprised she was allowed it in an otherwise male-dominated scene.  She appears in both the guise of Mrs Rossetti, the artist's wife and Miss Siddall, the artist, having her cover blown by the description of the pencil sketch for Millais' Ophelia which describes her as 'Elizabeth Siddall, afterwards Mrs D G Rossetti'.  It is refreshing to have her presented as just another painter in the movement, rather than 'poor Lizzie'.  There isn't even a mention of her death!  Can you imagine?

I was delighted to see William Windus included, even though it wasn't Too Late...

Study of a Young Woman (1880)
The portrait of Windus' daughter is joined by a rather odd image, entitled The Second Duchess....

The Second Duchess
Neither show Windus to his full potential but go some way to explain how Ruskin might have formed the opinion that his talents were not entirely in art.  Speaking of Ruskin...

Coast Scene near Dunbar (1847)
Ruskin's part in the formation of the Brotherhood and their motivation is given is sensitive detail, outlining Ruskin's love of Turner, and his very specific thoughts on the mystery of art.  Ruskin, like Effie and Lizzie, suffers from our utter obsession with personal grubby details, and his finer qualities are often missed.  How many people think 'Ruskin, he was a marvellous watercolourist, wasn't he?' before 'Ruskin, he never done his wife, did he?'

Rather a surprise entry is Robert Braithwaite Martineau.  I love his romantic images, and his minute detail, in this, possibly his finest picture...

Kit's Writing Lesson (1852)
This was painted in Holman Hunt's studio, and is taken from Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop.  Although I love Martineau, I always put him firmly in the traditional Victorian art camp, rather than Pre-Raphaelite, but his detail is exquisite and his light is clear.  I hope there is some Martineau in evidence this autumn as I need to know more about Martineau and his connection to Hunt.  Plus any man who can paint a lovely shiny apple like that is okay by me.

Tomorrow we'll talk about the surprises, both of who was included and who wasn't.  Who did they think counted and who do we value now?  I'll give you a clue, Lizzie wouldn't have had to queue for the ladies loo at the 1951 Pre-Raphaelite party....


  1. 'Necromantic bloodless aestheticism'? I fail to see the problem!

  2. LOL, Verity! I myself am quite a fan of necromantic bloodless aethetism. Although it sort of is refreshing to see artists represented without all the gossip, (guiltily)it's still less fun. I'm with Grace on the "what the-?" factor when it comes to excluding the Nedster.

  3. Poor Ned. It's the playground bullies all over again.

  4. (Mean old Carlos Peacock.) Excellent post, Kirsty! Looking forward to tomorrow's!

  5. WAN GHOST???!?!?!?!??!

    OoOOOh How I wish I was a necromancer myself and could RAISE that pompous Peacock from the grave long enough to give him a piece of my mind (and FIST)

  6. "Grace SMASH!"

  7. Look, at least he got a mention (albeit a rather rude one), consider who we haven't spoken about so far. Do I have to sit everyone on separate chairs?

    I know, poor Ned.

  8. True. But I almost would rather he have not gotten a mention at all, than to be lambasted unfairly.

    Can mine be a Morris chair?

  9. Well, as my Granny used to say, Haters gonna hate. Or something. I think it's interesting that Ned seemed so controversial and dangerous. That Ned, he's so dark no light can escape his surface!

    Yes Gracie, a nice rush-seated chair awaits you.


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