Mind you, this week my thoughts on the matter were somewhat reversed. As some of you probably know I was born in the early 1970s, really not that long ago (cough, cough), and it was only 15 years before my birth that the last Pre-Raphaelite died.
I am talking about the artist who painted this...
|La Belle Dame Sans Merci|
|An Aristocrat Answering the Summons to Execution (1901)|
|St Agnes in Prison Receiving from Heaven the Shining White Garment (1905)|
I have used his works entitled Vanity several times in my three years of blogging because they are just so damn lush, but they are a bit of a cheat for me because of the dates.
Vanity on the left, with the cushion strapped to her head, is from 1907, and the lass on the right is from 1919. Is it my imagination or does the later Vanity look meaner? I am going to wildly speculate but maybe the frivolous, personified by this young woman, seemed more corrupt and impure after the horror of the First World War. The earlier Vanity keeps a sly eye on her face whereas the later model is looking to us to confirm her beauty. We are her mirror, the whole of society is there to tell the woman she is beautiful. That says something rather modern and disturbing, if you ask me.
|Study for Patient Griselda|
Anyway, On through the early decades of the twentieth century, Cowper maintained his ideal of the mythic medieval, the beautiful, vain women, existing only to be marvellous to look at in beautiful landscapes. These women exist contemporary to flappers, votes, motor cars and modern life.
|The Damsel of the Lake Called Nimue the Enchantress (1924)|
It seems impossible that such a juxtaposition would occur. I adore figurative art of this time but compared to The Damsel above, something like Sunlight Nude by George Spencer Watson (left) seems so modern even though they were painted around the same time. Excuse the rampant nudity, but they are both about beautiful women and Watson chooses a modern woman in a modern room compared to Cowper's maiden in her pastoral idyll.
I cannot find any reason other than possibly the pressure of taste and selling, but Cowper moved towards portraiture and a more modern, yet cloying style. I personally have no problem with his later works but in his obituary his later pictures were described as 'chocolate box'. Mind you, that has nothing but good connotations for me. Mmm, chocolates. Have a look at this one...
|The Ugly Ducking (1950)|
I've always loved this painting which resides in Cheltenham, near to where Cowper died in 1958. She's a jolly looking lass, isn't she? She has the proud look of a young woman who has become a beauty in a frankly enormous frock. She looks very traditional in many ways but that Neo-Elizabethan glory, post-war and post-rationing, shines through with a sort of pastel glamour that defines the 1950s and marks her out as being a modern girl. Look at the difference between our Duckling above and these likely pair...
|The Fortune Teller: Beware of a Dark Lady (1940)|
Mr Walker gets the pleasure of looking after these two and he is not overly fond of them as he thinks they look weird. I love this picture, the giant frilly frock on the blonde and the shifty look on her brunette chum's face. No prizes for guessing who the Dark Lady in the title is. That is a big ivy wall behind them, rather overbearing and threatening, but splendidly Pre-Raphaelite. I love how that floral fabric in the skirt of the fortune teller is an echo of the dress of La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Rapunzel and Vanity's sleeves and drapes. Over-sized stylized floral pattern must have appealed to Cowper as it was echoed throughout the decades of his art.
Frank Cadogan Cowper lived out his last years in Cirencester, just in the Cotswolds (and just up the road from where my mother in law used to live), where he died on 17th November 1958. He left £4228 which was just over £80,000 by today's rates, which doesn't strike me as a lot for such a beautiful painter. I certainly have never heard of an exhibition to gather his work up again and would love to see the scope of his unshakable vision all at once. Yes, even the fortune-telling pair.
He kept the torch alight so that we might follow it, the least we can do is see it all through his eyes.
|Frank Cadogan Cowper, 1932|