|A very twentieth century Rossetti
|Rossetti pacing as Hall Caine wrote (1894)
|Rossetti paints Elizabeth Siddal (from Look and Learn)
'We are all familiar with the woman's face and figure which play so greater part in Rossetti's later and least conspicuously artistic work - her dark golden hair, her languorous pose, her full lips and Grecian brow, and sad eyes, testifying to the burden rather than the joy of life.'That to me sounds like they are describing Alexa Wilding, especially as they place her at the 'later' part of his life. Still, there was a doomed romance about the pair and that was popular in newspapers, so the sad stories of Lizzie and Gabriel continued.
|Dante's Dream (1871) D G Rossetti
|Fazio's Mistress (1863) D G Rossetti
|Rossetti being amazed by Elizabeth's loveliness, or something (from Look and Learn)
'Strangely enough, the great painter's ideal, which he found at last in one woman's face, was that towards which the mysterious trend of human countenance was moving through the ages.'The piece concluded that the 'Rossetti' face had become the pinnacle of beauty and was typically English and modern. During times of war nothing is more attractive than a pouty pair of lips...
|The Seed of David (1856) D G Rossetti
'There is one great difference between birth-centenaries and death-centenaries. The death-centenary of a great artist or a man of letters sees him a classic, with his due place in the cannon of classics. The birth centenary finds him at the nadir of his influence, if not of his reputation. For a master in the sphere of the imagination has three generations of readers, spectators, "subjects". The first, his contemporaries, adore or hate him from a level of frankly critical contemporary equality: the second, his much younger contemporaries, his posthumous disciples, adore him quite uncritically, as not only a master, but the last and most significant of masters. The third generation find it a duty and a pleasure to pull down the false gods - its fathers - and set up in its place the new true gods. As a generation is roughly thirty years, and an artist's influence begins about his thirtieth year, his birth-centenary falls in the hey-day of that third generation, and the celebration has something of the gruesome interest of an exhumation.'Kerr believed on balance that Elizabeth Siddal had been the true muse and her presence had heralded his period of genius - 'The Rossetti one would remember with love is the Rossetti of the fifties'. Elsewhere Rossetti's centenary was a chance for people to weigh up his contribution to art and poetry. In the front page article in the Hull Daily Mail on the 12th May, the writer remarked that 'in both sides of his art Rossetti fell short of the highest' and speculated if he had applied himself wholly to one discipline he might have achieved genius. They conclude by admitting 'it would be ungrateful to grumble, since Rossetti has left us so much of beauty'.
So many of his contemporaries were of course dead at this point but The Yorkshire Post reported on a picture unveiled for the centenary by Arthur Foord Hughes, painter and son of the Pre-Raphaelite Arthur Hughes. Mr Hughes now in his later years recounted how he had modelled as a baby for Rossetti (possibly for The Seed of David) and how Ruskin almost sat on him. True story.
ña for telling me that the cover contains the statement to the effect that 'gossip holds no place here'. yes, Violent Hunt, we're looking at you.
There was also a play about Rossetti at The People's Theatre in 1935 that was so scandalous that William Michael Rossetti's descendants complained and it never opened. The director of the theatre, Nancy Price gave a statement saying that the unnamed descendent did not wish the life of Rossetti to receive any more publicity, but I suspect there might have been something about shovels and graves mentioned.
I don't believe it is the same Rossetti-related play as 'The Merciless Lady' of 1934, which the above photograph is a still from. I suspect 'The Merciless Lady' was as bad as it looks (observe the horror of Lady Lilith, and the amount of make-up everyone is wearing) and it seemed a good idea to ask for a ban on all future Rossetti-themed plays.
The Second World War put a hiatus on Pre-Raphaelite gossip. A brief mention in The Western Morning News of the Pre-Raphaelites in an exhibition of 1941 questions their relevance during the Blitz. By the time of the centenary exhibition in the Tate for the Pre-Raphaelite in 1948, the tiny piece is nothing more than a dozen lines. The currency of Rossetti's style of beauty can be seen in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury review of the film The River of 1952, describing the heroine as 'a Pre-Raphaelite beauty' (I'm guessing that's her up there with the pompom flower). Two crosswords of the 1950s use Rossetti as their hints (24 across: Like Rossetti's damosel, 6 down: She had three in her hand (Rossetti)) but on the whole the mentions just stop. There is little in the way of good or bad, they just slip from common mention in the press, giving the impression which must have been mainstream in academic work by this point that they just weren't relevant. How far we seem to have come from this point can be illustrated by a review of an exhibition in 1952 of the Hamilton Bequest at the Arbroath Art Gallery. The reviewer complains that the more famous pictures are examples of great artists on bad days and the Rossetti picture is so bad it 'lets the Pre-Raphaelites down with a thud'. The picture on show that disappointed the writer was this one...
|Regina Cordium (1866)
Roll on the revival...