Tuesday, 15 January 2013

500 Images? Yes Please and Thank You...

When I was a teenager, at the very start of my Pre-Raphaelite passion, I wanted a nice general book on the art movement, a gateway to the Brotherhood...

For me, that was in the form of Timothy Hilton's 1970 classic The Pre-Raphaelites published by Thames and Hudson, which was on sale in the Waterstones on my summer school campus.  I stand by that book as my base-camp for exploring the lovely Brotherhood, but it is a product of its time and many of the illustrations are in black and white.  While Laurence des Cars and Francisca Garvie's Pre-Raphaelites: Romance and Realism is colour and marvellous, it is small, pocket sized, which is handy but not if you want a good wallow.  So, enter one of my Christmas presents this year...

The lovely Miss Holman (Resting Ninja) bought it for me from my Amazon Wishlist, although she was slightly puzzled by why I would want such a general book.  Now while I did not expect to be told anything new (yes, I am that arrogant, get me) I was very interested in how the information was to be organised, and how that might be of use to me in my work.  And I was not disappointed.

Study for the Head of Mariana (1851) J E Millais
The book is chronological, split down into sections which make understanding who did what and when a lot easier.  I appreciated keeping the introduction, the context in which the Pre-Raphaelites grew up, to a scant two pages because it meant getting on with the action all the quicker, but possibly for academic clarity this should have been expanded.  Mind you, there in lies the rub - this is not the book to study for the words, this is a book for those who know the story but want it visually spread before you.

A Wife J E Millais

The Brotherhood (or at least the 'big three') kick it all off and you get a 17 page gallop through Millais' life from birth to death, coupled with 38 pictures.  Millais isn't my major passion so I managed to find pictures I hadn't seen before, like the above study for Mariana (gorgeous) and The Wife, and it was interesting to see his life and career condensed down.

Moving on to Rossetti, and he gets an extra couple of pages, reflecting his continued Pre-Raph status (unlike Millais who went all popular).  If you imagine entire, enormous books are written on Rossetti's life, then to pack his life and art into 19 pages isn't bad, and Robinson does cover an awful lot of ground, if superficially.  There are little blue boxes of text that cover specific subjects, such as the Grosvenor Gallery, Kelmscott Manor and Chelsea, so if you are dipping in and out you can take what you want.

Mrs Sarah Wilson, the Artist's Sister  W H Hunt
Holman Hunt get similar treatment, as it gallops through his life from birth to death, via double marriage to sisters (scandal!) and Holy Land.  I didn't realise that Hunt had proposed to other women, who had politely declined, including Julia Jackson (Virginia Woolf's mum).  Hunt's psychotropic works are designed to be seen in technicolour and so it is good to see so many of them here including Christ Among the Doctors, which you don't tend to see in books.

Christ Among the Doctors (1887) W H Hunt
Following the Brotherhood comes Madox Brown, Burne-Jones and most interestingly, John William Waterhouse. Some people are put together like Charles Collins and Arthur Hughes, and John Ruskin and William Morris, which I'm not sure are appropriate partnerships.  'Minor Pre-Raphaelite Artists' covers various painters in a few paragraphs.  These include Collinson and Stephens, who were founders of the PRB, so it seems a tad unfair that they get only a later mention.

Part Two is entitled 'The Gallery' and covers the chronology of the art, rather than the personalities behind it. This way you can see that these two paintings were done the same year...

Convent Thoughts C Collins
Mariana J E Millais

Okay, you probably aren't shocked by that, both come from 1851.  How about these two...?

Danae  (1888) E Burne-Jones
Oh come on, I'm not labeling this (1888)

As the time rolls on, you begin to see how different works cross paths, and how artists who you would not normally think of together (especially if you are organising a big exhibition on Pre-Raphaelitism, apparently) existed together, working to the same ends.

Interestingly, the book ends with the end of the nineteenth century, with works like Hunt's Lady of Shalott and Waterhouse's The Awakening of Adonis. Gosh, I love that picture, hang on...

The Awakening of Adonis (1899) J W Waterhouse
Yes please and thank you, I could look at that all day, but I think Mr Waterhouse would have something to say about continuing into the twentieth century.  I think Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale might have something to say as well, oh and Byam Shaw.  Mind you, EFB might not have received a mention anyway as ladies are a little thin on the ground.  Poor old Lizzie Siddal does not even get a mention beside her posing.  Some of the information is a little old fashioned (yes, all the stuff about Fanny is 'fat prostitute') and some of it is just wrong - apparently, Alexa Wilding sat for Burne-Jones' Blessed Damozel (which he painted before he or even Rossetti met her).

Dream of Sardanapalus (1871) Ford Madox Brown
On balance, if you know your stuff, this is a good book because it helps with context and gives you a look at some less familiar pictures in glorious colour.  There are lots of chalk sketches, preparatory drawings and different versions of well-known works.  It all clocks in at less than £20, which is a bargain.  The Pre-Raphaelite book market is getting pretty packed these days and you would think that such a general book would have very little extra to offer to the field, but this is a pretty decent offering that makes the effort to break things down and put things in context.  Plus, if that doesn't work for you, there is always The Awakening of Adonis.

Ah, Adonis...


  1. Julia Jackson's supposed to be one of the girls in The Golden Stairs.

  2. I'm slowly forming the impression that pretty much everyone was coming down those Golden Stairs. My next post will be about another one of the Golden Girls. Unsurprisingly, it does not end well...

  3. I still think Christopher Wood wrote the best book on the Pre-Raphaelites. I have looked at others but that's my favorite. These days though I'm kind of tired of the subject and feel like its been beaten to death. I'd rather learn about obscure genre artists than Pre-Raphaelites these days.

  4. My mother-in-law bought me the Christopher Wood book years ago and it is good, although slight. I think there is still much more we don't know and far too much accepted knowledge which needs to be examined, and it is always a pleasure discussing it here!


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