Friday 18 January 2013

The Modern Pre-Raphaelite

Recently on Facebook, I started a list of things that were being called Pre-Raphaelite in the news at present.  This ranged from any actress with red hair through to a pretty footballer and the film Public Enemies (when compared to Ganster Squad, apparently).  It seems like the media has caught hold of the notion of 'Pre-Raphaelite' meaning red, vivid, dreamlike, fairytale, luxurious, bohemian and many other things, and are misusing it with gay abandon.  In someways it is just a by-product of the fact that Pre-Raphaelites are popular again, on the telly, in the galleries, and so using 'Pre-Raphaelite' as shorthand for a pretty girl with red hair will be understood by a lot of people.

However, it has also come to pass that people have started sneaking Pre-Raphaelite imagery into photographs, both overtly and covertly.  This isn't new, for example...

The Bridesmaid (early 20th century) Unknown Photographer
It doesn't take a genius to spot that this is a direct copy of this...

The Bridesmaid J E Millais
What about more recently?  I was surprised at how directly David Bowie had used Rossetti's 1860s work to influence the look of his album 'The Man Who Sold the World'...

I'm really hoping that outfit is in the V&A exhibition of his costumes, it's beautiful.  Talking of musicians, we don't need to go back to the 1970s to find Pre-Raphaelite imagery.  This is a rather Old School image of a certain pop megastar.  When I talk about Pre-Raphaelite Madonna, I don't usually mean this...

Best picture of Madonna, ever.
Apart from the fact that Rufus Wainwright seems to use Pre-Raph styling in his work, one woman who seems to wear a constant Pre-Raph label is Florence Welch (it's the red hair) and this must be the most 'Astarte Syriaca' of her images...

Apart from Bowie's overt use of Rossetti which he acknowledged and aspired to, usually when Florence and her Machine get called Pre-Raphaelite, it is down to her red hair and swirling bohemain clothes.  Of late, there have been some more Pre-Raphaelite images on show in fashion magazines, their pinnacle has to be the Vogue shoot...

Saoirse Ronan, also from Vogue
Stephanie Pina, from the amazing Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood site was kind enough to send me the edition of Vogue with all the Pre-Raph style in it and it is gorgeous, if only I was allowed to go around dressed like that all the time without being looked at funny.  Mind you, that might not be the clothes...moving on...

There is endless Pre-Raphaelite inspired photograph online at present, some better than others.  There is a complete book you can buy for Kindle on the subject:

This was one of the first things I bought for my Kindle, it's not that much money and some of the pictures are truly inspired.  I love the version of Found that graces the cover, plus Pandora which shows a rather handsome young man in a robe with the box in his hands.  I enjoyed playing with modern versions of the pictures for the competition last summer, and it is clear that others have had similar fun.

Grand Marnier Advert by David Scheinmann
Clare Chong for Nylon September 2007
When you know the visual cues it's obvious that images of enormous beauty can be created that work on a number of different levels: The image is beautiful, undoubtedly, but also for people who know and love Pre-Raphaelite art, the image references a set of ideals, a dream shared across a century and more, a notion of perfection shared by men and women in 1850 and 2013 in a sort of unity and accord that is hard to fathom.

The reason for my meander through this subject is this picture, stumbled across in the National Portrait Gallery yesterday...

Like a Painting (2005) Miles Aldridge
This astonishingly gorgeous image is of the model Lily Cole, who has of course been labelled 'Pre-Raphaelite' because of her red hair and fragile, child-like beauty, so it is possible that the poor girl would look Pre-Raphaelite whatever she did, without even trying...

Lily pops round to Tesco...
Lily puts her wheelie bin out on a Tuesday evening...

Well, you get the idea.  The thing I adore about Like a Painting is the butterflies, fluttering around her, like Venus Verticordia, settling on her like The Blind Girl.  The sort of side-on, three-quarter portraits of women remind me of things like this...

Juliet J W Waterhouse
...and the whole effect is utterly stunning.  There is a definite pleasure in seeing a Pre-Raphaelite photograph, like sharing a joke, feeling that a work of art has been created for your own pleasure in a world of things that don't seem to apply to you.  If you are anything like me (and I assume you are, and we are all fabulous, obviously) many images of modern times, the adverts, the fashion, the visual culture of modernity, just don't connect to me. I don't read women's magazines because I don't feel they have anything to offer me, I am useless with adverts as they don't appeal to me (apart from the one with the dog and his friend the rabbit, that's ace), but if they ever attach a product to that image of Lily Cole, I'd be putty in their hands.  I'd buy what ever she's selling because that image is astonishing.

I am going to start a rumour that Madonna's next album will consist entirely of Christina Rossetti's poems set to music.  If we repeat it enough I'm sure it will come true, and she already has her 'look' sorted for the album...

Oh, and I'd buy it.


  1. I LOVE this post!

  2. When I see that image of Florence Welch, I'm struck by how Elizabeth Siddal she looks. But also, the pose reminds me of the ancient Greek three-formed goddess Hecate. There's a picture of a Hecate statue here

  3. I definitely see Lizzie in the left-hand Florence :) I completely see what you mean about Hecate, thanks for the link. It also reminds me of funereal figures you get around monuments, where the angel is repeated around an obilisk. This post could have gone on for ever as there are so many people making Pre-Raph photos out there. It is an endless pleasure....

  4. Just went over to Amazon to check out that book :D Thanks for the lovely post!

  5. Wonderful post! I feel like I'm finally coming into style now. :D It's about time the fashion industry decided to come up with a style that is actually pretty.

  6. If you enjoy Pre-Raphaelike photographs, you should look at this blog :

  7. your blog is always, always so enjoyable. I love learning more about both the ideals and seeing what those ideals are practically by in pictures. Keep it coming!

  8. have to listen to the Wraiths who put poems to music and are eerie and beautiful in the extreme. Check out their website.

  9. I shall indeed. Also, a special mention has to be made for the splendid 'Ghostland' by Goblin Market. All inspired by Pre-Raphaelite art and poetry. Gorgeous stuff :)

  10. My Dear Mrs Walker, so often your blog seems like a trip through my scrapbooks - the georgeous orange Grand Marnier dress features in one and also in my daydreams of a wedding dress to my then Ginourmous Thespian Crush, Daniel Day Lewis. Alas - what's that Christina Rossetti poem about dawdling? DDL, you dawdled.
    Definitely the look I would like to favour to pop out for a pint of laudanum, I mean milk, you are not alone! Mx

  11. Check out Tom Hunter's photograph 'The Way Home' (2000) from his series 'Life and Death in Hackney'.

  12. Thank you Simon! How could I forget Tom Hunter?! I love his stuff. I love 'Anchor and Hope' as we have 'Christina's World' hung on our stairs at home.

  13. Thanks for this wonderful and interesting post! :D

  14. Thanks Michelle. I think spotting modern Pre-Raphs will become a regular hobby as they are so hot right now...

  15. Hi
    On the photo you have labeled 'Lily pops round to Tesco', could you say who the photographer is, please?
    Thank you

  16. Hi, I believe it was Richard Burbridge for Vogue Italia.


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