Thursday, 6 June 2013

Pre-Raphaelite Bazaar

Imagine my excitement yesterday when I read that Harper's Bazaar July issue would contain a Pre-Raphaelite photoshoot!

You may remember that Vogue dedicated some serious space to a Pre-Raphaelite tribute last September, and that was spectacular.  Their use of the actress Saoirse Ronan, posed in such evocative ways was about the only reason for me to read a 'Woman's Magazine' last year...

Saoirse looking Helen of Troy-ish
I had high hopes that Harper's would be able to pull off something similar.  After all, Pre-Raphaelites are so hot right now.  Apparently.

Promising a 'Pre-Raphaelite Vision', the 8 page spread shows a pale maiden clothed in white in a garden.  Here are a few of the images...

'The Maiden Standing in the Dewy Light'
'La Belle Dame Sans Merci Hath Thee in Thrall'
'She Still Delights to Weave the Mirror's Magic Sights'
The captions are the ones given to each image, and the last one is actually a partial reflection as the girl faces herself on the opposite page, with the dog in a slightly different position.

Let's take the positives first: I like the fact that Pre-Raphaelite is so mainstream it can be used in a magazine without too much explanation.  It is obviously seen as 'British' and classy, and is included in a magazine packed with features on things like classic fashion, seaside getaways and 'Nouveaux Peasants' (people who aspire to an old fashioned way of life, bottling their own sloe gin and keeping chickens.  Damn, that's me.)  Pre-Raphaelites are now cosy, classic, beautiful and fashionable, and I have no objection to that as it makes them accessible, which is exactly what they should be.

The fashion, although plain, does contain elements that remind me of the Pre-Raphs.  The pattern of lace on The Maiden Standing... is like 1960s William Morris and She Still Delights... has a luxurious feel whilst holding onto a fragility.  Her dress has the glorious disintegration of  something too beautiful to exist for long. La Belle Dame reminded me of the recent portrait of Lily Cole, featured here before, but here she is again, because she is so pretty...

I think out of the whole section La Belle Dame is the most successful in conjuring the elusive modern Pre-Raphaelite as it uses the conceit of a three quarter length picture of a beautiful, glamorously dressed young woman, like this one...

Mary Magdalene Frederick Sandys
The model chosen has a certain pale, striking beauty and has the obligatory centre-parted reddish hair which is always a short-hand for Pre-Raphaelitism.  However, while I think the person writing the captions is aware of Pre-Raphaelite art, the person who styled the shoot seems less so.  Unlike Vogue, where the echoes of the art were everywhere, the influence was less apparent here.  Certainly, it was easy to see Whistler in the pale form, but in Pre-Raph art women clad all in white are somewhat rarer.  Maybe Lady Lilith, but the photoshoot seemed to be drawing its vibe from the more medieval, Keats-y aspect of the art.  Also, the setting puzzled me.  Certainly there are Pre-Raphaelite images of gardens, but I associate the compression of space with Pre-Raphaelitism rather than the expanse.  This poor lass was made to stand in front of some leylandii hedges, which don't summon forth the glory of the PRB.  Leyland is Pre-Raphaelite, Leylandii is not.

Rossetti's patron Frederick Leyland, not to be confused with...
Leylandii Hedge.  Not Pre-Raph.
The problem with something becoming mainstream is that some lazy shorthand takes place and things that look like they possibly should be included are lumped together.  For people unaware of the complex depths of the art, Pre-Raphaelite can mean any of the following: red-hair often curly, pale, thin, medieval, fairy, female madness, ivy, lilies and so on.  People described as 'Pre-Raphaelite include...

Josh Homme, lead singer from Queens of the Stone Age

Florence Welch, rarely without her Pre-Raphaelite tag
Rebekah Brooks and her great hair.  Shame about the newspaper.
Although I embrace the common usage of the term, I do cringe to think 'Pre-Raphaelite' just boils down to 'redhead'. It is obviously far preferable that lazy journos get it wrong than the term is forgotten, I'm really not that precious, but if you are going to take the time and effort to create a Pre-Raphaelite fashion story, don't just stick a pale lass in some flowing clothes.  Also would it kill you to comb her hair?  Her mum might see it, for goodness sake.

In conclusion, I salute Harper's for having a go, but it would have been nice to see them do the same thorough job that Vogue managed last year.  It's more than just red hair.


  1. Did the tree get its name from its similarity to Mr Leyland's fine Victorian facial foliage?
    Seriously, though, there are hedges (yew, probably, rather than leylandii) in Stanhope's Patience on a Monument.

  2. Hm, I never thought of Queens of the Stone Age of being anything close to Pre-Raph before... I became interested in the PRBs because of Florence + the Machine- in my opinion she looks like a re-incarnation of Lizzie Siddal, and in the liner notes for her first album there's actually a picture of Lizzie on the wall and some William Morris curtains! She is definitely a PRB fan.

    I do wish the Pre-Raphaelites were more well-known where I live in Canada. I love that they're so well known in the UK, though. It's rather heartening!

  3. Simon: Wouldn't it be ace if they named all foliage after Victorian men's beards? You'd be forever pruning your Holman Hunt though.

    After reading that back, I'd like to apologise for any offence caused. I'd like to, but I won't.

    The Lemon: Yes, you can see that Florence is embracing her Pre-Raph self, which is lovely. She is splendid indeed.

    It's obviously up to you to enlighten the lovely country of Canada as to the wonders of Pre-Raphaelitism. I'd have a cup of tea first.

  4. 'The Maiden Standing in the Dewy Light' reminded me a bit of the photos of Jane Morris standing in a garden . . . 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci Hath Thee in Thrall' reminds me more of a Waterhouse. 'She Still Delights to Weave the Mirror's Magic Sights' doesn't give me a Pre Raphaelite vibe at all. They could have done some research. :(

  5. Hmnn... Never apologise, never explain.

    I'm not going to be able to take the image of DGR running his paintbrush through WHH's beard at face value ever again, though.

  6. RA, I agree - they gave it a go but it could have been so much better.

    Simon, my work here is done...

  7. Looks more like a Rowan photo shoot to me. Not that that is a bad thing...

  8. I think Rowan does a better job. I seem to remember I have a picture of a friend in a wood that is far better than this....I shall have to find it :)


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