Romantic Victorians capturing the hues of autumn

andrew-lloyd-webber-pre-raphaelite-exhibitionThe work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their later followers has become more popular since the 1960s. Brought in from the cold after spending over half a century shunned by the art world. The Pre-Raphaelites had originally challenged the order of their day, then gradually their work was accepted and paintings such as Cherry Ripe by Millais and The Light of the World by Holman Hunt became incredibly popular – until the arrival of Modernism.

Victorian British Art is not for everyone, but I am a fan of some of the works by the Pre-Raphaelites. However, if I see more than a handful of their pictures at one viewing then I find the experience a little too cloying for my taste. The paintings are, after all, very richly coloured and dense with detail.

I vaguely remember going to the 1984 Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at the Tate Gallery. I went with my mother and remember standing with her as she gazed at ‘The Lady of Shalott’ by Waterhouse. Even then I preferred some of the more stylised works by Rossetti.

Detail of ‘The Lady of Shalott‘ by John William Waterhouse, 1888. Whole painting 1530 x 2000 mm. Oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London.

Let’s now scroll forwards a couple of decades to 2003 and my interest was still keen enough to visit the Royal Academy when they displayed the Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection – ‘Pre-Raphaelite and Other Masters’. However, far too much real life had happened to me and changed my way of seeing the world, and, also by then I had completed my Master’s in Art History. Wandering through room after room (over 250 works were on display) of sentimental, contrived images was all too much and my lasting memory of the exhibition was rushing through the last two galleries trying to get out as fast as possible.

Despite that experience I still admire the work of Rossetti and as the autumn takes full grip and the leaves turn to every shade of orange and brown, images of Lizzie Siddal, Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth posing for his paintings softly float into my mind’s eye. And, then, once in a while a contemporary photograph captures the essence of another century.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

15 thoughts on “Romantic Victorians capturing the hues of autumn”

  1. Yes, I too find the pre-Raphaelites hard to digest. It doesn’t take long before looking at a room full of their pictures becomes a bit like having one too many spoonsful of trifle. Nrevertheless, there’s no harm in plundering their palette. Good luck as you incorporate their inspiration into your next work perhaps!

    1. Oo I like that ‘too many spoonsful of trifle’ very accurately sums up my response. Yes, I have been working with autumnal browns, but just yesterday it was red dye everywhere. I guess subliminally that November is telling me next month is Christmas!

  2. I love the work of John William Waterhouse. For us Game of Thrones fans, it’s also fun to see these paintings because so many of them have inspired the look and feel of the show.

    1. The plundering of the past – the set and costume designers work in the same tradition as Waterhouse himself and countless other artists across the centuries . . . reinterpretations on reinterpretations! To quote Donne ‘No man is an island’.

      1. What I’m really thinking of here is the colours and the light. Some of the scenes in Game of Thrones could have been lifted straight out of a Victorian painting. That kind of light of image wasn’t something that they adapted from the artists who came before Raphael but was all their own intention.

      2. I think the emergence of photography during the 19th century challenged artists generally and the PRB responded intellectually as much as visually and I do agree with you that their approach to light was their own creative intention.

  3. I’ve always enjoyed the contrast of the artists’ and subjects actual lives in contrast to the art. To me the split between reality and the paintings, etc. is fascinating. I also enjoy looking at the outfits they wear. But you are so right- a little goes a long way.

    1. Yes, I agree with you about the contrasts. I originally came to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood by reading a book about their Bohemian lives which I think predisposed me to Rossetti. Then when I saw their work I did prefer his paintings, but later I discovered all the beautiful craft/design work by Burne Jones particularly his stained glass.

  4. It is an unusual photo for me to snap. We were out walking my sister’s dog after a storm and I’d taken my camera for the dramatic skies, but randomly caught my daughter in the setting sun ‘sans make-up’!!!!! 😉

  5. Well, there’s another art period I knew nothing of. I can see the Sydney gallery hosted an exhibition of drawings from Birmingham in 2011, but can’t see if there is anything in our regular collection. I’ll be more aware in future. That is a beautiful photo of your daughter and fits the theme of the post perfectly.

    1. I should imagine that to Australians most of the output of the Pre-Raphaelites would be viewed as tight and a little twee especially when compared to the diverse, open and forward-looking aesthetic your contemporary art world presents to the rest of the world.
      Photo of my daughter was pot luck, but as soon as I saw it on my computer screen I was immediately reminded of the droopy women depicted by the Pre-Raphaelites.

  6. Thank you. Yes, the Pre-Raphaelite revival I think was part of the 1960s re-visiting the romantic past and penning folk-like songs about Arthur and Camelot such as David Crosby’s ‘Guinnevere’.
    Thanks for the link to Loreena McKennitt – new to me.

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