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.

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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.

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Grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt

Ludwig Vordermayer Heubach

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The Raven – pen and ink drawing on paper by Rossetti.
ca 1848, V&A, London
It’s that time of year again with Halloween fast approaching that thoughts turn to the bleak and morbid and ravens. Famously, this ‘Grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt’ bird inspired the poem, The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe. A poem which in turn inspired the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti to draw an intense, slightly creepy illustration.

Ravens also prompted the German sculptor, Ludwig Vordermayer to create the above dramatic ceramic piece for the Heubach factory in Koppelsdorf sometime around 1908. This hard-paste porcelain raven can now be seen lurking on a top shelf within the ceramics display at the V&A Museum.

The amazing genus Corvus gives us a group of birds that the derogatory expression ‘bird brain’ does a gross injustice to. Evidence suggests that crows, rooks, jackdaws and ravens are top of the avian intelligence pecking order. These birds have been observed constructing tools, using bait and even possibly exhibiting self-recognition. As a child I remember being amazed by the size of the ravens at the Tower of London and being bewitched and entranced by the way they stared at me. But this morning I had to make do with a common, but clever crow on my neighbours television aerial.

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