Saturday, 10 September 2011

My Love for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

     I have found,  for more years than I care to count,  the Pre-Raphaelite movement completely fascinating.  To begin with,  I had never even heard of the Pre-Raphaelites,  I just remember seeing some images of beautiful women who were adorned so exquisitely in dresses that made me want to reach out and touch the folds of the fabric on the page.  The textures and colours,  the poses and romantic scenes I found completely entrancing,  I would sit and become absorbed in their world, my imagination running away with me.  For me they felt like they were snapshots of scenes taken from the Fairytales that I read as a young girl.  
     Since then, I have tried to broaden my  knowledge of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. I confess that I still have a long way to go and an awful lot more to learn about them, but I am slowly becoming more familiar with the artists.
     It was only recently as I have been seriously pinning down my ideas for my new bedroom decoration,  that I realised how unconsciously I had been influenced by the Movement.  The colour palette that I have chosen is quite unusual to say the least,  and it was only as I was flicking through one of my Pre-Raphaelite books that I realised where the true inspiration for my bedroom lay.  It really surprised me,  as although I loved my ideas the colours that I had pain-stakingly chosen,  I was beginning to doubt whether I could pull them off and the room work as a whole.  Seeing the paintings made me realise that it will and gave me back the confidence that I had lacked to go ahead,  be brave and go for it!  I'm going to encourpourate some of my favourite pieces in my room.  Anyway, enough about my decorating!
     Here's some information that I've found about the Pre-Raphaelites and some of those iconic works of art too, I hope that you enjoy!

he term Pre-Raphaelite, which refers to both art and literature, is confusing because there were essentially two different and almost opposed movements, the second of which grew out of the first. The term itself originated in relation to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an influential group of mid-nineteenth-century avante garde painters associated with Ruskin who had great effect upon British, American, and European art. Those poets who had some connection with these artists and whose work presumably shares the characteristics of their art include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, George Meredith, William Morris, and Algernon Charles Swinburne.

William Holman Hunt's portraits of his young Pre-Raphaelite Brothers John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. [Click upon thumbnails to obtain larger images.]

         The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was founded in 1849 by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), D.G. Rossetti, John Everett Millais (1829-1896), William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Thomas Woolner, and F. G. Stephens to revitalize the arts. (Even though William and Michael's sister, Christina, never was an official member of the Brotherhood, she was a crucial member of the inner circle. Although the young would-be art revolutionaries never published a manifesto, their works and memoirs show that having read Ruskin's praise of the artist as prophet, they hoped to create an art suitable for the modern age by:

  1. Testing and defying all conventions of art; for example, if the Royal Academy schools taught art students to compose paintings with (a) pyramidal groupings of figures, (b) one major source of light at one side matched by a lesser one on the opposite, and (c) an emphasis on rich shadow and tone at the expense of color, the PRB with brilliant perversity painted bright-colored, evenly lit pictures that appeared almost flat.
  2. The PRB also emphasized precise, almost photographic representation of even humble objects, particularly those in the immediate foreground (which were traditionally left blurred or in shade) --thus violating conventional views of both proper style and subject.
  3. Following Ruskin, they attempted to transform the resultant hard-edge realism (created by 1 and 2) by combining it with typological symbolism. At their most successful, the PRB produced a magic or symbolic realism, often using devices found in the poetry of Tennyson and Browning.
  4. Believing that the arts were closely allied, the PRB encouraged artists and writers to practice each other's art, though only D.G. Rossetti did so with particular success.
  5. Looking for new subjects, they drew upon Shakespeare, Keats, and Tennyson.
 Arthur Hughes (after a sketch by William Holman Hunt). The Pre-Raphaelite Meeting. 1848 [Click upon thumbnail to obtain larger image.] 
     In addition to the formal members of the PRB, other artists and writers formed part of a larger Pre-Raphaelite circle, including the painters Ford Madox Brown and Charles Collins, the poet Christina Rossetti, the artist and social critic John Ruskin, the painter-poet William Bell Scott, and the sculptor poet John Lucas Tupper. Later additions to the Pre-Raphaelite circle include J. W. Inchnold, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris — and even J. M. Whistler.

The Second Stage of the Movement: Aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism

The second form of Pre-Raphaelitism, which grows out of the first under the direction of D.G. Rossetti, is Aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism, and it in turn produced the Arts and Crafts Movement, modern functional design, and the Aesthetes and Decadents. Rossetti and his follower Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) emphasized themes of medievalism and pictorial techniques that produced moody atmosphere. This form of Pre-Raphaelitism has most relevance to poetry; for although the earlier combination of a realistic style with elaborate symbolism appears in a few poems, particularly those of the Rossettis, this second stage finally had the most influence upon literature. All the poets associated with Pre-Raphaelitism draw upon the poetic continuum that descends from Spenser through Keats and Tennyson — one that emphasizes lush vowel sounds, sensuous description, and subjective psychological states.

Pre-Raphaelitism in poetry had major influence upon the writers of the Decadence as well as upon Gerard Manley Hopkins and W.B. Yeats, both of whom were also influenced by Ruskin and visual Pre-Raphaelitism.


    " This group of nineteenth-century English artists sought inspiration in mediaeval art. Their style is characterized by a conscious striving for beauty, existential themes and moral seriousness.
          Everyone recognizes their style. It is part of our common consciousness even though we may not know the names of the individual artists. The Pre-Raphaelites were a group or “brotherhood” of English artists formed in the middle of the 19th century. They were united by an interest in art produced prior to Raphael, the 16th century Italian master; hence their name. They found their inspiration in mediaeval and early Renaissance art with its bright colours and clear outlines. The figures in their paintings – often women – give expression to intense feelings such as yearning, passion or grief. "

Dante - Gabriel

Cowper - Vanity

Cowper - Molly, Duchess of Nona, 1905

Frederic, Lord Leighton - Flaming June

Waterhouse - The Lady of Shalott

Waterhouse - The Soul of the Rose

 A Huguenot, on Saint Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge

Millais - Ophelia

Waterhouse - La Belle Dame Sans Merci

La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1883)
From a poem by Keats:
I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful-a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragant zone,
She look'd at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bed, and sing
A faery's song.

She found me foots or relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said-
"I love thee true!"

Waterhouse - The Lady of Shalott

Sir Frank Dicksee - La Belle Dame sans Merci

Leighton - The Accolade

Leighton - God Speed

Millais - The Bridesmaid

Frederick Sandys - Love's Shadow

Millais - Mariana

Rossetti - Helen of Troy

Waterhouse - Gather ye Rosebuds while ye may 

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old time is still a-flying;
And the same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

(Robert Herrick)

Waterhouse - Ophelia

Waterhouse - Boreas

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