Saturday, August 28, 2010

Four Modern Pre-Raphaelites

I usually try to interchange between one visual artist and one animator in my posts, but since I'm on the topic of Pre-Raphaelites I thought I might as well quickly mention four other Pre-Raphaelite painters whose images have inspired me throughout my life. I suppose technically they should all be called "Modern" Pre-Raphaelites since none of them were actual members of the Brotherhood, and because they adopted more of the later aesthetics of the movement, but their works are all unmistakeably Pre-Raphaelite in style (*note, the above photo is of the "original Brotherhood" as portrayed in the BBC mini-series Desperate Romantics).

Sir Frederic Lord Leighton

The first modern Pre-Raphaelite painter whose works I admire is Sir Frederic Lord Leighton, born in Scarborough, England, in 1830; lived in Russia for a time, and studied art in Florence, Rome, Frankfurt, and Paris before moving to London where he met the Pre-Raphaelites. He became President of the Royal Academy in 1878, and was knighted that same year. Eight years later he would become a Baronet and was given a peerage, the only English artist to ever receive such an honor. Unfortunately his poor health only allowed him to enjoy that honor for one day.

Heart of Snow

The Fisherman and the Siren

A Roman Woman, La Nanna

Leighton is most well known for Flaming June (below), and it's no wonder why; the curve of the sleeping woman in tangerine with her hair falling loosely about her creates such striking forms and visually rich textures.

I've also fallen for Invocation (below); how illuminated and angelic the woman is, her face crowned in a halo of brilliant white. She is commanding and inviting at the same time.



The second Pre-Raphaelite of note is Edward Robert Hughes. Born in England, 1851, Hughes was actually the nephew of Arthur Hughes, another Pre-Raphaelite, and was assistant to William Holman Hunt, one of the original founders of the Brotherhood. Instead of oils, however, Hughes primarily used watercolors and gouache ("gwash"), which helped him to achieve the twinkling glow found in many of his works (*note, the above photo is of Hughes' Uncle, Arthur).



I'm really dying to try gouache actually. Apparently it acts like watercolors in that it is water soluble, has the look and feel of watercolors, and can be painted on watercolor paper or simple card stock, but unlike watercolors it can be painted over dark without any hint of underlying color showing through, and it creates very rich tones in just one layer. Sounds like a dream come true!

The Valkyrie's Vigil
In the Grass

Hughes' most well known painting is probably, A Midsummer Eve (below). Okay, this piece has always captured my imagination! The paint itself is luminescent, the glow pure magic. Isn't that exactly how you'd imagine the summoning of faeries and wood nymphs on a balmy summer's night? I thought so.

A Midsummer Eve

I also hold a special place in my heart for Dream Idyll (below), only because it is the exact representation of a childhood story my friend and I created, The Lost World of Shanta. The Pegasus was named Indigo, and an unfortunate maiden named, Autumn, fell through the clouds onto his back. In time their love would cause the unicorn, Shanta, to transform him into a human.

Dream Idyll


Sir Frank Bernard Dicksee

The third painter is Sir Frank Bernard Dicksee. Born in London, 1853 (this all seems like an exclusive, English-gentleman's club doesn't it?), he was instructed by his own father who was a painter himself. Young Dicksee entered the Royal Academy of Arts (like Waterhouse) at the tender age of 17, and achieved early success. He eventually became President of the Academy (like Leighton) in 1924, and was knighted (like Leighton) the following year by King George V.

The Mirror

The Offering

I really love Dicksee's style, there's something very "flowery" and elegant to it. It reminds me of the illustrations of Kinuko Y. Craft, whom I will post on later. :) His most famous image is probably the one below, La Belle Dame San Merci, which is like something out of a fairy tale.

La Belle Dame San Merci

The knight is clearly enraptured by the damsel's beauty, her red mane flowing, her cheeks like blushing roses; she desires to steal a kiss to thank her kind sir for his noble deeds, and how could he refuse? It amazes me how a rigid, old Englishman such as Dicksee could tap into the imagination of a pre-pubescent girl so well. :)

Romeo and Juliet

The End of the Quest

Dicksee's themes seem to focus on pairs of passion; the suitor and his maiden, the lady and her knight. One example is Hughes' romantic portrayal of Chivalry (seen below) in times past. Of course this image is a little taboo by today's post-feminist standards, but I think deep down inside all women (well, straight women at least?) have a secret desire to be rescued, or have their honor defended--whatever that may be--by their lovers.


Dicksee also seemed to have a fondness for music, and often portrayed it's melodious beauty in connection with the beauty of a refined woman.


The Duet


The Two Crowns

"How modest, kindly, all-accomplished, wise,
With what sublime repression of himself,
And in what limits, and how tenderly;
Not swaying to this faction or to that;
Not making his high place the lawless perch
Of winged ambitions, nor a vantage-ground
For pleasure; but through all this tract of years
Wearing the white flower of a blameless life,
Before a thousand peering littlenesses,
In that fierce light which beats upon a throne,
And blackens every blot: for where is he,
Who dares foreshadow for an only son
A lovelier life, a more unstained, than his?"



Edmund Blair Leighton

The fourth and final Pre-Raphaelite painter of note (but certainly not least of all) is Edmund Blair Leighton (another "Leighton"), born in London (of course) in 1853 (like Dicksee). His father, Charles Leighton, was a very talented artist (like Dicksee's father) who exhibited several works during his short career, but unfortunately died when he was only 32, leaving his 2 year old son Edmund without artistic guidance.

A Little Prince in Likely Time
to Bless a Royal Throne

Edmund Leighton, it would seem, would follow in his father's footstep's regardless of his absence, and even the disuassion of his family. Leighton eventually attended the Royal Academy (like Waterhouse and Dicksee), and exhibited his works there for over 40 years, but unlike Frederick Leighton, Dicksee, and Waterhouse, he never became an Academian or an Associate.

The Keys

My Fair Lady

Leighton never kept diaries so there is not a great deal of detail known about his life, however he did eventually married Katherine Nash in 1885, and they had a son and daughter; he exhibited annually at the Royal Academy; and he was an avid collector of old musical instruments, art, and furniture.

Stitching the Standard

Lady Godiva

Leighton was probably most well know for his paintings: The Accolade, and God Speed! (seen below) which I have adored since I first saw them in Middle School. Even though they are highly romanticized and kind of remind me of one of those pro-war propaganda posters from the 40's, I still love them.

The Accolade
God Speed!

In fact, for mine and my future-husband-to-be's first year date anniversary 6 years ago I made a watercolor reproduction of God Speed switching my face for the lady's and his for the knight's, and altered the lady tying a red cloth to handing him a lace handkerchief. I thought the title was fitting since he would be away on God's errand for two years. Then I cross-stitched our initials on a lace handkerchief just like those the ladies of olde would give to their knights as a favor. Cheesy, I know. Love makes us all fools. Here is my version of the painting in watercolors. Don't make fun, I know it's not that great. :p

My Reproduction of God Speed!

Just as Leighton scraped off and altered The Accolade moments before it was taken off to an exhibition, I too messed up on the faces of my painting to the point where I had to scratch off the watercolor surface and repaint them; fortunately for Leighton canvas is much more forgiving for scraping off oil paints than paper is for scraping off watercolors. :)

Tristan + Isolde

I suppose it's fitting I should find such love-struck inspiration in Leighton's pieces, for his greatest abundance of work depicted chivalry and highly tender moments between couples, principally set in Regency and Medieval periods.


A Stolen Interview



His themes of great passion often culminated in images depicting the greatest symbol of love forever after, marriage.

Signing the Registry

A Call To Arms

Leighton's popularity remains as strong and timeless today as it was in the height of his day, his scenes still highly sought after in reproductions.


"Good night, good night!
Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night
till it be morrow."


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

John William Waterhouse

I thought a nice way to round out the summer would be to feature a painter whose images always transport me to the lush foliage and divine fragrance of a summer stroll through a field of wild flowers.

My Sweet Rose

Gather Ye Rosebuds

*Sigh* Must summers always slip away so fast? Waterhouse's paintings are romantic and idyllic; their detail and form masterfully executed. Being the lover of fantasy I am you can imagine my delight as a child in visually devouring his depictions of rosy-lipped women draped in chiffon and crushed velvet gowns, gazing out at the window, or to some distant horizon in pensive contemplation.

Crystal Ball

The Tempest

Waterhouse's paintings are the stuff of legends--literally, he makes a point of portraying the greatest heroines and villains of Shakespeare, Greek and Arthurian mythology, forever frozen in their most poignant moments. Featured below, the despairing Ophelia (1910), just before stepping into the water to meet her tragic fate; Psyche (1905), upon entering Cupid's garden; and Apollo and Daphne (1908), their blighted chase of unrequited love ending in Daphne's transformation into a laurel tree.



Apollo and Daphne

Waterhouse was born in Rome, Italy, and it is believed for this reason many of his works are set in ancient Rome. At the age of 6 his family returned to England, and being the artistically inclined family they were, they encouraged young Waterhouse to draw and sketch what he saw in the local museums. At 22, Waterhouse entered the Royal Academy of Art to first study sculpture, but then switched to painting.

In 1874 his painting, Sleep and His Half Brother Death (seen above) was exhibited at the Royal Academy summer exhibition to great reviews, leading Waterhouse to exhibit at this annual show every year until 1916 (with the exception of 1890 and 1915). From then on his career was consistent and successful, leading him into teaching and the exhibition of his works for many years to come. At 34, he married fellow British artist, Esther Kenworthy, but never had any children. Isn't that often the case with artistic geniuses?

Gathering Almond Blossoms

The Flower Picker

Waterhouse is considered the very last of the Pre-Raphaelites, an artistic movement which began with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1849, the same year Waterhouse was born. Even though he was never an actual member of the brotherhood, Waterhouse adopted their signature style, rules of aesthetics, and rejection of conventional school of thought techniques.


A Mermaid

The term Pre-Raphaelites refers to the High Renaissance artist Raphael, whose work was often referred to by members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as "rubbish", criticizing him for his decadent themes and depraved lifestyle. Although Raphael was one of the greatest painters in the history of art, he died of syphilis and was known as a drunkard. This did not sit well with the Brotherhood painters who believed that only a morally pure artist could produce morally pure art. Featured below, Raphael's La Fornarina, a portrait of his mistress, and below that, a portrait of himself after having painted his mistress. How scandalous!

Instead, members of the Brotherhood embraced the artistic manners of Medieval and Early Renaissance painters such as Lorenzetti, Veneziano, Verrocchio, and Bondone. They felt that these painters infused their works with spiritual symbolism, godliness and sacred themes. Featured below, Verrocchio's Madonna and Child, and Veneziano's Portrait of a Woman.

Oddly enough, the original Pre-Raphaelites were hardly saints themselves, having many trysts and mistresses, and often creating images that were considered too risque to be displayed in public. Oh well, I suppose an artist's ego has the power to make or break any rules they want, right? The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood also painted brightly-colored, evenly lit pictures that appeared almost flat, which was in direct opposition to the Royal Academy's emphasis on rich shadow and tone at the expense of color.

The Lady Of Shalott


In later years the Brotherhood reformed their precise, almost photographic realism by combining it with a magic or symbolic realism, often using devices found in the poetry of Tennyson, Browning, and Keats. The second stage of the movement also emphasized themes of eroticized medievalism, and techniques that produced a moody atmosphere.



Hylas and the Nymphs

I share Waterhouse's fondness for the female form, their lines so serpentine and graceful. His women are no waifs, however, having that sturdy, Rubenesque charm to them. Most often they are not the classic damsels in distress either, rather empowered females with a provocative sexuality to their gaze. During the Victorian age of propriety this must have been a challenge to many orthodox conventions, however, that is what the rebellious spirit of the Pre-Raphaelites was all about.



Circe Invidiosa (Jealous Circe)

One of Waterhouse's most well-known images--and one of my personal favorites, is the one pictured below, The Lady of Shalott (1888), based off of Lord Alfred Tennyson's heart-rending poem of the same name.

"And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance --
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott."

The Lady of Shalott was a poem of great inspiration for the Pre-Raphaelites, more so almost than any other tale. One common portrayal was of the moment the Lady of Shalott, tired of seeing the world only through the reflection of her mirror and weaving it in her tapestry, decides to look out her window for real that she might gaze upon the face of Lancelot. The moment she does her mirror cracks and a curse falls upon her; she is doomed to a speedy demise!

The Lady of Shalott

An interesting analysis I read is that Tennyson wrote the poem as a commentary on the roles of Victorian women:

" is hard to read his images as anything but an oblique account of the confined and restricted world of the Victorian woman --accursed and prohibited by virtue of her sex alone--and the dire consequences attendant on rebellion. The rejection of seclusion in the shadowy sphere of prescribed femininity, where the approved activity is weaving or embroidery, leads immediately to ostracism and social death. The enclosed rooms in which these ladies live, looking out on inviting sunlit landscapes, and the tangled threads binding their vigorous limbs, are surely metaphors of woman's condition, signifying the docile, passive, reflective and domestic role that dominated Victorian ideas of femininity. The lady cannot break from her constraints: her gesture of independence provokes the curse. It is interesting that most artists chose to depict this particular moment, so that their ladies are frozen forever in their decision of defiance."

-Excerpt: Jan Marsh, Pre-Raphaelite Women, 1987/1998, p. 152.

In conclusion I will leave you with some quotes from one of the great inspirations for the Pre-Raphaelite movement, John Keats, which to me sums up the emotions stirred by Waterhouse's works:

"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,'
-that is all ye know on earth,
and all ye need to know."

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
its loveliness increases;
it will never pass into nothingness."

"I am certain of nothing but
the holiness of the heart's affections,
and the truth of imagination."