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Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood & Sisterhood


I am trying to figure out the best way to make this post. I am almost too excited to be able to sort through the information and give it in a readable way. I can't even figure out which of the forums is right for it. Here, Visual Arts, or Gaia's Gown, either choice makes sense. By default I choose our Discussion forum.

I have for long been a great fan of Pre-Raphaelite painting of mid and late 19th C England. At first the original painters of the movement were called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In all there were seven painters who comprised the group. As the movement grew and influenced more painters it simply bacme known as Pre-Raphaelite Painting.

Three features characterize the Brotherhood's working points. First, it came as a reaction to dominant Victorian values and tastes, what pretty much viewed painting as little more than a decorative function, without any positive, indivisible, defining value of its own. Secondly, the group was influenced by the aesthetic values of the art theorist, John Ruskin, whose first principle was that art should show a faithfulness to nature in its renderings. Ruskin's second principle, equally as determining, was that art should constitute what he called a "unity of feeling." And the third feature characterizing the group was both a rejection of academic (Classically predicated) rules derived from the Renaisance painter, Raphael, and a seeking out of subject matter in both literature and myth. While the Pre-Raphaelites were known for a kind of brutal realism for depicting both social ills and the effects of industrialization, they tended always to turn back to literature, Shakespeare especially, and myth, particulalrly that involving Arthurian romances. However, there has always been something tickling the back of my brain, maybe located in its reptilean cortex, something that also seemed to me to characterize, if not define, the group. Now for a small story.

During the week of Thanksgiving and in my brother's home. It is early afternoon. Brunch dishes are washed. Family is gathered in the living room chatting, gossipping, retelling family lore. Everyone is engaged in one conversation or another while some of us are also otherwise occupied. I notice a book on my brother's shelf. It is a book of Pre-Raphaelite prints and it is thicker than my own. I figure to find paintings I've not seen before. Leafing through and pausing over a print while following the room's conversations, and, not for the first time, I am struck by just how many paintings have as their central characters women. Also, not for the first time, I am struck by how many of the models were women the painters knew well and were used as their models time and time again. Some of the women were wives. Some were lovers. Others were painters, collaborators, and craftswomen in their own right. One would commit suicide. Not a few were poets. Two of the women would leave one member of the Brotherhood for another. These people knew each other well and not just in the studio.

Of the seven founding members three still stand out as serious painters: William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Everett Millais. Of the painters who would come to work in the manner the two best known are Ford Maddox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones. And now for the kicker. A couple of hours ago I found sites devoted solely to the women involved in the group. There were seven. the three best known were Elizabeth Rossetti (Dante's sister), Jane Morris married to Ruskin before marrried to Morris), Lizzi Sidal (a painter and actress). Other names are: Marie Spartali Stillman, Julia Margaret Cameron, Elizabeth Burden, and Maria Zambaco.

My gut feeling, half-sensed for a lot of years, is right about the group. In addition to how art history describes the working principles of the group there is something else. There are the working relationships between men and women who knew each other well, day in and day out, week in and week out, and over the course of years. When, for example, I am looking at a print of Rossetti's Beatrice, Dante's famous ideal love, I am also looking at a painting of Elizabeth Siddal who was Rossetti's ideal love. The list of such examples goes on.

A similar circumstance describing the workings of a group of painters does not come to mind right now. It very well may be unique. Wyeth had his Helga. But he was only one painter. She was only one model. For a group of painters and models to describe such a working relationship over time may be unique.

Not for the first time I am reminded of something Joseph Campbell wrote about Medieval and Early Renassaince alchemists. He said that the alchemist often had a working relationship with a woman, in cooperation with whom he conducted his alchemical experiments. "For the work of the alchemists was intimately personal, and where it involved the cooperation of an actual woman in the mythic role of regina, soror, filia mystica, the relationship was necessarily, because of its psychological dimension, deeply personal and exclusive."

Somewhere I've read that the Pre-Raphaelites were of a sort of 'back to nature' frame of mind. Theirs was a cottage industry, painting for them was deeply personal and intimate. It amounted to a rejection of industrial-commercial values. Between Brotherhood and Sisterhood they made material their ideals.

Here are three links giving information on both Brotherhood and Sisterhood. All are especially relevant to the women involved. A Wiki search will give more general information for anyone interested.

http://faculty.pittstate.edu/~knichols/lizzie.html

http://www.mindworkshop.com/alchemy/indcnt.html

http://shadowlight.gydja.com/preraphaelite.html

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Dec/6/2009, 5:26 pm
Dec/6/2009, 4:55 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood & Sisterhood


Hi Tere,

I enjoyed reading this piece on the Pre-Raphaleite Brotherhood and Sisterhood. It reminded me that I picked up book this summer at the local library book sale, Parallell Lives: Five Victorian Marriages by Phyllis Rose. I haven't read it yet, but I did recall one of the marriages discussed was Ruskin's. It looks as if Effie Gray was married to Ruskin and then to Millais:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effie_Gray

From what I can tell Jane (Burden) Morris was married to William Morris and may have been the lover of Rossetti:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Morris

The connections are certainly fascinating and confusing. Just this brief outline of Elizabeth Siddal's life reads like a novel, or a soap opera:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Siddall

On a side note, I thought this was interesting:

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a world-renowned collection of works by Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites that, some claim, strongly influenced the young J.R.R. Tolkien,[1] who would later go on to write his novels, such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, with their influence taken from the same mythological scenes portrayed by the Pre-Raphaelites.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Raphaelite_Brotherhood
Dec/12/2009, 10:47 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood & Sisterhood


Thanks, Katfriend, for the aditional information and links. Fascinating and confusing indeed!

Since you mention Effie Gray, Ruskin, and Millais there is a bit of gossip about the threesome I find telling. When Millais started painting Effie Gray she was still married to Ruskin. It soon came out that the lady was sex starved. There is no other word for it. And it turned out that the great asthete was physically repulsed by the sight of a a real naked woman. He simply couldn't get over the disparity between a painted nude's perfect form and a woman in immediate flesh. Also, there is a well known painting of Ruskin by Millais. It portrays the great man in a natural setting, standing by a waterfall and with a gneiss rock formation faithfully, painstakingly rendered. But because of the strain on the two men's friendship brought about by Millais' passionate love for Effie, and their eventual marriage, he needed a couple of years to finish the portrait. The last sitting involving Ruskin took place in his home, with him standing at the top of his stairs and with Millais at the bottom with his canvas. They say the two men never made eye contact during the session. I have a print of the painting. Ruskin is pointedly looking to the side.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ruskin

The article shows the painting.

Tere
Dec/12/2009, 5:21 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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