Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Pre-Raphaelites on BBC4

The BBC is repeating the three-part series examining the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This second part looks at how they continued by transforming landscape painting with a microscopic examination of the natural world, some ten years before the French Impressionists.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde at Tate Britain until 13 January 2013

Dante Gabriel Rossetti:  The Beloved

New exhibition at the Tate Modern
Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-GardeExhibition:  LINK12 September 2012 – 13 January 2013
See the 'room by room' guide HERE

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery Pre Raphaelite Drawings

Rosso Vestita ~ Rossetti
Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery has over 2000 works in their collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, including oil paintings, tapestries, drawings, sketchbooks, stained glass and related cartoons, as well as prints, illustrated books, watercolours and ceramics.

Funded by public subscription, over 1000 drawings were bought from the artist and dealer Charles Fairfax Murray in 1903 and 1906 and clearly show how important drawing was to the Pre-Raphaelite vision and way of working.Many of the drawings are by Holman Hunt but there are also several rarely seen works by Ruskin, Millais and Rossetti.  A good example is Rosso Vestita Rosetti's second watercolour which is one of four fragments remaining from a large design for Kate the Queen, which was destroyed by Rossetti.

The collection can be viewed at: 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Ruskin's Mother

Portrait of Margaret Ruskin aged 44 by
James Northcote RA, 1825 

Some understanding of Ruskin's view of the world can be found by learning more about his mother, Margaret. Some accounts state that Margaret's father was a devout puritan named Captain Cox, of Yarmouth, a master mariner who died young. 

It may surprise people to know that Margaret was in fact born on the 2nd of September in 1781 at The King's Head Public House in Croydon where her father, William Cock, was the tenant-landlord. William was also an astute property developer, building a number of cottages that provided the family with a comfortable income. It is true that William died in a riding accident when he was only 33. Margaret's mother was able to use income from the rent of the cottages to send her to Mrs Rice's Academy for Ladies.  It was there that she became an Evangelical Protestant.

In the early 1800's Margaret went to live with her Aunt and Uncle in Edinburgh, where she met and married her cousin, John Ruskin's father, after an engagement of eight years.  John's father made his fortune as a wine importer and was often away on business, so it was his mother who became responsible for his education. His mother taught him to read every part of the Bible each year, including learning long passages by heart.  Her ambition was for him to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, but Margaret also taught John using the works of Sir Walter Scott, Byron and Shakespeare. Accounts describe Margaret as a 'strict disciplinarian' but it seems that she also indulged John, her only child. The family were wealthy and holidayed with trips through Europe. 

The impact of this on Ruskin is hinted at in his letters on education, where he wrote "the first essential point in the education given to the children will be the habit of instant, finely accurate, and totally unreasoning, obedience to their fathers, mothers, and tutors. The second essential will be the understanding of the nature of honour, making the obedience solemn and constant."

Even when John Ruskin was at Oxford for seven years, his mother lived with him, taking lodgings in the High Street to 'watch over his health'. She continued to watch over him until her death aged ninety.  John Ruskin was fifty two and was profoundly affected by her loss.  Margaret Ruskin was buried with her husband in Shirley parish church in Croydon and Ruskin had the following inscribed on her tomb:

Beside my father's body
I have laid
My mother's;
Ever returned to earth,
Nor purer life
Recorded in heaven.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Ruskin's letter to The Times, 13th May 1851

Sir, Your usual liberality will, I trust, give a place in your columns to this expression of my regret that the tone of the critique which appeared in The Times of Wednesday last on the works of Mr. Millais and Mr. Hunt, now in the Royal Academy, should have been scornful as well as severe.  I regret it, first, because the mere labour bestowed on those works, and their fidelity to a certain order of truth (labour and fidelity which are altogether indisputable) ought at once to have placed them above the level of mere contempt; and, secondly, because I believe these young artists to be at a most critical period of their career—at a turning point, from which they may either sink into nothingness or rise to very real greatness; and I believe also, that whether they choose the upward or downward path may in no small degree depend upon the character of the criticism which their works have to sustain.

I do not wish in any way to dispute or invalidate the general truth of your critique on the Royal Academy; nor am I surprised at the estimate which the writer formed of the pictures in question when rapidly compared with works of totally different style and aim; nay, when I first saw the chief picture by Millais in the Exhibition of last year I had nearly come to the same conclusions myself. But I ask your permission, in justice to artists who have at least given much time and toil to their pictures, to institute some more serious inquiry into their merits and faults than your general notice of the Academy could possibly have admitted.

Let me state, in the first place, that I have no acquaintance with any of these artists, and very imperfect sympathy with them. No one who has met with any of my writings will suspect me of daring to encourage them in their Romanist and Tractarian tendencies. I am glad to see that Mr. Millais's lady in blue is heartily tired of her painted window and idolatrous toilet-table, and I have no particular respect for Mr. Collins' lady in white, because her sympathies are limited by a dead wall, or divided between some gold fish and a tadpole (the latter Mr. Collins may, perhaps, permit me to suggest, en passant, as he is already half a frog, is rather too small for his age). But I happen to have a special acquaintance with the water plant, Alisma Plantago, among which the said gold fish are swimming; and, as I never saw it so thoroughly or so well drawn, I must take leave to remonstrate with you when you say sweepingly, that these men ‘sacrifice truth, as well as feeling to eccentricity.’ For as a mere botanical study of the water lily and Alisma, as well as of the common lily and several other garden flowers, this picture would be invaluable to me, and I heartily wish it were mine.

But, before entering into such particulars, let me correct an impression which your article is likely to induce in most minds, and which is altogether false. These pre-Raphaelites (I cannot compliment them on common sense in choice of a nom de guerre) do not desire nor pretend in any way to imitate antique painting, as such. They know little of ancient paintings who suppose the works of these young artists to resemble them. As far as I can judge of their aim—for, as I said, I do not know the men themselves—the pre-Raphaelites intend to surrender no advantage which the knowledge or inventions of the present time can afford to their art. They intend to return to early days in this one point only—that, as far as in them lies, they will draw either what they see, or what they suppose might have been the actual facts of the scene they desire to represent, irrespective of any conventional rules of picture making; and they have chosen their unfortunate though not inaccurate name because all artists did this before Raphael's time, and after Raphael's time did not this, but sought to paint fair pictures rather than represent stern facts, of which the consequence has been that from Raphael's time to this day historical art has been in acknowledged decadence.

Now, Sir, presupposing that the intention of these men was to return to archaic art instead of to archaic honesty, your critic borrows Fuseli’s expression respecting ancient draperies—‘snapped’ instead of folded,’ and asserts that in these pictures there is a ‘ servile imitation of false perspective.’ To which I have just this to answer: —

Millais' ‘Mariana’ (1851)
That there is not one single error in perspective in four out of the five pictures in question, and that in Millais' ‘Mariana’ there is but this one—that the top of the green curtain in the distant window has too low a vanishing point; and that I will undertake, if need be, to point out and prove a dozen worse errors in perspective in any 12 pictures containing architecture, taken at random from among the works of the most popular painters of the day.

Secondly: that, putting aside the small Mulready and the works of Thorburn and Sir W. Ross, and perhaps some others of those in the miniature room which I have not examined, there is not a single study of drapery in the whole Academy, be it in large works or small, which for perfect truth, power, and finish, could be compared for an instant with the black sleeve of the Julia, or with the velvet on the breast and the chain mail of the Valentine of Mr. Hunt's picture; or with the white draperies on the table in Mr. Millais' ‘Mariana, ’ and of the right hand figure in the same painter's ‘Dove returning to the Ark.’
And further: that as studies both of drapery and of every minor detail, there has been nothing in art so earnest or so complete as these pictures since the days of Albert Durer. This I assert generally and fearlessly. On the other hand,

I am perfectly ready to admit that Mr. Hunt's ‘Silvia’ is not a person whom Proteus or anyone else would have been likely to have fallen in love with at first sight; and that one cannot feel any sincere delight that Mr. Millais' ‘Wives of the Sons of Noah’ should have escaped the Deluge; with many other faults besides on which I will not enlarge at present, because I have already occupied too much of your valuable space, and I hope to be permitted to enter into more specific criticism in a future letter,

I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,

John Ruskin

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Passion for the Pre-Raphaelites by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber is best known for the musicals that made him a multi-millionaire. He was less well known for his passion in the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood - until he presented a documentary where he talks about their work, their lives, and their long term influence.

Growing up in London in the 1960s, he visited local churches and saw the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones in the stained glass windows. He then became a regular visitor to London's Tate Gallery collection in the Pre-Raphaelite gallery.

Interestingly, he explains that unfashionable Victorian paintings could be bought very cheaply at the time. He became wealthy after the hit musical Jesus Christ Superstar in the early 1970's and started what he calls 'serious' art collecting.

He is coy about what it has cost but he has paid record prices at art auctions, paying £17M for a Picasso and his collection includes A Vision of Fiammetta , one of Rossetti's last paintings. Pride of place, of course, goes to one of the eight versions of Rossetti’s ‘Proserpine’.

Andrew Lloyd Webber He makes a good case for their lasting impact not just on art, but also architecture and the way we now think about the Victorians. Disappointingly, he made no mention in the programme of John Ruskin, although there were several opportunities to do so.

The documentary should be available on this link until the 2nd November 2011

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Last Pre-Raphaelite

Fiona MacCarthy brings us a little closer to understanding Edward Burne-Jones.  You may know her from William Morris: A Life for Our Time and, once again, we are transported to the world of the Victorians.   

As Susan Engel wrote: Context is everything - and Fiona MacCarthy reminds us of the need to interpret Burne-Jones through an appreciation of the Victorian imagination.  It is no coincidence that Fiona Chose The Beguiling of Merlin for the cover - a painting about love and infatuation, entrapment and betrayal. 

The Last Pre-Raphaelite is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US