The Back Room
(copyright Shawn Christopher Shea, 1999) Introduction from the Director of TISA High Quality Links The following are excellent websites devoted to the Pre-Raphaelites, often filled with pictures of their work. Once within these high quality sites, you will find numerous links to more information and images from the haunting world of the Pre-Raphaelite artists. The Pre-Raphaelite Overview on the Victorian Web In case you would like some of the pictures hanging on the walls of the TISA Back Rooms to be hanging on the walls of your home, here is where you go to get them: Please let us know what you thought of our first Back Room at TISA via our Email Button below. Thanks for joining us.
Deeply tucked away in the elusive corset of the Victorian social fabric, the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood lay hidden and alluring. This brotherhood was a collection of seven artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, James Collinson, F. G. Stephens, Thomas Woolner, and William Rossetti (Dante Gabriel Rossettis brother). By mid-Victorian times some of the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and several new artists associated with the movement, had become well known, albeit quite controversial. By late Victorian times a few of the Pre-Raphaelite artists had gone surprisingly main-stream, seemingly sold-out to the same commercial interests that shanghaied the Victorian Christmas into a commercial bonanza for the department stores of Fifth Avenue. And by the closing of Victorian times, as the trenches of World War I waited in the future for an unwary Europe, the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their works had quietly settled into the dust of obscurity.
Their subtly sensual art is a delightful respite for modern eyes grown weary from a rather constant bombardment of not so subtle images of sensuality. Although their more mundane works are indeed dated, their finest paintings are laced with a vivid palette and a haunting atmosphere. This, the first Back Room of TISA is a brief introduction to their fascinating lives and works. If you like what you see, we have attempted to provide both a listing of recommended readings and a set of links to some of the finest sites on the web devoted to their art, just waiting for your click. Enjoy.
The official brotherhood was short-lived remaining intact for only a handful of years from 1848 to 1853. Its happenings were carefully inscribed in the journal writings of William Rossetti, who proved to be more of a historian than an artist within the group. The intensity of their bond was nicely captured by William in this entry:
(W. M. Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family Letters, 1895)
Before the group disbanded they managed to publish a few editions of a rather radical journal The Germ, that would prove to be the rage of the artistic underground. More importantly they had created some true masterpieces of Western Art, some of which appear on this site.
Although the list of players described above is exclusively male, the Pre-Raphaelite world was strongly influenced by women. At a more basic level the mistresses and models known as stunners to the Pre-Raphaelite clique were important sources of visual imagery and even helped to define the Pre-Raphaelite sense of beauty. But equally powerful were the keen intelligences and artistic abilities of the talented women associated with the movement including one of the most revered of Victorian poets, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossettis sister. Other talented women included the artist and poet Elizabeth Siddal, who chose Rossetti to be her husband, and the gifted painters Kate Bunce, Evelyn De Morgan, Marie Spartali Stillman, and Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.
The cover painting for our Back Room, "Autumn Leaves" by John Everett Millais, demonstrates Pre-Raphaelite work at its best in my opinion. In this richly evocative painting we come upon four Autumn waifs lost in their work and their reveries. Are they sisters? Friends? No one knows. Are they enjoying themselves? Unhappy? No one knows. But we do sense that they are intensely involved in their own little worlds, whatever they may be. Something important is happening.
In particular, the small girl in the forefront, holding the apple, seems lost in reverie. She is a fascinating example of the detail work of Pre-Raphaelites, a detailed emphasis on the outer world that sometimes points, paradoxically, towards the inner world. Note the bite out of her apple, and the fact that she has a slightly askew wall-eye that has wandered to the right. These touches of real humanness simple appetite and birth damage make her at once more real and curious. Most importantly she is not perfect, like a cute little girl should be, if painted by correct academic standards. One can almost hear a nonplussed Victorian critic thinking, This is a wonderfully wrought painting, but my God, why did he choose to show her wall-eye? It could have been painted out so easily.
We also see here another aspect of the richness of truth to nature as shown by the virtuoso rendering of the leaves in the leaf pile. The technique of Millais would look almost more at home in a display of modern hyperrealism than on the walls of the Royal Academy. To boot, the colors have a deep and warm feeling, very atypical of the somber palette of much of academic art. All of these touches would have made this painting potentially jarring to the Victorian eye, especially an academic one.
We also see here an example of a whispered symbolism, as opposed to a potentially more hackneyed literal approach. The painting is, indeed, supposed to mean something. Millais stated as much. Apparently, for Millais, the intent was to provoke a quietly religious reference to the inevitability of death as symbolized by Autumn and the falling away of leaves to decay. Perhaps this feeling, almost of wonderment, is the focus of the little girls inward gaze as she pauses from munching on her apple.
In any case the painting captures Autumn as well as any painting Ive ever seen. Like a great painting can do, it adds something intangible, that a photograph could not do, for what it captures is not in the scene but in the head of the artist, where no camera lens may peek. "Autumn Leaves" is Pre-Raphaelite work at its best. Interestingly, this painting by John Everett Millais was one of Dante Gabriel Rossettis most favorite paintings.
Mixed. As one would expect, much of the criticism in the early years was hostile, sometimes vehemently so. More realistic renderings of human faces and bodies was bad enough with everyday people, but when the Pre-Raphaelites took this approach to religious figures like Mary and Christ as Millais did in his painting Christ in the House of His Parents, enough was enough. Charles Dickens nearly flipped out, denouncing this painting as truly, commonplace and irrelevant. In its day this comment would be like Steven Spielberg calling your movie a pile of crap. It did not bode well for the brotherhood, despite the fact that many critics had liked some of their work, especially the unmistakably gifted draftsmanship of the outlandishly precocious Millais.
On a more personal note, Ruskins opinion of John Everett Millais dampened down just a tad after Ruskins wife had their marriage annulled apparently Ruskin had not consummated the marriage - so that she could marry Millais, with whom she proceeded to have six children. Her new Pre-Raphaelite husband apparently had no problem consummating marriages.
Nevertheless Ruskin would prove to be right with regard to the enduring influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, although their true place of importance has been long in receiving its rightful recognition. Even to the modern eye, as hopefully this site shows, some of these paintings are simply gorgeous.
by Sidney Harold Meteyard
Eleanore Fortescue Brickdale
An equally powerful line of influence was the popularity of Rossetti and Burne Jones with European Symbolists, especially in France. In part, these Symbolists, in their own right, would influence the early phases of the abstract art movement in its search for spiritual meaning in abstract form. Thus it can be seen that the Pre-Raphaelites were one of the first of the 19 century artists to emphasize the importance of art as true decorative space. Ironically, despite their emphasis on truth to nature, they helped set the foreground for modern art. In the wake of the Pre-Raphaelite mystique, painters felt they could more openly break the limiting rules of the Royal Academy. Artists began to experiment more daringly with curving lines and luscious colors aspects still of prime importance in contemporary art from the dustjackets on our books to the images on our websites.
Here at TISA we hope that you have enjoyed your visit to our first Back Room and the world of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I think you will find that both the art and the lives of these artists are endlessly fascinating. The relationships and intrigues among themselves and the world of Chelsea, London, are rather extraordinary. For more information on the Pre-Raphaelites I highly recommend The Pre-Raphaelites by Christopher Wood, Pre-Raphaelites in Love by Gay Daly, and just about anything that Jan Marsh has written. Below are some great starting points, from both Marsh and others:
(Very nice site with well researched text and excellent links. The Victorian Web, created by George P. Landow a Professor of English & Art History at Brown University, is simply outstanding.)
Cosmic Baseball Association: Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
(Despite the strange name and even stranger premise the Pre-Raphaelite artists are assigned baseball positions, according to their strengths, to play against other superstar teams from the arts and other disciplines this site is great! Written with both knowledge and wit, it has great insights, pictures, and links. A favorite!)
(This site is filled with luscious high resolution scans of various Pre-Raphaelite artists. Eye candy.)
The Rossetti Archive
(Here is a wonderful collection of pictures and information on the ultimate Pre-Raphaelite himself)
A Gallery of Paintings by John William Waterhouse
(Waterhouse was one of the most popular of the second- wave Pre-Raphaelite artists, and his work has ridden the tides of time quite well. This site provides a very nice collection of his lovely pieces.)
The Pre-Raphaelite Critic
(Contemporary criticism of the Pre-Raphaelites featuring an exhaustive collection of the rantings and ravings about the Pre-Raphaelites during their own times. Fascinating.)
(If you dont have big bucks here is a large poster store with a great selection of Pre-Raphaelite art.)
(Here is another store with reasonable prices and a very good selection of Pre-Raphaelite art)
(A curious store with curious stuff, such as calendars and address books from an enormous number of schools of art including the Pre- Raphaelites.)
Tuscany Fine Arts
(If you have big bucks, this sounds like a great stop. They create hand painted reproductions of original art on canvas. They actually routinely re-create Autumn Leaves by Millais. Pretty nifty.)
(copyright Shawn Christopher Shea, 1999)
Introduction from the Director of TISA
High Quality Links
The following are excellent websites devoted to the Pre-Raphaelites, often filled with pictures of their work. Once within these high quality sites, you will find numerous links to more information and images from the haunting world of the Pre-Raphaelite artists.
The Pre-Raphaelite Overview on the Victorian Web
In case you would like some of the pictures hanging on the walls of the TISA Back Rooms to be hanging on the walls of your home, here is where you go to get them:
Please let us know what you thought of our first Back Room at TISA via our Email Button below. Thanks for joining us.