The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was first formed in the summer of 1848. From the start their work had no common denominator – the painters called “Pre-Raphaelites” were all individual and their paintings show great contrasts. Pre-Raphaelitism cannot be defined; there are as many differences between the paintings as there are similarities. The original members of the Brotherhood were James Collinson, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, Frederick Stephens and Thomas Woolner. Other artists became more or less loosely associated with the movement.
This isn’t a post about art history or about individual artists. I just wanted to record some of my favourite paintings that can be defined, somewhat loosely in some cases, as Pre-Raphaelite. I love looking at these, mainly for the colour and style of the paintings. In no particular order of preference they are as follows.
Ophelia by John Everett Millais 1851 – 1852, showing the drowned Ophelia from Hamlet. This reproduction doesn’t do justice to the original, which is held by the Tate Britain, currently part of the Millais Exhibition on display in Japan -in the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art from 7 June to 17 August 2008, and The Bunkamura Museum of Art, 30 August to 26 October 2008. For more infomation click here. I particularly like the detail in Ophelia’s dress and flowers which are all symbolic.
Then an absolute favourite – Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c. 1863, (Tate Britain). This was inspired by Dante’s poem La Vita Nuova about his love for Beatrice. This is Rossetti’s portrait mourning the death of Lizzie Siddell in a trance-like state. The white poppy because she was thought to have been poisoned with opium and the sundial pointing to 9 relating to the meeting of Dante and Beatrice when he was 9 years old. I think this is such a beautiful, powerful painting – Rossetti described it saying Lizzy was ‘rapt from earth to heaven’.
Work by Ford Madox Brown, 1852 – 1865 (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). It’s the movement and gestures of the figures that I like in this painting and the contrasts in the characters. There are the workmen digging and drinking as they work, a beggar, the figures of Carlyle and F D Maurice (the ‘brain workers’), the rich, dogs and children. There is so much to see in this painting.
Little is known about Henry Wallis, who painted Chatterton, 1856 (Tate Britain). I like the pathos in this painting and the contrast between the illuminated figure of Chatterton as the dawn light strikes the dark background of the attic room where he had killed himself. Peter Ackoyd’s novel Chatterton tells the story of the artist’s suicide.
The paintings are copied from Wikipedia where there is a list of paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artists and artists associated with the Pre-Raphaelite style. The Pre-Raphaelites by Timothy Hilton is a very good source of information, with many reproductions of the paintings mainly in black and white, but with a few in colour. I haven’t included all my favourites – more to come in another post, maybe.