Pre-Raphaelite Artists and Their Art Paintings
From the middle years of the 19th century to its close, the Pre-Raphaelites were the most talked about artists in England. În 1848 a group of idealistic young artists aged between 19 and 23 set out to reform English painting calling themselves the „Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” (PRB). The decline of English art, the PRB believed, was a consequence of the stranglehold of the Royal Academy and the academic conventions it espoused.
În the first half of the i9th century the Royal Academy defined art, deciding what was considered worthy of inclusion on the walls of its exhibition galleries. Paintings were judged by the extent to which they drew from the work of the Italian Masters, in particular by the greatest Renaissance artist of all, Raphael. The PRB rejected Renaissance conventions in favour of a return to what they viewed as the honest purity of medieval art.
The term ´´Pre-Raphaelite´´ was initially applied to the precise and scientifically observed paintings produced by the Brotherhood’s artists, which were both innovative in their style and radical in their subject matter. Despite the differing temperaments of the artists in the original group, which included John Everett Millais (1829–1896), William Holman Hunt (1827–1910) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), they regularly went on painting expeditions together and visited each other’s studios. By 1853 the original group had disbanded, but a large number of artists remained faithful to the movements main aim of capturing in paint every facet of nature. The works of John Brett (1831–1902), John William Inchbold (1830–1888) and their followers required a magnifying lens to appreciate their richly coloured and exquisitely detailed visual surfaces.
The second phase of Pre-Raphaelitism was dominated by Rossetti, who attracted the attention of Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833–1898), William Morris (1834–1896) and others towards pseudo medieval subject matter and a type of female beauty which is now instantly recognisable. By the end of the century, the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism had penetrated beyond the fine arts to encompass stained glass and furniture. By this time a transition had also taken place in the art world, and the Royal Academy was no longer the dominant force dictating taste in England. As the 19th century progressed, the patronage of art dramatically shifted from aristocracy to the new middle class industrialists and prosperous manufacturers, to whom the art. of the Pre-Raphaelites greatly appealed.
Characterised by their pervasive focus on painting every inch of the canvas with equal intensity, Pre-Raphaelite paintings sharply contrasted with those produced earlier in the century. Often dark in colour owing to the indiscriminate use of bitumen (which does not dry and thus gradually destroys pictures), Brown condescendingly described the state of paintings in the National Gallery as being as „brown as [his]. .. grandmothers tea tray”. A few artists, including J. M. William Turner and William Mulready (1786–1863), had started experimenting with lighter colours in the early years of the i9th century, but the Pre-Raphaelites took naturalism a step further. They shared their preference for pure, unmixed colours with early Italian and Flemish artists and during the 1850S began em ploying brilliant colours on a wet white ground in order to achieve colours of startling intensity. În addition they made use of the new colours, such as emerald green, cadmium, and a new range of purples, which were then saturating the market thanks to advances in the Chemical industry.
În 1841 collapsible metal tubes replaced bladders or metal syringes for transporting oii paints. Being both portable and more reliable (bladders would often burst when squeezing out the colours), the Pre-Raphaelites were able to work out of doors in front of their subject. Hunt, not trusting any detail to memory, painted Our English Coasts, 1852 (Strayed Sheep; ill. p. 19) with every motif up close - from the red admirai butter flies to the brambles on the diff. Hunt’s meticulous treatment of the landscape overlook ing Covehurst Bay near Hastings was extolled by Ruskin and gained Hunt a circle of ad mirers both in England and across the channel. When Our English Coasts was exhibited in Paris in 1855 the French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix (1798–1863) wrote in his diary: „I am absolutely fiîled with wonder over Hunt’s sheep”. 7
Others were less convinced by the evenness of light in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and •e were quick to make comparisons between their work and the relatively new medium of i photography. The clififs on the east coast of Kent which William Dyce meticulously repli cated in his painting, Pegwell Bay, Kent - a Recollection ofOctobersth 1858 (ill. p. 16), ap peared „photographic” to many. Dyce painted the chalk cliffs of Englands east coast with geological precision, while members of his family are shown in front collecting shells and a group of tourists takes a donkey ride. According to the critics, however, the eye was unable to absorb such a concentration of detail. Despite their detractors, the clarity and brilliance of Pre-Raphaelite paintings caused a revolution in landscape painting, a genre previously ranked amongst the lowliest of subjects at the Royal Academy. As pioneers in observing colour contrasts in nature, the Pre-Raphaelites and their experiments with light and colour were to influence the French Impressionist artists, whose work was first exhibited from the 1870S onwards.
The Influence of Pre-Raphaelitism
The paths of the three main protagonists who had formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brother hood, Millais, Hunt and Rossetti, had barely overlapped since the mid 1850S, yet their influence was felt through the latter years of the i9th century. Numerous artists were indebted to their ideals. Yet, the second phase of Pre-Raphaelitism was in many ways the antithesis of the first and at exhibitions held in London’s Grosvenor and New Galleries it was the dominant trend alongside Aestheticism and Neoclassicism. The Pre-Raphaelites no longer reported on the modern world but more closely followed Burne-Jones’s dictum that „I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be - in light better than any light that ever shone - in a land no one can define, or remember, only desire”.
During the 188os a renewed interest in the Pre-Raphaelites was stimulated by the retrospective exhibitions of Millais and Hunt held in London in 1886. Their work from the 1850s in particular was praised and a group of artists attempted to replicate their brilliant colours and minute naturalistic detail, including John William Waterhouse (1849–1917), Frank Dicksee (1853–1928), Kate Bunce (1856–1927), and John Byam Liston Shaw (1872–1919). Shaw’s Boer War, 1900 - Last Summer Things Were Greener (iii. p. 2) successfully combines the romanticism of Rossetti with the lens like fidelity to nature of Millais and Hunt. The woman, reflecting on the death of a loved one killed in the war in South Africa (1899–1902), is oblivious to the profusion of natural detail which surrounds her. În The Lady of Shalott (ill. p. 28) Waterhouse reconciled the Classicism of Frederic Leighton with aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism. Set against an autumnal landscape, the Lady of Shalott floats away from Camelot to her death and echoes Millais’s Ophelia (ill. p. 71) which was exhibited again in 1886.
Pre-Raphaelitism found expression in a variety of forms besides painting. The book illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898) echo designs by Burne-Jones, although often horrifying the elderly artist. He had been introduced to him by Oscar Wilde and Burne-Jones subsequently introduced him to the publishers Dent & Co. to illustrate an edition of the Morte d’Arthur, Further, Morris & Co. had far reaching effects on 20th century architecture and design, culminating in the Arts and Crafts movement which influenced the Vienna Secession and the German Bauhaus.
The influence of the Pre-Raphaelites stretched across the Atlantic following an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite paintings in 1857 held in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The American Pre-Raphaelites were led by Thomas Charles Farrer (1839–1891) who, with a small group of artists, formed the Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art. in 1863. În their publication, The New Path, they advanced Ruskinian principles to replace the more painterly landscapists. În Europe the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites was more profound. Works by Hunt and Millais had been exhibited in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, and were admired by the Romantic artist, Eugene Delacroix and the critic, Theophile Gautier (1811–1872). Further, during the 188os and 1890s Brown showed his work in Brussels with the Belgian exhibition society, Les XX (The Twenty), and Burne-Jones exhibited in Paris, Munich, Dresden and Vienna. Burne-Jones and Rossetti, in particular, were to have a major influence on European Symbolism at the end of the i9th century. The Belgian artist Fernand Khnopff (1858–1921) revealed his debt to Rossetti in 1 Lock My Door upon Myself (ill. p. 25), The prurient gaze of the woman echoes Rossetti’s paintings of solitary female figures.