Monday, August 31, 2009

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Study for the Dancing Girls for 'The Bower Meadow'

chalk on paper
Birmingham Art Gallery

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The Boat of Love

1874 - 81
oil on canvas
Birmingham Art Gallery
Taken from a sonnet of Dante. Rossetti first imagined pasinting it in 1855, but not started until it was eventually commissioned by William Graham, though abandoned after a financial disagreement in 1881.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - La Donna della Fiamma

chalk on paper
City Art Gallery, Manchester
'The Lady of the Flame'
Probably inspired by the work of Blake, of which Rossetti was an expert.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - La Bella Mano

oil on canvas
Delaware Art Museum
'The Beautiful Hand'
Commissioned by the dealer in oriental porcelain (which Rossetti collected) Murray Marks. The mirror in the background was Rossetti's. The model was Alexa Wilding, and May Morris sat for both the attendants.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - La Pia de'Tolomei

c. 1868 - 80
oil on canvas
Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas, Kawrence, KS
Inspired by the final lines of Canto V of the Purgatorio of Dante. Full of intended symbolism, notice for example the sundial in the foreground, representing time passing.
The picture was finally finished in 1880. The model is Jane Morris.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Reverie

[photograph of Jane by John Parsons in 1865, V&A]
Another portrait of Jane Morris.
Chalk on paper

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Mariana

oil on canvas
Aberdeen Art Gallery
Inspired by the opening of Act IV of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Inscribed on the frame Rossetti wrote 'Take, O take, those lips away'. The painting features Jane Morris and is very similar in the head at least to his portrait of her in 1868 (Portrait of Mrs William Morris in a Blue Silk Dress). The Page Boy was modelled by Willie Graham whose Father commissioned the picture.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ford Madox Brown - Pretty Baa-Lambs

oil on panel
inscribed F Madox Brown. 52

The Pre-Raphaelite passion for accurate observation brought artists into the open air with their paint and canvas. Brown began the original Baa-lambs, of which this is a variant, in 1851, posing his lay figure in hot sunlight at his home in Stockwell. His wife. Emma. and their daughter. Catherine, posed for the main group.

The sheep, brought over each day from Clapham Common, ate all the flowers in his garden and the hot sunshine gave the artist a fever. Brown was not the first, nor the last, Pre-Raphaelite to discover the trials of working out of doors. The rich, sun-drenched effect was. as Brown insisted, the main subject of this picture but, if so, it is not obvious why the figures are dressed in eighteenth century costume. The Ashmolean picture, painted in the studio of Thomas Seddon in 1852, is a small replica of the original, now in Birmingham. The background probably shows the appearance of the Birmingham picture before the landscape in it was extensively repainted in 1859 by the artist.

John Everett Millais - The Vale of Rest

oil on canvas
Tate Gallery
the title is from a Felix Mendelssohn song which Millais heard his brother singing and thought an appropriate title.
Usually considered to be Millais' last true pre-raphaelite painting. At the time he was still interested in a mystic form of religion. It has always raised many questions, like why is one Num working so hard whilst the other just sits there. It is related in many ways to his other deeply religious painting Autumn Leaves.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Regina Cordium

oil on canvas
Art Gallery, Kelvingrove, Glasgow
means 'Queen of Hearts'
The model was Alexa Wilding. She is surrounded by symbols of love.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Study of the Black Boy

Who later featured in the painting 'The Beloved'
Chalk and pencil on paper
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
The boy was almost certainly a Page Boy that Rossetti spotted in a door way.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The Blue Bower

oil on canvas
Barber Institute, Birmingham
Rossetti's last major portrait of Fanny Cornforth, who a few years later he nicknamed 'The Good Elephant' for her ballooning size (already evident here). The wallpaper reflects his intense love of blue and white porcelain of which he had a large collection at Cheyne Walk (a love he shared with his neighbour Whistler). This painting was sold to the dealer Ernest Gambert for £210 who sold it to another dealer Agnew almost immediately for £340.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ford Madox Brown - Jesus Washing Peter's Feet.

1852-56. retouched several times up to 1892.
Oil on canvas
Exhibited for the first time the same year as his masterpiece Work (1853). He used family and friends as models. He sent it to the RA, but it was hung in such a bad situation, he stormed out anf vowed to display his pictures himself from then on.

Ford Madox Brown - 'Take Your Son, Sir!'

oil on canvas
Tate Gallery
The theme was prostitution, a wronged woman displaying the child from clothes that closely resemble a womb. The image of the seducer can cleverly be seen in the mirror. The model for the head was Fanny Cornforth. It may not be a coincidence that it was painted the same year as the new divorce law was passed that finally allowed women to sue for divorce, though only on the grounds of desertion or cruelty.
I'm not so sure about the above now (Aug '09). A book I am reading says that the models were his second wife Emma and their 3 month old son. The man in the mirror would then be Brown himself. The theme it is suggested was not prostitution but illegitimacy, or possibly autobiographical. It is painted as if a Madonna and Child.
Notice the position of the signature half way up the painting. Extra paper seems t have been added several times to lengthen it over the years. The material around the baby is very womb-like. The reason for its never being finished is probably that the baby, Arthur, died.

Ford Madox Brown - Chaucer at the Court of Edward III

oil on canvas
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
(on the replica in the Tate Gallery)
The studies for this complex picture began in the 1840's, and originally it was ging to be a triptych. It was painted not long after he came under the influence of the PRB (though never actually a member) and its tonal range and use of natural sunlight reflect this. Ford carefully researched the costumes and it is full of rich details. It was exhibited in 1865 and was rightly very popular.

John William Waterhouse - Study for Nymphs finding the head of Orpheus

[Study for Nymphs finding the Head of Orpheus]
oil on canvas
19.5 x 35.5"

'Waterhouse's imaginative power is emphasized by the floating head with its hair entwined in the floating lyre; in reality, this grouping would keep the two objects together, but here it also alleviates the stark horror of the disembodied head. Notice, too, the final accent of the flower placed centrally among the hair.' (Anthony Hobson, J. W. Waterhouse, 1980, p. 117)

The present painting relates o Waterhouse's Royal Academy exhibit of 1901 Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus (private collection), painted in 1900 in which two female deities have happened upon the head of the musician floating in the river Herbrus where they are fetching water. Following Orpheus' loss of his wife Eurydice, he roamed the land inconsolable and absorbed by his grief and his refusal to concede to the advances of the Thracian Bacchantes incurred their terrible wrath. After his frenzied murder, his severed head was cast into the river with his lyre and as he water lapped over the strings of the instrument, it played a mournful tune to the accompaniment of his singing which continued even after death. The subject was one that was popular in fin de siècle Europe, in the work of the likes of Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau and Jean Delville and of all Waterhouse's paintings The Head of Orpheus is perhaps Waterhouse's most Symbolist, transcending a purely narrative subject and embodying the eternal spirit of music.

The concentration upon the head of Orpheus with the harp in the present painting is arguably more powerful than the finished painting, as it centres upon the theme of melancholic music without the distraction of the auxiliary nymphs. Anthony Hobson has explained the importance of this picture in the evolution of Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus; 'The apparently effortless nature of the painting, to which Waterhouse's mastery of the figure contributes, is belied by such detailed analysis. The time and thought devoted to it are attested not only by the preliminary pencil and oil sketches showing significant differences in the composition, but by a full-scale study in oils of the floating head, comparable in treatment to the finished work.' (ibid Hobson, p. 117)

John William Waterhouse - Flora

oil on canvas
28 3/4 x 13"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

William Holman Hunt - The Hireling Shepherd

The more you look at this picture, the odder it becomes. The subject is from Shakespeare's King Lear, from Edgar's song about a shepherd neglecting his flock. Notice that he is showing her a death's head moth, her lamb is eating an apple (which will make it ill), the flock of sheep are in real trouble, straying and with one on its back. The colours clash and it isn't a scene of idyllic harmony at all.

John Everett Millais - The Huguenot

Oil on canvas
Makins Collection
Depicting a scene from the 'Massacre of the Innocents' in Paris, 1572.
The full title is 'A Huguenot, on St Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield himself from danger by wearing a Roman Catholic badge'. On that day of massacre it was decreed that all Catholics should wear a white band on one arm and a cross in their hats. Notice the crushed red flower at his feet, symbolising certain death.
It won the Liverpool prize and was much admired and he had to paint the Black Brunswicker (1860) because of public pressure foe 'another Huguenot'.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Girl at a Lattice

oil on canvas
Fitzwilliam Museum
Painted just after Lizzie's death. the model was an Irish maid at the Ford Madox-Brown's house in Hampstead. The coral necklace belonged to Rossetti but the setting and jig seem to be from the Brown's house. Ford painted the same girl in Mauvais Sujet in 1863.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Portrait of Maria Leathart

oil on panel
Private collection
The 22 year old wife of James Leathart, a lead manufacturer and Secretary of the Govt. School of Design who had William Bell Scott as its Master.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

James Collinson - The writing lesson

oil on panel
exhibited at the RA in the same year
It was Rossetti who admired Collinson's first exhibited picture The Charity Boy's Debut (1847) that recommended Collinson to be part of the PRB. It helped no doubt that at the time he was engaged to Christina Rossetti.
It is debatable whether this picture is really influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite ideals, its sentimental, domestic tone reminiscant of many 'ordinary' Victorian pictures.
Collinson abandoned the priesthood in 1854, and though he tried to re-enter the art world never achieved any great recognition, not helped by his narcolepsy, a condition that caused him to fall asleep at any moment without warning.

William Holman Hunt - Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus

The first picture Holman Hunt exhibited, inspired by the Shakespeare play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Following the PRB principles, most of the landscape as painted out in nature in Surrey.
The model for 'Sylvia' was Elizabeth Siddal.
Oil on canvas
Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham
The Victorian public hailed this a 'masterpiece' and it won first prize at the Liverpool Autumn exhibition of 1851. The picture is based on Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona.

John Everett Millais - Lorenzo and Isabella

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Millais' first painting, at the age of only 19! Notice the 'PRB' inscribed on Isabella's chair. It was exhibited at the RA in 1849. The subject is taken from Keat's poem. The diners were modelled by Millais' friends, William Rossetti was Lorenzo; Dante Rossetti is drinking at the back and Walter Deverell and F G Stephens sat for the brothers. The kicking brother was painted from memory of John Harris, a bully who tormented Millais at school.
The picture was sold to a tailor for £150 and a new suit.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The Seed of David

1858 -64
Oil on canvas
centre panel of triptych
Llandaff Cathredral, Cardiff
Rossetti's only public commission, brought about by John Seddon, brother of Thomas Seddon. Seddon was an architect restoring Llandaff Cathredral and commissioned an altarpiece from Rossetti for £400. Both William and Jane Morris were used as models.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Sir Galahad at the Ruined Chapel

Watercolour and bodycolour on paper
Birmingham Art Gallery
A Watercolour version of an 1857 illustration for Moxon's Tennyson.

Monday, August 24, 2009


When I was on holiday I had a chance to do research on a lot of my favourite PRB pictures (and read the excellant Rossetti's Wombat: Pre-Raphaelites and Australian Animals in Victorian London by John Simmons) so I am updating the notes on those pictures and re-publishing in the evenings. The usual pictures will still appear first thing in the morning. Please feel free to add additional information through the comments so that we all benefit.
I have stopped watching Desparate Romantics, in sheer disgust, so I can't comment on anything about that.

William Holman Hunt - Rienzi

[Rienzi Vowing to Obtain Justice for the Death of his Young Brother. Slain in a Skirmish between the Colonna and Orsini Factions]
oil on canvas
*** update ***
I only just read that in this picture of the 13th c revolutionary Cola di Rienzi
Rienzi was modelled by Rossetti and to his right (as the kneeling knight) is Millais. It as the first of Hunt's pictures to include the famous 'PRB' monogram. The subject is taken from Bulwer Lytton's (famous then, almost forgotten today) Rienzi, the last of the Roman Tribunes. It was exhibited at the RA in 1849 (alongside Millais' Lorenzo and Isabella). The background was carefully painted to fall in with Ruskin's ideas. Several critics have also pointed out that it also shows Hunt's inability to paint natural poses - note for example the soldier on the far left.

Frederic George Stephens

The painting (now in the Tate Gallery) was painted by William Holman Hunt on wood in 1847. They were best friends for years but had fallen out by the 1870's (a common fate of Hunt's friends). Their long correspondance however tells us a lot of what we know about the PRB. It was painted the year before the PRB was officially formed when Stephen's was a pupil of Hunt. It is still rather crudely painted, but the relaxed pose and the staring eyes show his abilities.

Edward Burne-Jones - Danae

Watercolour with bodycolour and gold paint
16 x 5"
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 13,750 GBP

Sir Edward Burne-Jones was deeply interested in the mythological legend of Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius King of Argos, who was incarcerated in a tower of brass by her father who had been warned by an oracle that a son born to her would be the cause of his own death. The god Zeus visited her in the form of a shower of gold, and as a result she became the mother of Perseus. Acrisius banished Perseus, sending him upon an apparently impossible mission – to kill the Medusa. With the assistance of the goddess Athena, Perseus accomplished this task and in due course returned to the court of Acrisius, where as foretold he was the cause of his grandfather's death.

Burne-Jones had first made drawings on the theme in the 1860s, in connection with the projected illustrated edition of William Morris's The Earthly Paradise, into which was incorporated the poem 'The Doom of King Acrisius'. Later he painted several versions of the subject Danaë and the Brazen Tower, in which the figure of Danaë is seen looking through a doorway towards the tower under construction. The largest and most complete painting in this series is that in the Glasgow City Art Gallery, of 1887-8, while a smaller version is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. It must also have been in the later 1880s that the artist painted the present gouache, which may be regarded as a sequel to the oil, as it shows the imprisoned Danaë receiving Zeus as her lover.

The present subject was treated by Burne-Jones as one of his illustrations on the theme of flower names in the so-called 'Flower Book', which were done at intervals between 1882 and his death in 1898. Number XVIII in that series, Golden Shower. Danaë in the Brazen Tower, takes a similar theme to the present watercolour.
CSN (Sotherby's)

Edward Burne-Jones - The Call of Perseus

black and white chalk over pencil
19 x 12.5"

This is a preparatory study for the figure of Perseus on the right side of the composition The Call of Perseus. This was the first subject in the cycle which was to form the Perseus series, commissioned by Arthur James Balfour in 1875 to decorate the music-room of his London house, 4 Carlton Gardens. The original scheme, with its division into painted and sculpted gesso panels and its decorative surrounds to be designed by William Morris, can be seen in three of designs from 1875-6, now in the Tate Gallery (exhibited The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts – Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910, Tate Gallery, London, 1997-8, nos. 93-6). Eventually the sculpted panels were abandoned and oil compositions introduced to replace them. Parts of the series were left unfinished at Burne-Jones's death. The cycle of oil paintings is now in the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie, while the preparatory gouache cartoons are in Southampton Art Gallery.

William Morris had treated the Perseus legend as 'The Doom of King Acrisius' in The Earthly Paradise, and Burne-Jones chose to follow the story as given there. Perseus was commanded to fetch the Medusa's Head, the magic power of which caused all who saw it to be turned to stone. Armed with magic weapons by the goddess Athena, and with winged sandals, a pouch into which to put the head, and the means of becoming invisible, he then visited the Graiae – sisters of the Gorgon who inhabited a land of darkness near the ends of the earth – from whom he was to gain information about the whereabouts of the sea-nymphs, from whom he gained further magic armours, and was thus prepared to find and kill the Medusa, and to cut off its head with impunity. On his way back Perseus came across Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus, King of Joppa in Ethiopia, chained to a rock as sacrifice to appease the gods who were displeased following insulting remarks made by Andromeda's mother Queen Cassiopeia.

The first composition, for which the present drawing was made, shows Perseus twice – sitting on a river bank dejectedly contemplating the impossibility of the task that he had been set. At the centre of the composition is the statuesque figure of the goddess Athena, who hands to the second figure of Perseus a magic mirror and a sword. The gouache version of the subject was painted in 1877, during the periods when Burne-Jones worked on the cycle in earnest. The present drawing, which is a beautiful example of the artist's mature draughtsmanship after the period of intensive self-training that he subjected himself to in the 1860s on the basis of study both of antique sculpture and the work of Michelangelo, must have been made at about the same time.
CSN (Sotherby's)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Portrait of Lizzie Siddal #2

Never seen this before. It is believed to date to 1850, the year Rossetti first met Lizzie, when she was 21. He did 58 extant drawings of her between 1850 and 1861, the year she died.
Watercolour on paper
Fitzwilliam Museum
It seems to have been re-worked in 1865

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Portrait of Lizzie Siddal #1

Pencil, pen and ink on paper
Fitzwilliam Museum

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - St Cecilia

Pen and Ink on paper
Birmingham Art Gallery

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Maids of Elfen-mere

(illus to William Allingham's Maids of Elfen-mere)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal - Lovers Listening to Music

Pencil, pen and ink on paper
Ashmolean Museum
This was the year Lizzie became Rossetti's pupil

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Jane Burden, aged 18 (detail)

pen, ink and pencil and wash with white highlights
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
(Morris married Jane the next year)

Sunday, August 9, 2009


I'm off for a week (9th - 16 or 17 th) to my parents who don't have Internet so no posts this week. See you soon. I'll miss all your posts and comments.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

John Everett Millais - statue by Thomas Brock at Tate Britain

William Holman Hunt - The Lady of Shalott

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - La Ghirlandata (The Bower Meadow)

Its funny. When i first started this blog I wasn't going to feature Rossetti more than I had to as he was my least favourite of the PRB, but though I still don't admire his character, his paintings have grown on me, and I particularly like this one.