Friday, 20 April 2012


Yesterday I gave a very enjoyable talk at the Wallace Collection to ArtFund members about female artists in the Pre-Raphaelite movement from around 1850 to 1910, so here’s an opportunity to post two of my favourite images:
Lizzie Siddal’s painfully honest self-portrait from 1853-4, in oils, her only attempt in that medium and very creditable for its exactly-observed unglamourised self-image:  one feels sure this is what she saw in the mirror and strove to represent.  Artists’ early self-portraits are often very engaging for the element of naivety that informs prentice work – the endeavour is technically challenging, which precludes too much presentational sophistication.  Usually.  Rossetti’s early self-portrait in chalks is  a carefully-constructed image of the young artist as Romantic poet, with flowing locks.
At the other end of the period:  Evelyn de Morgan’s study of Janey Morris in old age  (mid-60s) for the painting The Hour Glass, a decorative medievalising meditation on time.  Like Siddal’s self-portrait, although in no way naïve, the study refuses to flatter a figure whom Rossetti’s praise, pictorial and personal, had elevated to the status of ‘Pre-Raphaelite beauty’ despite her very evident plainness. It shows Janey’s now grey hair, her heavy brows and strong features, with an expression of inward anxiety, hinting at distress, which corresponds to her features in repose as shown in photographs.  
Both Lizzie and Janey lacked vanity and had no delusions about their alleged ‘beauty’.  It’s a pity people persist in perpetuating the myths.  But that of course is what Pre-Raphaelitism is all about.
Next up: a talk on Pre-Raphaelite women artists in the Isle of Wight.   Not the best-known aspect of the movement, but worth exploring.

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