Friday, August 1, 2014

A Curl of Copper and Pearl


This morning, right before leaving for work, I closed Kirsty Stonell-Walker's new novel, A Curl of Copper and Pearl, on the final page.  The novel is the story of Alexa - nee Alice - Wilding, one of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's most often used, yet little known, models for the opulent and sensual female portraits we know so well.  Kirsty creates a wonderful story based on careful research and some knowledgeable and careful extrapolation, with Alexa at its center. 

I have to admit the book really got interesting for me when familiar faces and names became more prevalent, especially when Alexa started visiting Kelmscott and met the Morris family.  I was a little sad that she never met my personal favorite Pre-Raphaelite, Edward Burne-Jones, but that's entirely a biased opinion based on how much I would have enjoyed Kirsty's description of the man.  I especially adored Kirsty's vivid descriptions of Fanny Cornforth, the mysterious Mrs. Jane Morris, and the man of the hour himself, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 

The most exquisite part of an already engrossing book to me was its last few chapters, as we joined Alexa Wilding in hopelessly watching the decline of this incredible light, Rossetti, who drew so many to him like enchanted moths to a flame.  To see the experiences of his last few months through the eyes of a single observer, and one so close to him, was heartbreaking.  As Alexa laments when she hears of his death, "what am I without him?"  We can see, through the constructed character we have grown to know throughout Kirsty's book, why this man would inspire such devotion and dramatics.  Indeed, Alexa Wilding would be no more than a name on a census, were it not for this face that looks back at us from Rossetti's canvases. 

A wonderful book, and highly recommended to anyone who enjoys the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and especially to anyone who wants to understand the facts of their lives more intimately. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Borrowing A Distinct Dress

Have you ever had a really long, involved, practically epic blog post or piece of conversational writing in mind, and because you just never seem to end up having the time to do it, you end up not writing anything at all?  And then its been so long it's awkward...

Last spring, no, not 2014, but 2013, I went to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the NGA in Washington D.C.  And it was an amazing experience.  It was my first time seeing these artworks I so adore in person, and it was truly almost a religious pilgrimage to me.  I wanted to do a series of blog posts talking about all my experiences at the exhibition and at the Delaware Art Museum.  But then things got busy and one month led to another...and I never got around to it.  But there are things I really wanted to say!  So I decided that there's no time like the present to at least start giving one or two highlights from the experience.

I had to share a fun little detail from the National Gallery.  Honestly, and totally unexpectedly, in the room where Millais' Ophelia was triumphantly displayed in all its glory, I found myself drawn more to this artwork, Rossetti's Salutation of Beatrice.


You see...all of the artworks, every single one, familiar or unfamiliar, was a thousand times more stunning in person than even the most accurate of online images could show.  But some were more surprising in their beauty than others.  We've all seen Ophelia.  We all know the intricacies of the flowers scattered on the water's surface, the murky river reeds.  But then there were artworks like this, easily admired and then put aside when perusing online collections.  But in person...oh in person, the colors...the glowing, radiant colors so vivid and vibrant you felt like you should hold your hands out to it for warmth.  The frame...the shining glowing wood frame, like the tree it came from was beaming with pride at the beauty it had been transformed into.  The whole thing was just breathtaking to me.

But I digress from my point.

Across the room from The Salutation of Beatrice was another artwork we've all seen before...William Morris'  La Belle Iseult.


This was also lovely in person, but not quite as stunningly so, perhaps because Morris never really quite got the "glowing colors" thing down in his paintings (but more than made up for it in, oh I don't know, a trillion other talents).

Wait a second...I thought to myself, peering at the familiar figure of Iseult.

I walked back across the room diagonally, looking at Beatrice.

I walked back across the room and looked at Iseult.  After three or four times doing this, I think the security guards got a bit antsy.

But sure enough, there it was...the same gown used as reference in both paintings.  Oh sure, the colors had been changed, and the sleeves were patterned in one and solid in the other, but there was no denying that one-of-a-kind pinecone and circle-punctuated gridmark of diamond lines on the gowns.


Sadly, this was the best version of Beatrice I could find online, but trust me...in the actual outfit the design is far clearer and more distinct.

Like a modern day costumer who finds a dress reused in two movies, I always get a huge tickle out of discovering props or costumes reused across Pre-Raphaelite artworks.  I recall seeing the same gown used multiple times by the same artist (Waterhouse, anyone?) but I can't recall ever seeing the same gown, modeled by the same woman, in two artworks with two subjects, by two artists.

It's just a little tidbit, but I didn't want to wait any longer to share it, as it gave me an inordinate amount of amusement and excitement to discover.  Was it just coincidence that the gown was chosen for Jane to wear by both artists?  Both paintings were done early in their careers...perhaps they were limited in their wardrobe options that early on.  Or perhaps this is a subtle little sign of the quiet competitiveness between Rossetti and Morris, an ironic symbol when worn by the woman who would eventually be their greatest source of conflict (to what extent real or later imagined by scholars we may never fully know). 

Who wishes this gown still existed?  And indeed, perhaps in some dusty attic of some random rowhouse in London, this gown sits, folded and tucked away in a chest.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

Last fall, I had the opportunity to jump on a photo shoot that has been a concept on my bucket list for a long time now.  After talking to a friend at a graduation party in June, I had a lead on a knight in shining armor who had the clean-cut good looks to pull off a chivalrous photography concept.

We are still working on trying to find a publication home for most of these images, but I decided I just couldn't wait any longer to share one of them.  And so in honor of Valentine's Day I give you....

John William Waterhouse's La Belle Dame Sans Merci


Photographer: Richard Wood
Knight: Patrick Neill

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Feel I Owe You An Explanation...


Portrait of me by Ellie Lane Imagery


I love blogging.  There's something marvelous to someone who is an introvert and creative about putting your thoughts out to the universe, and having people respond positively.  It's therapeutic to get my thoughts down, exciting to share beautiful objects or discoveries or realizations in an organized manner, and it's great fun to go back and read through old blog posts, almost like discovering all of the discoveries over again. 

But lately I've been a terrible blogger.  I have three blogs, each of which serves a different purpose, each of which I love very much for different reasons: There's Catty-Corner Cottage, my personal blog where I share stories and pictures from the process of fixing up and personalizing our first home.  There's The Beautiful Necessity, where I talk about my never-ending obsession with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and explore new and re-evaluated details of their lives and their art.  And then there's Domythic Bliss, where I talk about the Mythic Arts in general, and more specifically how to express a love for myth and fairy tale in one's personal abode and daily environment. 

I haven't blogged at either of the latter webpages since early November 2013.  And before then, it had been months between posts on either blog as well.

Please, reader, I beg you not to think I'm abandoning these blogs.  I'm not...I hold them close with a sense of ownership and pride and community.  But I have to admit something to you: life has been challenging.



By Brooke Shaden



In early 2011, I discovered the absolutely phenomenal blog, Hyperbole and a Half.  The genius behind the entries, Allie Brosh, was one of the most hilarious comedians in any medium I had ever seen.  I spent half of my time reading her entries wiping away tears of laughter and trying to breathe. 

In October of 2011, Allie wrote a blog post about how she had gotten a book contract.  Her readers were all very excited, but then there was nothing but silence; months and months and then over a year of absolutely nothing.  Even though I adored the blog, and followed her page on Facebook in case there were any new posts ever, I gradually stopped checking back to the blog itself.

In May of 2013, Allie returned with an absolutely epic post about depression, and what it's like to go through depression.  I mean, the brilliance with which she described what it's like, with both wit and total truthfulness and minute detail...it was nothing short of a blow-out comeback phenomenon.

Allie's experience is a perfect example of how life and all its imperfections and struggles can get in the way of something we really love.  Mental illness is truly a destroyer of all joy, sapping any bit of happiness you have and twisting it into knots.  I don't struggle with depression, but what I've started to admit to myself, and what I've had an especially hard time with since October 2013, is a suspected generalized anxiety disorder. 

In late September, I went to my rheumatologist for a routine visit, and his assistant thought she heard something of concern.  An appointment was set up with a cardiologist to have him check it out in late October.  And to make a long story short, I eventually had to come to grips with the fact that some doctors will always want to run more and more tests and will never be willing just to tell you that everything will be okay, even if the problem is minor.  I ramped up such an overabundance of anxiety by the time my appointment was scheduled, my heart was already racing a million miles a minute, chest tight, panic attacks waking me up at 3am.


By Brooke Shaden
 

Finally I decided to let the fear go, and I focused on having a great Christmas.  And it was a great holiday, but soon thereafter, I switched the focus of my anxiety from physical wellness to fear for our house, its safety, the weather and its affects on it.  My mind would create a thousand completely unlikely scenarios for how everything could fall apart: the loud pops and cracks old houses make in cold weather meant the roof was caving in, or the floor would give way.  An unknown smell in the air was undoubtedly carbon monoxide poisoning and we'd die in our sleep (despite the fact that we have detectors on every floor with fresh new batteries).  And lately?  Our furnace will go out in the negative degree weather, leaving our pipes to freeze and burst in the walls and collapse the ceiling and floor.  You get the idea, maybe. 

And the stressful thing about having an anxiety disorder is that sometimes...well, often...the things you're worried about are things that could legitimately happen.  It's just that they are rather unlikely, and you blow the ramifications of what if they every happened way out of proportion, as if your whole life will end if they occur.  But because these fears really are theoretically possible, it's hard to just ignore your anxiety.


By Brooke Shaden
 

Everyone has worries sometimes, but usually we can tuck them to the back of our minds, telling ourselves we'll cross that bridge if we come to it.  But lately I seem to lack that filter, that ability to let it go.  (Let it go, I am one with the wind and sky...)  And the worse the anxiety gets, the more it feeds on itself, until I can no longer even focus or concentrate on anything other than my fears.  I haven't worked on a single creative project since Christmas, and as a creative person who needs that almost as much as I need food, I'm feeling the loss of it.  But in my mind, the idea of focusing on anything but the fear seems absolutely impossible.

So...Um, yeah.  I suppose there you have it.  There's my rambling and somewhat paltry explanation for why even though I love blogging, you haven't seen much of anything from me lately.  I'm working on my anxiety issues...trying to find workable coping mechanisms and relaxation techniques.  And hopefully soon spring will come, both nature's reawakening and the reawakening of my creative spirit.  But for now, I am in deep hibernation, just trying to survive my own personal winter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tarot of Delphi

Now here's a worthy Kickstarter effort!  Janet Hinkel is working on creating a tarot deck illustrated with neoclassical Victorian art, including quite a few familiar images. 


The deck looks gorgeous so far, and so do the donation incentives.  So donate a bit today!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Guided Tour of the NGA Exhibition (By An Emotional Observer) Part 2

So where did we leave off?  Ah yes...I hadn't gotten very far, had I?  So far we've only ventured into the first room of the NGA exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art, and stepped into the second room to admire the wall of portrait sketches.

The Huguenot by Millais

Honestly out of all of the artworks in the whole exhibition, this was a strong contender for the most "wow" factor in person compared to online images or reproductions.  The absolute precision in every line, the color.  I saw the painting and the first thing I thought was "PURPLE"....the purple of the man's jacket is basically like the god of all purple...a rich rich rich rich shade that could be the god from which all other purple objects spring.  Hyperbole, you say?  Hmm...see it in person and then tell me what you think.


Another thing that struck me in this painting...do you see the gold cording along the top of the man's collar?  I've hardly ever seen anything more realistically rendered.   In person, it was almost three-dimensional, a hair-thin crisp line of rounded gleaming gold paint that immaculately cut across the canvas.

And can we just talk about their expressions?


This was the first image in the exhibition to really drive home to me the fact that art has a spirit to it.  It's not just about the physical renderings on canvas...there is a palpable energy to the art in person that reproductions just cannot capture.  For instance with this image...I felt like I was intruding on a personal moment.  The female figure's eyes are filled with gleaming tears about to overflow onto her cheeks, and you can imagine from the gentle adoring love on the man's face that when that happens in the next few seconds after this captured moment, he will lift his hand from her hair to her cheek and gently stroke them away, shaking his head as he pulls the sash from his arm.  Art like this is so much more than just a still image.  It's an entire story.

Ahem.

So the next artwork to catch my eye was The Death of Chatterton.  I've heard my British friends titter about how lovely this artwork is so I was curious to see it in person, as images of it never struck me as especially appealing...Pre-Raphaelite images of people already dead seemed a bit creepy to me.  And yes, that arguably includes the famous Ophelia, but we'll get to her.

So Chatterton.  I tried to find a good image of it online, but you know...I don't think one exists.


And okay, ladies, now that I've seen it in person I admit I can see what the fuss is about.  It's not so much the beauty of the central figure to me, but the brilliance of the color scheme.  In person, the art strongly resembles a hand-tinted black and white photograph, with its utterly shocking neon orange-red hair against the pale bed linens.  The face is done in a pale version of the same pallet of purples and grays as the vivid pants he wears.  Your eye is first drawn to the central figure with his angelic face and incredible hair, and then drawn upward to his view of the smoggy dreary city.  The symbolism of the flower struggling to grow and thrive in the lack of direct light is palpable as you view the image.  Once again, in an exhibition of gorgeous color, the subtle use of it here really is admirable.

Next was Millais' Order of Release.  I'll be honest...like portraits of dead bodies, one thing that always tends to make me ambivalent about an artwork is a vacant stare in a situation where one isn't warranted.  It's one thing for a solo portrait of a woman to feature her staring into space with a dreamy look on her face, it's another thing for the same look to be on the face of a woman who is supposed to be paying attention.  For this reason I've never much cared for The Order of Release.


Sadly, seeing it in person didn't make it grow on me.  It's beautifully painted.  But...where is that woman looking!?  Not at her baby.  Not at her husband she just got to see again after goodness knows how long.  Not even at the man at whom she's thrusting a piece of paper.  But she stares vacantly with a mild look of bemused relaxation at a spot on the wall behind the soldier's door.  Um...huh? 


Ironic, considering that this is the same artist who put such potent emotion on the faces of the lovers in The Huguenot.

EDITED TO ADD: Okay, I've had a few people give me their interpretations of the female figure's blank stare, and I have to admit that its given me a new respect for the painting.  I still find it a bit unsettling, but apparently that may have been an intentional decision by Millais.  Please read the comments below for excellent interpretations by several marvelous people.  Thanks all!

The next artwork to really strike me was Hunt's Portrait of Henry Wentworth Monk.  I'm not the biggest fan of William Holman Hunt.  All of the Brotherhood had a rather signature style of painting people, and I've just not much cared for his.  But the color in this painting is magnificent, as is the bold approach of a huge portrait of a single figure, after seeing so many elaborate canvases with multiple figures.  I only found one image of this painting online.


I was also charmed by the contrast of this figure holding a holy book and a newspaper.  But mostly I just adored the colors.  Oh they are so lovely in person.

Rossetti's Found was the next piece to catch my attention.  It's hard to say here how much of the feeling of this painting was because of what I know and think of it, and how much was the energy the actual painting was exuding, but I really felt bad for this well-done but unfinished canvas.  I felt like Rossetti approached working on it with the same emotions the central male figure has on his face.  The man's expression looks a little...well...lost.  Like he's not sure what to think of the melodramatics of his fallen love, or what he should do next.


When Rossetti started this painting, he had a clear cut moral opinion of the shame of a fallen woman.  Ironically, the woman in this very painting, Fanny Cornforth, taught him about the lustful rich full-bodied enjoyment of life that some "fallen women" celebrate.  And I'm sure it was difficult to return to this painting of her looking so ashamed at her sexuality...something he had come to realize could be a celebration.  And so the painting remained unfinished forever. 

And Rossetti moved on to his luscious sensual-lipped women.

About whom we will definitely chat in an upcoming post. 

Next time: two artworks, two artists, one dress.  How embarrassing!


Friday, June 28, 2013

Mermaid Hugging Man

Look for part 2 of my tour of the NGA exhibition in the next few days!  In the mean time, I give you a Wombat Friday special. 

On my birthday last Saturday, my awesome Pre-Raphaelite friend Verity gave me a heads-up on this shirt available on the website Yizzam under the description "Mermaid Hugging Man."  I got a huge giggle out of that one, and Verity and Kirsty and I joked that all Pre-Raphaelite artworks should have literal titles. 

Aaaanyway, I had to buy the shirt, and it arrived today!  Morris the Wombat approves. 


My favorite artwork on a shirt!  (In case you didn't know, the ACTUAL title is Depths of the Sea, by Edward Burne-Jones)  Life is good...