Saturday, May 30, 2009

Queen for the Week!

Many thanks to Anita, of the wonderful Castles, Crowns, and Cottages blog, one that I have been enjoying immensely ever since it was mentioned on another blog I follow. Anita is a dear kindred spirit, and she has decided to name a few ladies "Queen for the Week." I was among the lucky women!

In celebration, I thought I'd post a few favorite images of queens and royalty. As is so often true, huge thanks to Art Magick, without which I would not have been able to collect these here so quickly.

Please do go check out Anita's wonderful blog, so full of joie de vivre!!

Female Study by Waterhouse

Vox Populi by Leighton

Lancelot and Guinevere by Herbert Draper (incidentally, I love Very Merry Seamstress' version of this gown)

The Lonely Life by Briton Riviere (I've always loved the colors of this artwork)

Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund by Evelyn De Morgan

The Four Queens Find Lancelot Sleeping by Frank Cadogan Cowper

Jezebel by John Byam Liston Shaw (love the black cat!)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Another Waterhouse for Sale

Another famous Waterhouse, The Magic Circle, (a compositional sketch, but rendered quite distinctly, as are most of his 'sketches') will be going up for sale soon. Looks like the recession has hit everyone!

Big thanks to jonsilence_shnpw at the John William Waterhouse forums for this heads-up and article.

    £30,000 - £50,000
  • ($45,300 - $75,500)
Sale Information

Sale 7728
victorian and british impressionist pictures includingdrawings and watercolours
4 June 2009
London, King Street

Lot Description

John William Waterhouse, R.A. (1848-1917)
Study for The Magic Circle
oil on canvas
24¼ x 16¼ in. (61.5 x 41.2 cm.)

Special Notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium

Lot Notes

The present picture is a compositional sketch for one of J W Waterhouse's most intriguing paintings, The Magic Circle (1886). Now in the permanent collection of Tate, the larger, signed version was so well received at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition of 1886 that it was purchased for the nation by a committee of Academicians using funds from the Chantrey Bequest.

The fact that Waterhouse worked up this preparatory sketch in such detail underscores how seriously he viewed the 'final' canvas, the first he exhibited after his election to the rank of Associate in the Academy in June 1885. The artist had considered this occultist motif since at least 1881, when he exhibited a sepia drawing of a somewhat less agitated-looking witch at London's Dudley Gallery (private collection).

The Magic Circle was Waterhouse's third supernaturally themed exhibit in three years, coming after Consulting the Oracle and St. Eulalia (both now at Tate). In the present version and in Tate's, a sorceress with a flushed face traces a circle in an ambiguous moonlit locale defined by rocky cliffs, on top of which appear several Egyptian-looking structures, probably tombs. Watched from a safe distance by three people gathered before a lamp-lit cave that hints at the underworld, the chanting witch draws a magic circle with a cold fire of blue and yellow dabs, distinct from the hot central fire of orange, violet, and green strokes. This sketch is noticeably duskier than the final version; it is likely that Waterhouse decided to lighten his palette so that the scene could be more easily discerned in the crowded, unevenly lit Academy.

Bloated white poppies underscore the hallucinatory atmosphere inside the circle, which is anchored by the magical triangle formed by the sorceress's body and wand. In her left hand, shaped like a crescent moon, is a boline, used by Celtic Druids and witches to cut herbs, which are shown gathered at her waist. The boline hints at the growing enthusiasm for Celtic lore in the 1880s; it was widely believed that Celtic priests 'shape-shifted' into animals and trees. Ever eclectic, Waterhouse decorated the skirt not with a Celtic pattern, but with an Archaic Greek warrior encountering a serpent, perhaps Jason using Medea's potion to drug the one that protected the golden fleece.

While one black raven perches on a human skull, another prepares to land. Arranged in a rough semicircle, a total of seven such birds watch the sorceress; this magical number and shape are identical to those of the women in Waterhouse's Consulting the Oracle (Tate) two years earlier, and his famous Hylas and the Nymphs (Manchester Art Gallery) a decade later. The toad in the right foreground may be an omen, yet it is worth noting that one of the herbs prominent here is angelica, which carries positive healing associations rather than poisonous ones. It is, therefore, just possible that the sorceress has drawn a circle to counter-rather than aid-the ominous creatures watching her beyond it.

Viewers would have immediately associated Waterhouse's jet-haired sorceress with the acclaimed Medea exhibited by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904) at the Academy in 1869, and then at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Sandys's is just one of several Pre-Raphaelite images that might have inspired Waterhouse, including Burne-Jones's The Magic Circle (c. 1880) and Rossetti's vision of Jane Morris as Astarte Syriaca (1877), the powerful Near Eastern goddess of love and the moon, whose symbol was fire.

Burne-Jones The Magic Circle

Beyond updating a type, this picture reflects Waterhouse's growing interest in occultism. The widespread perception that women made better mediums for supernatural communication gave them a degree of influence unimaginable in conventional religion. Describing this sorceress as engaged in 'a fearful secrecy with nature', Waterhouse's biographer Rose E.D. Sketchley wrote in 1909 that The Magic Circle 'belongs more closely to the artist himself. The picture denotes the attitude in which occultism is founded; the intensified sense of the power of the will, of its influence, seeing that is allied with them, over forces of destruction and renewal in the natural world'.

Published with Waterhouse's approval, Sketchley's interpretation increases the likelihood that the snake coiled round the sorceress's neck represents the ouroboros, the great serpent that encircles earth and symbolizes the cycle of life and death. The ouroboros was promoted by the internationally controversial Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), co-founder of the Theosophical Society, whose teachings encompassed reincarnation and the evolution of magical and archaic symbols in world religions. Many spiritualists used séances to encounter ectoplasm, which Waterhouse suggests with amorphously brushed patterns within the column of smoke.

In these varied ways, The Magic Circle offers suggestive hints that Waterhouse inclined towards occultism. We cannot be certain of his intention, but we are certain that he returned to images of sorceresses and ceremonial magic through the rest of his career.

Setting aside his personal beliefs, The Magic Circle exemplifies Waterhouse's growing theatricality. The Academy observed that, 'the subject is an intensely dramatic one', and the caricaturist Harry Furniss concurred by providing Punch with a spoof of The Magic Circle showing Sarah Bernhardt stirring a cauldron with a giant spoon as a rat and theatre audience watch. One of the most famous people in the world during the 1880s, Bernhardt was known to attend séances and sleep in a coffin, and Waterhouse may have seen her 1879 exhibition in London which included the bas-relief she sculpted of herself, classically draped and open-mouthed, striding to crown busts of Shakespeare and Moliere. Furniss's association was further encouraged by the distinctive nose and unruly hair of Waterhouse's sorceress, which evoke Bernhardt's profile.

Waterhouse's painting technique here is also worthy of note. He and many other British artists had absorbed Impressionism not directly from Monet or Renoir, but as filtered through the Anglophilic French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884). The Magic Circle represents Waterhouse's earliest known experimentation with several of Bastien's strategies. Most obvious are changes in the consistency of paint and its application to suggest spatial recession and draw attention to the figure. Note, for example, the contrast between the scratchlike kindling in the hot fire and the thickly painted, virtually photographic forearm and feet of the sorceress. Behind her, Waterhouse emulated Bastien's grey and umber scenery, painted thinly and freely with a square brush. Together, the foreground and background 'dissolve' to enhance the sorceress's dramatic presence.

This technique was readily found in the annual exhibitions of the New English Art Club, a group of younger, French-influenced artists who formed in 1886, the very year The Magic Circle appeared at the more conservative Academy. Waterhouse's capacity to employ leading-edge techniques in a seemingly conventional composition marked him out, then as now, as a talent worth watching.

We are grateful to Peter Trippi for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

Lady of Shalott Modern Artwork

Deviantart user Wenchworks created this lovely rendition of the Lady of Shalott, gazing wistfully in the mirror at Lancelot.

Click here for this and many more renditions of The Lady on Deviantart.
Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Heather's Lovely Portraits

TBN reader Heather sent me these portraits she had taken, inspired by The Lady of Shalott among other Pre-Raphaelite artworks.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

La Belle Dame Sans Originality

Yesterday at the library, a book came past my desk with a cover that made me chuckle. It was an old edition, but I finally found an image of the cover online.

(click to see better)

As you can probably already tell, this cover is a total rip-off of Dicksee's La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Flip the image, put the guy in an anachronystic white poet shirt, and the girl in a 1970s Gunne Sax dress. Voila!

It amused me, and I thought it might amuse you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Verdant Tile Co. Review

I finally could resist no longer, and contacted Mary Philpott of Verdant Tile Co. to order the Mucha brooch. And what a great buying experience! Mary was really nice, and prompt in replies. She ended up firing three brooches, and gave me a choice of my favorite of the three. The package arrived less than a week later (even though it was international from Canada) and the item was wonderfully packaged.

The tile is gorgeous, and I had planned to wear it as a pin, but then as we were sitting on the couch that night watching a movie, I looked over at the fireplace and noticed that the tile was almost exactly the size of the strange middle brick on my fireplace. Since we rent, I couldn't do a total installation, but the brooch is now adhered to the fireplace with temporary putty. I think it looks pretty!

Monday, May 25, 2009

More Lady of Shalott Film Eye Candy

Every time I return to the website for WAG Screen's production of The Lady of Shalott, there are more breathtakingly beautiful images to admire.

The premiere of this remarkable film took place on the 15th of May, and I know we're all eager for the DVD release, which will hopefully happen in the next couple of months.

Clicking on the WAG Screen News link will bring up access to the latest newsletter, with neat articles about different aspects of filming.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Imaginata Blog

Today I wanted to share with you a blog I've been greatly enjoying. Jim first posted a comment to one of my blogs here, and I enjoy following links to peek at the blogs of the people who comment. His was so delightful, (and on-theme) I have to share it.

Jim is an art student, and in an effort to better study the work of John William Waterhouse, he's painted studies/reproductions of some of his work. His latest completed project has been A Naiad.

Jim has also had the opportunity to see several of Waterhouse's paintings in-person, and his descriptions of them are captivating. I admit that I would be right next to him, enthralled by every detail of the canvas, if I ever got to see a Waterhouse myself.

Check out his blog!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Four Seasons

The other day I was perusing ebay randomly to search for any garden statuary with an elegant, Pre-Raphaelite feel that I might be able to use outside my apartment, when I came across this auction for a decidedly too-expensive and too-enormous set of beautiful garden statues that I am smitten with.

They remind me very much of Walter Crane's Masque of the Four Seasons, one of my favorite artworks of all time, and the image on the business cards of Midnight Muse. In the statues, as in the painting, each figure holds a symbol of her season.

Spring with her basket of flowers

Summer with wheat and a sickle

Autumn with her ripe fruits

Winter, hooded, with a torch

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Light of the Home

I just finished reading an excellent book called The Light of the Home: An Intimate View of the Lives of Women in Victorian America. It not only details what it was like to be a woman in Victorian times, but what it was like in the daily life of all people in general. Of course the book is about Americans, but still, prevalent moral codes and philosophies in those days I'm sure transcended borders. Two quotes especially made me think of the Victorian contemporaries of these women...the Pre-Raphaelites...specifically our man, William Morris.

This home was to be the opposite of the man’s world; rather than an environment that bespoke commerce and trade, it was a miniature universe of culture and education for family and visitors. Here the arts and sciences of the museum, concert hall, and schoolroom were translated into the shells and other curios adorning the parlor, the prints and paintings on the walls, the piano or organ in the parlor, and the books in the library. Women were the organizing force and marshals of this domain. Defined as more emotional and sensitive than their male counterparts, they were charged with transforming the rude brick, stone, and wood of the exterior and the blank walls and empty rooms of the interior into places which would both communicate a family’s status and provide it with repose and moral uplift.

The style of interior decoration in the late nineteenth century was emblematic of the separate realms and responsibilities of middle-class life. Visual complexity and intricacy characterized popular decorative taste in the home, as could be seen in both the massing of discrete objects in a given space and the juxtaposing of different patterns and textures. This celebration of asymmetry and visual surprise served as more than mere display of worldly goods: it was an evocative and feminine counterpoint to the increasingly bureaucratic, machine-straight lives of middle-class men. The volume and variety of objects and textures in a typical house, when properly arranged, were supposed to alter immoral and unchristian behavior by the power of “influence,” rather than by direct confrontation. The woman’s “sphere of influence” was passive and limited, both by her culturally prescribed role as helpmate and by her husband’s control of the family finances. His economic power placed her in a position of dependency.

The segment on interior decorating fascinated me, because it explained not only the way a woman decorated her home in those days, but why. It wonderfully explains why William Morris' radical concept of simplicity in one's home was so incredibly revolutionary, and difficult to catch on among middle-class women. The way in which a woman decorated her home wasn't just based on aesthetic preference. There was an entire society of reputation and morality to consider when choosing how one portrayed onself in one's home.

This also made me ponder how difficult it must have been for Jane Morris. An outsider from another class, she married William Morris and really had much less say in the interior decor of her home than most wives. The decor of their homes was much more a collaborative process, involving not only the two of them, but friends and loved ones. Although the result was amazing (of course you know I think so), it was certainly *not* the norm in those days, and would cause further ostracism between Jane Morris and other ladies of her new social status. She was put on a pedestal by Morris, Rossetti, and those hangers-on who would visit the house and gawp at her...But I digress. The general point is that the above quote, and indeed the entire chapter of the book on decor, solidifies just how very revolutionary William Morris was in his ideas of decorating in the Victorian times. White walls? Relatively few fabrics draping the windows? A total lack of tchockes? Who had heard of such a thing?

Red House interior shots. Imagine how revolutionary this was in his day.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Modern Redheaded Models

Redheads were definitely a popular choice in Pre-Raphaelite art, and perhaps that's why as I look around this blog devoted to modern redheaded models, so many of the shots look utterly Pre-Raphaelite to me.

My favorite model featured is Katerina Martinovska, but there are many lovely women on this blog.