Monday, March 31, 2008

The Blogger's Biography, and This Week on TBN

Oh why not. After 39 (this is 40) posts to this blog, I figure I might as well try to put a face to the words for you. I thought I'd introduce myself. My name is Grace, though I've gone online as "Sidhe" for over ten years now. I'm 27 years-old, live in Ohio, work at a library, and have adored the Pre-Raphaelites ever since I was....16 or so? My first experience with the Pre-Raphaelites was an admiration in my early teens for Rossetti, but as I grew older, I started to dislike the "thick necks and man-hands" he gave his women (I have since come around again, of course, to admiration for his work). When I was 13, I became smitten with the music of Loreena McKennitt, and really loved her song "The Lady of Shallot." At 16 or so, I was browsing in a mall art store, and came across a print of a woman who looked just like she had stepped out of the song. It was, of course, John William Waterhouse's famous artwork by the same name. I became completely smitten with all of Waterhouse's art, and he remains my favorite artist.

A couple of years ago, I became enamoured with the idea of recreating pin-up photographs/modeling. I pursued this hobby for a while, and still enjoy it, but I started then looking more at the beautiful artworks of the Pre-Raphaelites, and other famous Victorian artists, and thinking how fun it would be to try to recreate some of these artworks as photographs, or just make photographs that reminded me of the same style and mood as the Pre-Raphaelites. I discovered that while I enjoyed pin-up modeling, I really enjoyed experimenting with photography in the style of the Pre-Raphaelites I so admire! It is a hobby I continue to pursue.

And, of course, the latest outlet for my admiration of the Pre-Raphaelites is this blog! I appreciate every bit of positive feedback I've received so far about The Beautiful Necessity, the name of which I shamelessly stole from a book about Arts & Crafts. I hope to continue this blog for a long time to come, for as long as the Pre-Raphaelites keep yielding new information to me (so in other words, for a LONG time to come!).

This week's posts (and likely a few beyond) will be about modern novels that feature the Pre-Raphaelites. In each blog, I will review a different title. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sayers & Lundgreen

Today my intent was to do a post on another artist whose work I enjoy, but in the process of searching in Google for more information, I stumbled across a link to the website of the artists, Sayers and Lundgreen. I am quite fascinated! According to their website:

Phil Sayers and Rikke Lundgreen are a collaborative artist team who perform the characters in photographs which seek to connect everyday experience with precedents from art historical sources. Their contemporary interpretations of images from, for example, the Renaissance or the 19th Century, reveal moments of human transaction in which the roles of gender, status and power seem to be uncertain and in flux. Recurrent themes are power, ageing, death, sexuality, mirroring, doubling, sameness and difference.

Both artists are motivated by a personal search for identity and an investigation of how gender is signified, constructed and performed. They have gravitated towards photographic masquerade as a means of performing ‘femininity’ in order to question culturally-imposed gender stereotypes. Lundgreen is a woman, Sayers cross-dresses.

Much of their work assumes a feminist perspective which gently and ironically illuminates and critiques the misogyny embedded in many aspects of our cultural heritage. They are looking for new opportunities to respond to historical collections in galleries and museums, and also wish to develop opportunities for making and showing work in a site-specific context.

In an installation currently running at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, entitled 'Changing Places,' the two artists have created art reinterpreting several of the pieces owned by the gallery, including the one above, inspired by Alma-Tadema's The Tepidarium. According to a write up about the exhibit,

19th century images that depict women as passive, submissive objects of male desire are of particular interest to them. Other themes, including gender, identity, myths, ageing and the architecture and ‘power’ of the galleries are also a focus for their work. The artists seek to connect our everyday experiences with precedents from art historical sources.

Another piece by Lundgreen explores the artwork The Punishment of Lust by Giovanni Segantini. In a film artwork, she is shown "'floating' in a similar way to the women depicted in "Punishment". There is a background which resembles that in "Punishment". Gradually the background moves down over the space of 15 minutes. Rikke remains floating and simply lies back looking upwards, to the side and raising her arm a bit from time to time. During the 15 minutes of the video, you hear a recording of her heart beating. At first you think "bloody pointless" but if you stick with it, it becomes compelling - the ordinariness of her "reality" is an interesting juxtaposition with the painting showing a woman in some mythical "unreal" (male)fantasy. Well that's how it works for me anyway. Nothing too profound but, quite compelling." (according to a quote from a viewer)

I would absolutely love to see this exhibit!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Merciless Lady

I just finished reading a, honestly, rather forgettable book called The Pre-Raphaelites: Their Lives in Letters and Diaries. There wasn't much new information to be found in this book, but there was a small color illustration in a section on Rossetti of an artwork I had never noticed before, called The Merciless Lady. The caption noted that the picture showed "a man between two women, one dark, one fair, in triangular tension of the kind that characterized many of his own emotional relationships."

Well, looking at it, I'd call that an understatement! I think this picture shows, incredibly clearly, the love Rossetti had for two specific women...Lizzie and Jane. The figure on the left is most definitely reminiscent of Jane Morris, with her dark hair and distinctive profile. The figure on the right, with her pale hair and eyes downcast, is a dead-ringer for Lizzie. The central figure, which is Rossetti in my mind, has his hands clasped in Jane's, but his attention is captured by Lizzie. What a perfectly iconic image of the tumult Jane must have felt being in a relationship with a man who was still, in many ways, fixated on his dead beloved. I've never seen an artwork that so fully captured the sum of emotions involved with Rossetti's feelings toward these two very different beauties.

What do you think of this image? What does it say to you?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Hounds of Spring

A Song of Springtime, by Waterhouse.

Thanks to Tess, of Midnight Muse, for directing my attention to this gorgeous poem by Swinburne, a good friend to the P.R.B.

When the hounds of Spring are on Winter's traces,
The mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places
With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain...
And soft as lips that laugh and hide
The laughing leaves of the trees divide,
And screen from seeing and leave in sight
The god pursuing, the maiden's flight.

Where shall we find her? how shall we sing to her?
Fold our hands round her knees, and cling?
O that our hearts were as fire and could spring to her,
Fire, or the strength of the streams that spring!
For the stars and the winds are unto her
As raiment, as songs of the harp-player;
And the risen stars and the fallen cling to her,
And the south-west wind and the west wind sing.

For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the Spring begins...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Viktor Vasnetsov and the Itinerants Movement

I have rarely...ok, never...linked to an outside blog from here before, but today's entry over at the wonderful Endicott Studio website is absolutely worth a look.

Their entry on Viktor Vasnetsov and the Itinerants Movement...references the Pre-Raphaelites and Topsy Morris!

Monday, March 17, 2008


First, we interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you an update. I love doing this blog. Through it, I can not only celebrate my love of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts & Crafts Movement, but I can also learn. However, my brain may just...colloquially, 'go 'splodey' if I continue on doing 6 posts a week! Many of them take a lot of time to research, though it may not appear so. So starting this week, the posts may not be daily. I figure that gives us all more time to chit chat about each one anyway! Still expect at least a handful every week, but just not daily.

Now to today's topic. The last two entries have been about the Pre-Raphaelite cartoons, and cartoons about Pre-Raphaelites, respectively. Today I wanted to chat about a charming modern artist who does kitschy (and I mean kitschy good and amusing, not tacky) paintings of cats posed in Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Her name is Susan Herbert, and she has a wonderful and amusing book that I'd recommend as a light-hearted read or gift idea to any lover of Pre-Raphaelites who doesn't take the art too sacredly.

The book is called Pre-Raphaelite Cats, aptly, and in case you don't quite recognize what artwork is being parodied, there's a glossary in the back with small images of the original paintings. Several of Herbert's artworks made me laugh out loud. What gets me the most is the care she takes to add the details as cats instead of humans....for instance, the stained glass on Millais' Mariana? Cats. The figures on the mantle clock in The Awakening Conscience? Cats.

I saved my favorite for last....having a black cat-child of my own, I adore this one:

Friday, March 14, 2008

Snark and Punch

The Pre-Raphaelites weren't the only ones who enjoyed poking fun through cartoons. The general Victorian media also had a heyday with these eclectic bohemian emo artists. The above artwork of Dante Rossetti hosting a gathering in his back yard is definitely one of my favorites...this particular version has been captioned with the names of all the people pictured.

The periodical Punch was especially guilty of posting mocking parody art of the Pre-Raphaelites and their ideals.

Here we see an image entitled The Two Ideals, showing a seated Victorian woman, corsetted, curvy, with doll-like features. She was the standard epitome of beauty. Standing above her, thin and uncorsetted, wearing a loose gown with her hair a frizzed ball, is a rather unflattering caricature of Jane Morris, standing in as the Pre-Raphaelite idea of a Stunner.
A parody of Millias' Mariana.
A parody of Millias' Sir Umbras at the Ford

Punch even ran a near epic length illustrated poem with the sole purpose of mocking the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. One section is above, to view all sections, visit here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Caricatures of Characters

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their followers were known for their exquisite paintings depicting very narrative scenes. But in private, this group of friends liked to exercise a different form of art...that of comedic caricature. The above piece, Rossetti's The M's at Ems, is probably my favorite. Drawn for Jane Morris to help lift her spirits when her health declined, it depicts the M's....Jane and William the Spa at Bad Ems. Jane sits in a tub sipping a goblet of spa of seven she has to drink as part of her therapy, while Morris reads from his Earthly Paradise volume #1. Rossetti accompanied the sketch with the words (paraphrased, since it isn't right in front of me) "To help you get through the seven goblets or the seven volumes, whichever comes first."
Rossetti's caricatures of William, however, always struck me as slightly mean-spirited. Which clearly shows that I'm allowing my knowledge of his betrayal of their friendship with Jane Morris to color my opinion, because Edward Burne-Jones also made similar rotund, jovial images of his friend Topsy but those don't bother me as much. The above drawing (best image I could find online of it) is of Morris proposing to the young Jane Burden. Jane is drawn as towering above the squat William...regal, with an unearthly beauty. Morris is an exaggerated mockery, with a pointy chin and disheveled hair.

Comedic self-portraits were also popular. The above self-portrait of Edward Burne-Jones was one of many he did, showcasing his tall and thin frame. This sketch is entitled Unpainted Masterpieces. Rossetti also did a cartoon-style self-portrait.

Poor Topsy...the subject of so much teasing. He seemed to keep a good attitude about it, however. The above image, again, by Rossetti, shows Morris at the age of 24, discovering his rapidly expanding waistline. However, in another sketch by Burne-Jones of Rossetti carrying cushions for Jane Morris to recline on, (un-located online!) the tables are turned, and it is clear that Rossetti too had a portly frame in middle age.
Above is a drawing that can be folded different ways to get different combinations of ridiculous body types. The Pre-Raphaelites certainly had a wonderful sense of humor!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Opium, Chloral, Laudanum and the PRB

Bottles, by Rossetti

Today's topic is dark indeed, but investigating, I've found it to be fascinating in a macabre way. Throughout even the most brief summaries into the life of Rossetti and his lovely wife, Lizzie Siddal, it is stated over and over again that she died from an (arguably intentional) laudanum overdose, and as a result of his emotional imbalance over her death, Rossetti in turn developed an addiction to "chloral." All well and good. But I started to wonder, what in the world were these drugs? And let me tell wasn't the easiest investigation to find out information about them, especially this thing called "chloral."

I finally found an excellent website on Victorian drug abuse...and basically no other major sources, even after several hours of google-fu. However, Victorian's Secret was an excellent resource.

First, the mysterious chloral. A shortened name for Chloral Hydrate, it was taken by the Victorian individual as a 'non-addictive' (ha!) cure for insomnia. The irony is that many of the people taking it had insomnia from alcohol abuse, and the addition of chloral addiction caused a vicious double-addiction cycle. Doses of the drug would have to be steadily increased to get the same effect. Chloral, incidentally, was also mixed with alcohol to create the infamous "Mickey Finn" rape drug, and was apparently also the cause of Anna Nicole's death just a few years ago (it's still an ingredient in some sleeping pills).

One website I found observed the progression of Rossetti's art as he became more and more addicted to chloric. When he was taking it at low doses, he created tranquil scenes, such as St. Agnes at the spinning wheel. However, as he became more addicted, his art showed "more secular, voluptuous, almost hallucinatory women." --Alex Baenninger

Rossetti also tried to follow in Lizzie's footsteps, attempting to commit suicide by swallowing an entire bottle of laudanum.

Laudanum, Lizzie's drug of choice, was created in liquid and pill form (I could not find information on which method Lizzie used). In pill form, it was nicknamed the "Stones of Immortality" and contained opium thebaicum, citrus juice, and quintessence of gold. Opium?? What a strange ingredient, you might say. With opium dens a common part of Victorian lowlife (and secret high life), how could they have thought that it was an acceptable ingredient in medicine cabinets? However, the bottom line is...they did, and they did in vast numbers. Opium, in all its many forms, was incredibly popular during the Victorian era. In 1830, Opium importation was at an all-time high, with 22,000 pounds brought into the country that year.

Symbolically speaking, the poppy flower, from which opium comes, represented death in countless Pre-Raphaelite artworks. With such prolific use, of course the Victorian audience would have recognized the flower in the art. However, there seemed to be a disconnect between the recognition of the poppy as a symbol of death, and the realization that opium derivatives in the medicine cabinet were a bad idea. In fact, in 1895, Bayer (yes, the drug company) produced a substance from poppies known as "heroin" and distributed free samples to morphine addicts in order to help them quit. Oh my!!!

Beata Beatrix, Rossetti's famous portrait of Lizzie Siddal, in which a red dove holds a white poppy in its beak.

Come back tomorrow for the yang to today's dark yin...a post on a more light-hearted side to the Pre-Raphaelites. In the mean time, I highly recommend you check out the absolutely fascinating website, Victorian Lowbrow, which sells actual antique ephemera...bottles, labels, whatnots, from the Victorian era. I spent a long time poring over their selection, giggling over labels and indications. The below bottle is from the site.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Backgammon Players Cabinet

I'm still working on a bit o' research for an upcoming blog, so today I thought I'd post a Lovely. I have a very very soft spot in my heart for the decorated items produced by the Morris & Co. firm...especially those done by Burne-Jones. I imagine the early days of the company of friends, running around Red House and laughing while painting walls and ceilings with murals and patterns, excitedly gifting each other with wardrobes, chairs, and furniture painted with what we now see as masterpieces of art. While the sheer quantity and quality of work that was eventually created by just a small handful of people can be intimidating, to look at their early days gives me hope to just start creating...just try. After all..."The life so short...the craft so long to learn..."

I digress...I am currently enjoying the book Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer. For such a prolific artist with such respect and profound influence, it's not that easy to find books and images of his work. He was already my favorite of the first and second generation Pre-Raphaelites, but perusing the images in the book just put my respect for him on a whole new level. For some reason, one of my favorite items by him is the Backgammon Players Cabinet. It amazes me infinitely how Burne-Jones was able to use a variety of mediums....paint, sketches, tile, mosaic, stained glass, woodwork...and yet maintain a style that made it clearly his own work on every piece.
The Backgammon Players sketch.
The Backgammon Players painting.

I admire how this same piece can be done as a sketch, painting, then piece of furniture, and each one can be admired separately as a masterpiece of art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
has a page at which you can zoom in and admire details of the Backgammon Players Cabinet.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pre-Raphaelite Body-Types

Today's topic is the Pre-Raphaelite artists and their "signature look" or "model type". For instance....Burne-Jones loves a willowy, haunted model, and his consistency between models and artworks lies primarily in the eyes...they are almost always dark, shadowed, haunted.

Whereas Rossetti was all about the lips, as well as the thick neck, and sometimes rather large but expressive hands.

But like I'm discovering happens so often, I was distracted also by another prevalent I searched through the "greats" of the Pre-Raphaelite style looking for body type, the best way to tell was by looking at their nudes. And one thing jumped out to me....

These women have real bodies.

They have hips! Their stomach sticks out when they sit down with bad posture! Their 6-pack abs grow soft around their stomachs! In this modern age of lipo, extreme dieting, and airbrushing pictures beyond mortal proportions, it is incredibly refreshing, and ego-boosting, to see that the Pre-Raphaelites looked at women with real bodies and real curves (or the equally beautiful thin model with not many curves but soft and thick hips, etc) as beautiful and graceful. Want to look like a Pre-Raphaelite model?? Embrace your body!***
***The above message applies to me as much as anyone else. Why do we beat ourselves up so much??

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Parrish Relics

I cannot wait a single day longer to feature the business owned and run by the lovely and uber-talented Jen Parrish. An advanced warning...once you buy your first Parrish Relic, you will be's just a given. Jen's jewelry is all one-of-a-kind, made by hand with attention paid to every detail. She features stained glass designs, pictorial designs (many of which feature Pre-Raphaelite art), and vessels. Catalog items include necklaces, crowns, earrings, bracelets, and more.

Jen's designs have been featured on numerous television shows and movies, the highest profile of which is perhaps the "B" Anne Boleyn necklace worn by Betty Suarez in nearly every episode of Ugly Betty.

For a lovely set of pictures of items that have been custom-made and sold in the past, visit her Thorn Sold Items page.

I personally own two Relics, (the image at the top is me in my necklace featuring Waterhouse's The Siren) and have asked Jen to make me a third in celebration of my upcoming wedding, featuring a stained glass image by Burne-Jones. I've basically hinted to everyone I know that Relics make great gifts. As I said...once you've actually seen and tried on one of Jen's masterpieces, you will undoubtedly be hooked!

A couple of my favorite recent examples of her work:

Friday, March 7, 2008

I've been tagged!

I've been tagged by the lovely Margaret at The Earthly Paradise to do an archive meme. Well, there's not much archive here yet, but today was a stressful, blizzardy day, and I'd welcome another chance to not have to do something new for today's post!

First, however, I do have to direct your attention to a new website I found last night, vaguely related to the week's beginning discussions on Pre-Raphaelite hair. Rapunzel's Delight is a website I know I'll spend much time enjoying and exploring. The galleries there are stuffed to the gills with vintage Victorian and more recent-era photographs of beautiful long-haired ladies. There's something fascinating about seeing a Victorian photograph. It more directly hits me that this is not just an archetype of a mythic figure, like in art, but it's a real person who lived and breathed.

Now, on to the meme....

Here are the instructions:

Link 1 must be about family. Link 2 must be about friends. Link 3 must be about yourself, who you are… what you’re all about. Link 4 must be about something you love. Link 5 can be anything you choose.

I think this is a great way to circulate some of the great older posts everyone has written, return to a few great places in our memories and also learn a little something about ourselves and each other that we may not know.

Post your five links and then tag five other people. At least TWO of the people you tag must be newer acquaintances so that you get to know each other better….and don’t forget to read the archive posts and leave comments!

Of course for my entries I have to be a bit liberal in my definitions, but bear with me.

Link I'm going to link to my blog post about William Morris and his selfless love he exhibited. This was my entry for Valentine's Day, and I give a nod to my beloved fiancee at the end of the post.

Link #2...friends. For this I'll link to my post about Grace Notes Photography. Aurora, the owner, is a new but dear friend of mine.

Link #3...Myself, who I am. Well, mercy...this whole blog is about that! But I'll link to my blog from this past weekend on Pre-Raphaelite tresses, since I've modeled myself after these lovely ladies since I was a mid-teenager.

Link #4...Something I love. I can has William Morris Interiurz?

Link #5....Anything. Well, I was pretty pleased with my blog about Artistic Dress....and it inspires me to dare to be different.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The humble pomegranate

My brain hurts from doing research on the last few blog posts I've written. Yes, it's true. :) So today I thought I'd focus on the delicious fruit, my personal favorite, which has been surrounded by mystique and myth for aeons. The humble pomegranate.

The pomegranate, actually, doesn't feature into many Pre-Raphaelite works, which surprises me. If you know of any examples that I haven't found, please let me know! There is, of course, the very obvious pomegranate held by Jane Morris in Rossetti's Proserpine, shown above.
Rossetti also featured a pomegranate in this sketch of Dante.
William Morris showcased pomegranates in his wallpaper "Blue Fruit."
And his firm featured it in a carpet design (incidentally, I just saw this for the first time and I LOVE it...)

The publishing company that publishes numerous books on Pre-Raphaelites? Is called Pomegranate Books.

But really, that's about it. I'm honestly surprised that such a mythic fruit wasn't more of a reoccurring theme among the P.R.B.
A couple of modern things I had to share....first is this charming (I think) necklace from The Pyramid Collection, featuring a pomegranate with garnets for seeds.
And finally, a blog post for me about pomegranates would not be complete without raising a glass to Pama, my personal favorite alcoholic beverage. As a side rant, I've found that 99% of modern "pomegranate" drinks taste nothing like a pomegranate (more like cranberry). Pama, however, is delicious and definitely reminiscent of the taste of biting into the fruit (well, the seeds). The packaging is also irresistible to me, because the label says things like "for tomorrow's mythmakers, today." Try it...I bet you'll love it! And I definitely could see Swinburne and Rossetti chugging the stuff, were it available back in their day.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Turks/Ottomans and the Pre-Raphaelites

I just finished reading an excellent book that crossed my desk at the library... Ottoman Women: Myth and Reality. Looking through the beautiful illustrations of this book, I was struck by how many of them reminded me of the Pre-Raphaelites, and even William Morris' design patterns. Thus began my (rather un-scientific) investigation about the Pre-Raphaelites and all things Oriental/Ottoman. The fascination in Victorian times with fairy tales also extended to the Arabian Nights stories, and there was a plethora of myth and mystique (much of which was utterly false) surrounding this Turkish Empire. (Note: for this blog, "Oriental" refers to the Middle Eastern/Ottoman Empire regions, while apparently "Orient" was the term for the far east)

The first thing that struck me in the book was how very medieval the 19th century attire of Ottoman women still was. The book contained a photograph of a woman's robe that looked in style to me like it could have been worn by a friend of the model in Waterhouse's Soul of the Rose. I definitely see similarities in these robes.Moving on, another perfunctory search of Art Magick brought up several Ottoman-garbed and Oriental-themed artworks. One of my favorites was Oriental Pastime, by Dicksee, seen at the top. I was unable to find out if Dicksee was an orientalist in the strictest sense of the word, meaning, whether or not he actually travelled in order to paint his art.

However, there is one figure among the Pre-Raphaelites who was most certainly an Orientalist in every sense. William Holman-Hunt even painted a self-portrait of himself in Oriental garb, holding a pallette as if to show that the iconic figure of himself as a painter includes a touch of Middle-Eastern mystique. Holman-Hunt also traveled to the Middle East first in 1848 and again in 1869 and 1875.
William Morris, too, was an active afficionado of the Near-East. He encouraged the V&A Museum to purchase a Persian carpet, saying "to us pattern-designers, Persia has become a holy land." And indeed...a look at the textile patterns show some similarities to William Morris designs.
However, my favorite personal discovery in the book on Ottoman Women was an artist whose works were shown several times, and each time I marvelled at the Pre-Raphaelite feel and mood of the art. I found out these works were created by a Turkish man named Osman Hamdi Bey, an artist of whom I'd never heard...and tracking down detailed information on him online was difficult. He was trained by a French painter of neo-classical works, but I would argue that the repeating theme of female subjects, shown in every-day acts of toilette and relaxed lounging, as well as the vivid use of color are quite reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites. Hamdi painted during the 1860s and beyond, and was integral in bringing Western Art to Turkey (he founded their Academy of Fine arts, encouraging students to apprentice with Western painters). It's quite likely he met and interacted with at least Holman-Hunt, if not other Pre-Raphaelites, and certainly had to be aware of the movement. Hamdi was also a bit of a William Morris...he supported archeological work, and went on several digs (showing a common love of ancient "homes"?) and he was also a bit of a Julia Cameron, experimenting with the new art form of photography.
For further reading...