Thursday, August 27, 2009

Desperate Romantics: A Post-Finale Review

In the last episode of the Desperate Romantics miniseries (episode 6), one of the first scenes features the Brotherhood all gathered together in Millais' elegantly decorated new living room. At one point, his sweet and loving wife Effie suggests something, and he agrees with her, calling her a sweet pet name. The name? Wombat.

"Use my nickname, will you, Millais?"

It is a small that would probably be glossed over by most viewers. But to me it is emblematic of the strange series that was Desperate Romantics. "Wait, what?" I thought to myself. "Wombat? That was Rossetti's pet...and if anyone should be saying it it's Rossetti, to William Morris, after whom he named his pet." Like many other details in Desperate Romantics, it isn't that things absolutely could never have happened that way, just more that it causes a minor headscratching confusion, and a question of "why?" The show in some ways seems to bob along...kind of like the South Park episode in which manatees take idea balls and randomly select them to create an episode of Family Guy.

Key words: Wombat, Effie, Ruskin, prostitute, sex, Rossetti, sex, Laudanum, Lizzie Siddal, sex, poetry, drinking, sex, and oh yes...we almost forgot...Art.

For this reason, many of us who are obsessed with the Pre-Raphaelites and are in the habit of writing about them have absolutely lambasted the series, and I personally know several people who gave up on it alltogether. After all, many of the details that were changed in the series seem to have been changed for absolutely random reasons. Why, for example, was it so much better for Rossetti to meet Jane Morris as a waitress in a coffee shop (and have her selling flowers at the theater where she met William Morris, instead of attending the play itself)? Why did they have Morris and Edward Burne-Jones endear themselves to Rossetti by saving a mural he painted without an undercoat on a church wall, instead of having them all working together on the Oxford hall like really happened? Why have everything happen so speedily, instead of flashing forward in time as they could have easily done? (For instance, Rossetti retrieves his poems...thrown in on top of Lizzie's coffin instead of inside...seemingly the night after she's buried, when the reality of years passing would have added to the drama of the moment.)

The reality of the Pre-Raphaelties' lives were so astounding, why this need for the changes when they are so absolutely unnecessary, and sometimes actually seem less astounding than the real stories? Not to mention the two biggest flaws I found in the program myself...the shoving under the carpet of all implications of pedophilia with Ruskin (Rossetti accuses him of these proclivities in the last episode, and Ruskin instead comes off like a hero in his resulting speech, even though he never outright denies his leanings), and the absolute oafishness with which William Morris is portrayed (truly...he and Burne-Jones could be extras in a Three Stooges episode, and Topsy himself is given a speech impediment that makes him as much comic relief as Elmer Fudd). The latter was by far my biggest disappointment in the series.

However, and this is a big however, I have to admit something: I liked Desperate Romantics. Yes, you heard me...I liked it. Despite its flaws, and they are many, it takes the Pre-Raphaelites and makes their frivolity, their radical thinking, and their fondness for each other despite many hurts and hardships, and updates it for a modern audience to understand. No, Rossetti never squatted in a greenhouse room in someone else's house, and Lizzie never walked around wearing clothes more suited for the 1920s. And there was no such character as Fred, but the painful story arc he undergoes...both loving and admiring Rossetti, and hating him for taking what he most one that plays over and over again among the Brotherhood. William Morris himself I'm sure struggled with such contrary emotions toward Rossetti.

And so, I want to propose two cardinal ways in which the viewer educated in P.R.B. history can acknowledge the radical changes in the tale, and still approach the miniseries with enjoyment as I have.

#1: Desperate Romantics is a three-dimensional retelling of the caricatures the Pre-Raphaelites made of each other, and those made of them by contemporary publications like Punch Magazine. It is not a documentary.

Each character in D.R. is a bit more like their cartoon counterparts, instead of the reality. William Morris was drawn big and bumbling in Rossetti and Burne-Jones' drawings of him, so these are the characteristics that are emphasized in the show. Rossetti was teased for his acumen with the women, so this is what they focus on. Rossetti is the sexy flirty one, Millais is the innocent, "Maniac" Holman-Hunt struggles to reconcile his religious leanings with his lusts. Which brings me to...

#2: Each character in Desperate Romantics is their art.

I mentioned this once before in passing. Pre-Raphaelite art was full of symbolism. In this way, each character in Desperate Romantics is more a symbol of himself than an exact reenactment. The series seems to take a little of each character's personality from historic fact, and a large portion of it from the art they created.

Rossetti created sensual portraits of women (this is not all he painted, but this is what he's best known for), and therefore combining this with the stories of his affairs with Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth, they created the Rossetti character for the miniseries. Millais created exact, intricately detailed and stunningly realistic art, and later moved on to more saccharine shlock art like Bubbles. Therefore the Millais of Desperate Romantics is prim, detail-oriented and tidy, and after his marriage, quite saccharine. (In the end of the series, however, he is clearly the only one who gets a happily ever observation I've also made about the real Millais, and well-shown in the series) Holman-Hunt's two most famous artworks were about Christ and prostitution, respectively, and therefore combining those artworks with the story of his trips to the Holy Land, a character struggling against holy and lustful thoughts was created. Each character is a combination of not only his real life personality, but his art, and in that regard, the critics who say that Desperate Romantics is 97% sex and only 3% art can be at least partially refuted, as each of the Brotherhood in the miniseries is an embodiment of their canvases as well as their historic characters.

So, overall, I have to remind you...if you see Desperate Romantics as a flawed piece of history, you will be discontent with it. Absolutely, the show gets the facts wrong time and time again. But if you see it as a hazy mirror held up to the Brotherhood, and attempting to recreate the mood of these famous Victorian artists, it can be much better enjoyed on its own merit. And hopefully the young admirers of Ophelia, Bocca Baciata, and other such artworks will dig further into the stories behind these remarkable men, and will come across resources detailing their true history as well. Who knows...they might even find it here.

Click all pictures to see larger.
Poor Ned and Topsy, so misrepresented in the miniseries.

William Morris seems to catch Rossetti and Jane in mischief, but in fact only wants to rearrange the furniture. Oh that silly William Morris!

Rose La Touche tells Rossetti exactly what she thinks of him.

Rossetti hard at work on a portrait of Jane Morris

Lizzie, heartbroken both by Rossetti, and by Ruskin's abandonment of her art, steps into the Laudanum bottle more frequently.

Annie Miller pays Holman-Hunt a visit with a proposition, but not the one he is hoping for.

Lizzie and Rossetti's heartbreaking final argument in the streets of London.

He arrives home to find her dead.

And begins to paint her memoriam.

Lizzie, her hair spread out in her coffin.

A really horrendous artist's rendition of Beata Beatrix (whoever did the artwork for the miniseries, I mean, not the original)

A beautiful moment when Rossetti steps back to gaze on the finished Beata Beatrix, and feels Lizzie is there with him.

Rossetti throws his poems in with Lizzie's casket

And apparently Ned and Topsy help him retrieve them later that same night.

The series was supposedly about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but it is truly the Sisterhood who shine brightest. Specifically, the break-out star of the series is by far Lizzie Siddal, portrayed absolutely beautifully and with amazing nuance. A five star performance.

The members of the Sisterhood...

Lizzie SiddalAnnie MillerJane Morris...sadly quite two-dimensional in the series. Why doesn't she ever get her due?

and Fanny Cornforth

Monday, August 24, 2009

Arthur Hughes: A Human Good Artist

Of course everyone here knows I admire the work of Arthur Hughes. His near photographic realism in fabrics and plants is breathtaking, and he exhibits a fondness for my favorite color in his works. But I just finished looking through the only (that I know of) book devoted solely to his art, and I have to admit...the guy has flaws too. He's a genius, but looking through an entire catalog of his work makes one certain thing apparent: he and proportion were not always friends.

I've noticed it before when looking at his famous artwork April Love. For the longest time, I peered intently at reproductions of the work, trying to figure out what was going on behind the main figure. A man was back there, I had read in descriptions of the work, but I could hardly believe it...the rounded curve I saw behind her left arm was larger than her own head, and yet was meant to be drawn further behind her in perspective. That couldn't be a man's head, could it? It's huge!

Well, yes, it could. After looking at all of the paintings in the book, I started to notice strange features in certain paintings. Some were executed flawlessly, yes, but others had utterly perplexing areas of warped proportion. A child's head in the background swollen larger than the girl in the foreground.

(This to me is the worst culprit. What in the world did the boy on the right eat to have a head almost twice the size of the girl on the right??)

Two adults strolling arm in arm with hands the tiny size of children.

Hi there, teeny tiny hand!Look at the size of the middle girl's head compared to her arm and hand!

These areas of odd proportion would have been easy to glide over when viewed individually, but when I saw them all together in one bound set of papers, I was forced to admit that I was seeing an artist who was human...who was flawed...who was learning. And here I come to my point...which is that Arthur Hughes is still a genius artist. His work still transcends time (even if some of it, admittedly, was a bit saccharine even for its day). To view his mistakes is comforting, in some way, like seeing a page Keats might have written with words crossed out on it, crumpled from frustration. It is a timeless record of his humanity, a reminder to all of us who strive in any of the arts that there is always room for improvement. Even if we paint purple velvet like a pro.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Legend of the Seeker

Many thanks to Aurora, who pointed out to me that in the 7th episode of Legend of the Seeker, season 1, a character can be seen throughout the episode posed like Circe Invidiosa. Beautiful!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tree of Life Bedding

Yesterday, the newest Pyramid Collection catalogue arrived. I have to admit, for the most part I don't get thrilled about their items. They are lovely, but overpriced in my opinion. But we did purchase our wonderful Mucha tapestries from them, and their new catalogue featured another item that turned my head. A beautiful bedding set inspired by William Morris' Tree of Life (ironically it's not identified as such, but it's pretty glaringly obvious)

Actually if you look closely at the design, it looks more inspired by Flora, but there are definitely William Morris patterns in the design.

PS: Still no signs of this week's Desperate Romantics on YouTube! Probably for the best...I hear William Morris is an "Oaf" in it. :(

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Truth to Nature

Today I wanted to share with you a tongue-in-cheek artwork from a contemporary of the Pre-Raphaelites. I can't remember where I found this piece, so I apologize if it has been posted already. It is Henry Nelson O'Neil's The Pre-Raphaelite.

It has been on my mind recently because of the way that they have been showing the Brotherhood creating their paintings in the miniseries, Desperate Romantics. Not a single canvas has gone outdoors, not a single bit of painting has been done anywhere but in darkened rooms. And this painting is farcical parody for the same accuses the Pre-Raphaelites of claiming truth to nature while creating their masterpieces inside.

I'm not aware of how much of the art they created was actually done en plein air, and how much was done indoors, but I can say with some confidence that I think they went outside more often than the miniseries would indicate.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Art of Rebecca Guay

First, it should go without saying that the new episode of Desperate Romantics is up on YouTube. Follow the same link as last episode, and you can watch. This one was probably my favorite one yet, showcasing Annie Miller's heartbreak, and with numerous one-liners that made me laugh out loud.

Today I wanted to feature an artist whose work I've admired ever since I saw my first Magic: The Gathering card she had illustrated. Her name is Rebecca Guay, and I've noticed some of her recent work has more of a Pre-Raphaelite inspiration to it.

The first image below, Euridice Before Death, especially looks Pre-Raphaelite to me, and started my search for more images.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lisa Stock's Medisaga: TITANIA

My dear friend Lisa, whose beautiful film TITANIA: The Medisaga Part 1 is currently in production, took a few promotional pictures of the Three Fates. The images turned out so lovely, and so very like a Pre-Raphaelite painting, I had to share them here:

permission Lisa Stock for The Titania Journals entry coming in the Faezine Fall '09

Friday, August 7, 2009

Moonacre Gown

Another somewhat-intrusion on the PRB theme here, but some commenters requested pictures of the gown when it arrived! Here it is! I am smitten with it. It feels like a little piece of art come to life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This Week's DR Episode

I'll let Millais summarize my feelings on this one:

Severely disappointed in this episode.
It's still entertaining, enjoyable, and whimsical, but I just can't stand the direction they've taken with Millais, Effie, and Ruskin. For absolutely NO good reason, they eliminated the innocence, romance, and sweetness of their relationship, and made it seem like Ruskin was paying Millais to have him seduce and deflower his wife for him, while he left for Scotland alone.
Commence a 'hilarious' scene with Millais trying to show his sexual experience (when he has none) and his friends catching him before the act, explaining that Ruskin simply wants them to be caught in the act so that he can divorce Effie on the grounds of unfaithfulness.
Why? Why did they completely change this story from the beautiful one that exists, into some sort of freak side show? All real development of feelings between them are eliminated, and everyone comes off looking badly.
I can ignore the changing of details in the PRB's story, but this is another matter entirely.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Solitaire Miles and Arthur Hughes

I've long admired the digital art of Solitaire Miles, but recently, she has started to move some of her work in the direction of Victorian and classical influences. A few of her most recent pieces take my breath away with how very reminiscent of the greatest romantic art they are. But especially I wanted to share this piece. In her description (where she also includes a poem, as the Pre-Raphaelites often did when displaying their works), she mentions that she was inspired by Maxfield Parrish, but as soon as I saw this image, I thought of Arthur Hughes, and his love for using this shade of violet (and beautiful wide-eyed young women) in his artworks.

I confess, since purple is my favorite color, I am biased in my admiration of Arthur Hughes' art. But while looking for images for this post, I came across the above images, and the one right above made me catch my breath...I own that gown!! Purple velvet, square neckline, ties down each arm. No wonder why I love his art!

Thanks to Solitaire Miles for allowing me to use her beautiful image in this post.