xxxxxIt was in 1848 that the Pre-
Rossetti: The Blue Closet – Tate Gallery, London; Self-
xxxxxInitially, the Brotherhood produced a number of attractive pictures, noted technically for the warmth and glow of their colours, their use of natural light, and their strict attention to detail. The painting shown here, The Blue Closet, is a typical work by Rossetti. These were widely admired for their simple realism and their lofty moral tone, and the school attracted a number of disciples. However, as far as painting was concerned, the movement was of limited appeal and proved short lived. Some of the works by the founder members did not live up to their declared aims, and by turning its back on a tradition of painting going back three hundred years, the movement came in for some savage criticism once the meaning of the initials “PRB” had leaked out. Following the first issue of the Brotherhood’s journal The Germ in January 1850, its members were accused of insulting one of the world’s greatest artists -
xxxxxBut the end of the Pre-
xxxxx…… Rossetti insisted that, as a secret society, the brotherhood needed to have seven members. As a result four others were enlisted: a young sculptor named Thomas Woolner, a young painter named James Collinson, Rossitti’s brother William Michael, and Frederick Stephens, a friend of Holman Hunt. ……
xxxxx…… Axsimilar brotherhood to that of the Pre-
xxxxx…… ThexScottish artist William Dyce (1806-
Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
John Everett Millais,
and Holman Hunt
xxxxxThe English painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-
xxxxxIn his day, Rossetti was indeed a poet of distinction, and his art work was often inspired by or related to the rich, imaginative verse he composed. His early poems were well received, but in 1862 when his beloved wife Lizzie died, he placed the manuscripts of all his poems in her coffin, and it was not until seven years later that he was persuaded to have them exhumed. They were published in 1870, and contained some of his finest work, including The Blessed Damozel, My Sister’s Sleep, Love’s Nocturne, Sister Helen and The Burden of Nineveh, considered by many as his masterpiece. In 1880 appeared his second volume of Ballads and Sonnets, notable above all for Rose Mary, The White Ship, and The House of Life, a collection of 101 sonnets on the theme of love. And during his literary career he translated Dante, and published The Early Italian Poets in 1861. His letters were published in 1895.
xxxxxApart from his many friends associated with the Brotherhood -
xxxxxIncidentally, his sister was the poetess Christina Rossetti, famous above all for her religious poetry and the poems she composed for children.
xxxxxThe English painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-
xxxxxHis decision to follow an artistic rather than a literary career was due to the friendship he struck up with two of his fellow students at the Royal Academy, John Everett Millais and Holman Hunt. With their support he conceived the idea of forming a secret society aimed at revitalising an art world which, in his view (and theirs) had been in decline since the days of the Renaissance artist Sanzio Raphael. There was a need to return to serious, meaningful subjects, and to portray them as true to life, not in artificial, idealised form. Rossetti’s first two oils, devout works entitled The Girlhood of Mary Virgin in 1849, and The Annunciation, a year later (both illustrated below), achieved this aim. Despite some technical flaws, they captured the sincerity, freshness and simplicity of medieval art.
xxxxxHowever, once the meaning of the initials PRB had become general knowledge, the storm of criticism these works aroused upset and angered the young Rossetti. He continued to produce works in the same vein, but refused to exhibit them in public. These included The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice in 1853 and The Preparation for the Passover in the Holy Family of 1856 -
xxxxxA handsome, charming young man with a great deal of poise and personal magnetism, Rossetti was never without lady friends, be they, as he put it, “angels or whores”. One of his angels was the beautiful redhead called “Lizzie” Siddal, whom he married in 1860, and, on her death two years later, he worshipped the lovely Janey, wife of his friend William Morris. In the meantime he also enjoyed the company of lesser mortals, including the buxom Fanny Cornforth and the voluptuous Alexa Wilding.
xxxxxThese “stunners” often provided the inspiration as was well as the models both for the serious, devout works of his early days, and for his portraits of attractive, sensuous women, produced in large numbers during the last twenty years of his life. An ardent lover of female beauty, this series of languid female figures, ranging from the spiritual and majestic to the sumptuous and erotic, enhanced his reputation and increased his bank balance. Outstanding among this gallery of feminine beauty was his Beata Beatrix, a moving memorial to his wife Lizzie, Monna Vanna, a rich, lavish portrait of Alexa Wilding, Astarte Syriaca, a femme fatale who embodied “love’s all-
xxxxxThese later works, though highly attractive, had little to do with the strict ideals of the Pre-
xxxxxIn 1872 he had a break down in health, due in no small part to heavy drinking and the taking of drugs to combat insomnia. He recovered to some degree, but he spent the last ten years of his life as an eccentric recluse in Chelsea, his house full of antiques, and a menagerie of exotic animals in the garden. In December 1881 he suffered a severe stroke and died the following year while convalescing near Margate on the Kent coast. His tombstone at Birchington-
xxxxxThe English artist John Everett Millais (1829-
xxxxxAs a founder member of the Pre-
xxxxxBy then, however, Millais had brought about the virtual collapse of the brotherhood. A child of precocious artistic talent, and a star at the Royal Academy at the age of eleven, he began to see his future in commercial terms. In 1853 his The Order of Release, a highly romantic painting showing the release of a Jacobite rebel after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, proved extremely popular and earned him election as an Associate of the Royal Academy. (As far as Rossetti was concerned, this was joining the enemy and meant an end to the society). And the enormous success Millet achieved with his The Black Brunswicker of 1860, showing a soldier leaving his beloved on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo (illustrated right), convinced him that his future lay in pandering to the Victorian taste for the patriotic, the romantic, and the melodramatic. By the mid-
xxxxxIt was a change of direction that was to make Millet one of the most popular and richest artists of his day. Over the next thirty years he produced a steady stream of pot-
xxxxxSuch was the wealth he accumulated that in 1878 he moved his family to a palatial mansion in Kensington, complete with a large studio, and three years later rented a hunting lodge in Perthshire, where he could enjoy country sports and paint the wild Scottish scenery. In 1885 he was created a baronet, the first artist to be so honoured, and in 1896 he was elected President of the Royal Academy, just a few months before his death from throat cancer. At the request of the Academy, he was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral following a service of great pomp and ceremony.
xxxxxBut whilst his artistic career was highly successful, his private life was clouded by scandal for many years, the result of his close friendship with John Ruskin. They first met in 1851 and two years later Millais joined Ruskin and his attractive wife Effie (Euphemia Gray) on a holiday in Scotland. By the end of their four-
xxxxxFollowing the annulment, Millais and Effie were married in 1855, and the first of their eight children was born the following year. But throughout their married life Effie was shunned by many members of society. Queen Victoria, who openly admired Millet’s work, was shocked by what she saw as a sordid affair, and refused to receive Effie. It was not until Millet lay on his death bed that she granted his dying wish and met Effie privately at Windsor Castle. Effie herself died in December the following year. (Detail of portrait by the English artist Thomas Richmond.)
xxxxxDuring his lifetime and long since, Millet has often been accused of deserting the high ideals of the Pre-
xxxxxIncidentally, despite the fact that Millais had brought about the breakdown of his marriage, in 1854, during the annulment proceedings, Ruskin insisted on Millais completing his portrait, begun during their holiday in Scotland! …….
xxxxx…… His first major work in the Pre-
xxxxx…… Whilst his relationship with both Rossetti and Ruskin became strained, Millet remained a close friend of Holman Hunt throughout his life. When he was elected as President of the Royal Academy, Hunt wrote to congratulate him on achieving a higher letter – from PRB to PRA!
xxxxxUnlike his fellow artists Rossetti and Millais, Holman Hunt (1827-
xxxxxHolman Hunt (1827-
xxxxxToday, however, Hunt is remembered almost exclusively for his picture of Christ in his famous The Light of the World, (illustrated below), a work which brought him instant fame when produced in 1853. This beautiful painting became and has remained a moving symbol of faith throughout the Christian world. Like his other works, such as his The Awakening Conscience of 1853, it was full of religious and moral symbolism. The weeds, for example, represented the sin of daily neglect; the bat signified human ignorance; and Christ’s lantern provided the light of truth, echoing the words in the Psalms: “Thy word is the lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path”. And worthy of special mention for what he called his “symbolic realism” was his The Shadow of Death, painted in 1873 and illustrated below. Here Jesus is shown in his father’s carpentry shop, his outstretched arms casting a shadow of the Crucifixion on the wall behind him.
xxxxxHunt was born in Cheapside, London, the son of a warehouse manager, and left school at the age of 12. Determined to become an artist, he left his job as a clerk and in 1843 joined the Royal Academy school. It was here that he met his fellow students Rossetti and Millais and, with them, formed the Pre-
xxxxxHunt’s early pictures -
xxxxxLike Rossetti, Hunt lacked Millais’ innate ability, but he excelled in the use of natural light, was a stickler for detail, and, as a totally committed artist, he spent long hours perfecting each of his paintings in order to uphold the ideals of the Brotherhood. In 1905 he produced his book Pre-
xxxxxIncidentally, the figure of Christ in The Light the World was modelled on two women, Christina Rossetti and her sister in law Elizabeth Siddal, Rossetti’s wife. ……
xxxxx…… The Awakening Conscience can be seen in the Tate Gallery, London, and The Finding of Our Saviour in the Temple in Birmingham City Art Gallery. The Light of the World is in Keble College, Oxford, and a later, larger copy was given to St. Paul’s Cathedral. ……
xxxxx...… Hunt was originally named William Hobman Hunt. He disliked the middle name intensely, and when a spelling error was made on his wedding certificate in 1865, he happily adopted the mistake and from then on became known as “Holman” Hunt.
xxxxxWellxworthy of mention at this time is the English artist Arthur Hughes (1832-