Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Recently finishing Fiona McCarthy's spankin' new "The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination" cast my own imagination towards my university years and similar art school proclivities and afterwards antics. ~Sigh~ England's Pre-Raphaelites all knew one another, morphed from their art studies into their art businesses with one another, and slept with one another. Quel deja vu.

While I quite enjoyed this rumination on the weirdest pure artist of the bunch (others took that prize in lifestyles,) for a more universally appealing account of the movement and its cast of characters, you should try her previous tome on William Morris (not the agent.) Talk about sex, drugs and rock and roll! Those Pre-Raphs certainly swung with the wife-swapping, adventuring to ridiculously far off lands and prodigious productivity in l'art pour l'art while making a profit. Plus, it bundles the whole cast of characters into one book since so many coupled with assorted combinations of one another.

Below, massive at 780 pp. pre-Kindle, but juicy!

Below, Jane Burden Morris, wayward wife of William Morris (not the agent) as painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti to portray Persephone, mythic wife trapped by loveless marriage in Hades; and photographed posing in Rossetti's garden.

  Janey was Muse Supreme for the Pre-Raphaelites, celebrated not only for her "stunner" (their word for hottie) quality but also for autodidact self-education. Born and raised in the slum alley pictured,
she was a stable groom's daughter, discovered a la Lana Turner by this cadre of artist pals trolling for faux-medieval sylphs (Janey was classic ectomorph, quite tall with strong features plus cascading, thick hair like today's supermodels rather than the then contemporary norm of short, shapely and well restrained-looking girly-girls.) Also, she was a lifelong autodidact even before meeting the Pre-Raphs, fishing newsprint out of trashbins to read in her impoverished youth. Much later, she was the slyly referenced inspiration for rags to riches beauty Eliza Dolittle in Pygmalion (Shaw dated her daughter May so he knew all the dirt) and thus My Fair Lady.

Painted by all but marrying the smitten but eternally busy and preoccupied Morris, she later had an affair with his chum Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Tiring of the latter's druggy ways, she then dallied with the biggest cad of his era, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, (who seems to have slept with every comely female British aristo on the whole island) husband of Lord Byron's granddaughter.

Crabbet Park
Arabian Horse

Stud founders
Lady Anne Blunt,
Wilfrid Scawen

(Factoid: Byron's daughter, mathematician Ada Lovelace is considered the world's first computer programmer, since she made Charles Babbage's theories of "counting machinery" actually work.
I do find inheritance of outlier ability fascinating; i.e., Lord Byron, top Romantic poet begets Ada Lovelace, important mathematician, begets Lady Blunt who, along with daughter Lady Wentworth saved the purebred Arabian Horse from crossbred extinction which was its sole breeding trend when the Blunts' Crabbet Stud imported these horses from the Middle East. 90% of Arab horses today trace lineage back to Crabbet. Lady Anne and daughter did have to battle the odious Scawen Blunt in the courts. Away from his Pre-Raphaelite muse and limitless bedpost notches, he was sadistic to the horses and profligate about assets.)

(While we're on tangents, my better half had a theory on why certain seemingly unappealing men such as Rossetti, Scawen Blunt, or Casanova became chick-magnets of yore, "They probably were the only guys in their day to put out any effort whatsoever to make women come.")

William Morris wallpaper design

Meanwhile, Morris was out busy revolutionizing textile and wallpaper design with two-dimensional flora that exploded with graphic liveliness, was out painting, was out composing massive tomes of poetry, was out fabricating stained glasswork, was out designing furniture and home interiors while fitting in travels to Iceland and total immersion in nascent British Socialism. In other words a productive provider and reportedly a loving family man, but absolutely absentee.

Above, Burne-Jones' own cartoon of himself being brought to somnolence by Morris reading his own poetry as if it were a Socialist manifesto. There were scores of such cartoons by both Rossetti and Burne-Jones of their business partner/BFF, most of them skittering towards a schoolboy-ish cruelty in fat jokes, so I far prefer the one by the latter below of Morris being an affectionate father to his two young daughters.
Before Janey, the Pre-Raph superstar artists' model was red-headed Elizabeth Siddall, whose life eventually became a Goth tragedy. Shop girl Lizzie also was discovered a la Lana Turner and eagerly painted by all her contemporaries. Amidst her new milieu of Bohemian bonhomie, she even joined in with her own fine art endeavors.
John Everett Millais rendered Lizzie Siddall as Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet (above,) inadvertent typecasting of this intelligent, unstable and eventually doomed young beauty. Posing for weeks for same in a bath tub, she caught pneumonia but survived, remaining sickly thereafter. Rossetti finally married her, the both of them settling down together for some serious opioid usage (laudanum could be extracted over the counter in their day.)
Left: rare photo of the real Lizzie
Right: self-portrait in pencil by Lizzie Siddall

She cleaned up for pregnancy, miscarried, and in her Post Partum PTS emotional distress fatally overdosed. Rossetti buried the only copies of some of his love poems to Lizzie in her grave. Seven years later after an artistic drought, he disinterred her body to recover same. Only after Siddall's death did Rossetti get more than chummy with his pal William Morris' wife Janey.

Left, how women
saw the younger
Rossetti (portrait
by William "Maniac"
Right, Rossetti

after lifestyle issues
had set in, following
Janey around (sketch
by Burne-Jones)

Author Fiona McCarthy remains unsurpassed in bringing all these attractive, louche but indisputably driven and hyper-productive individuals to life. Similarly driven herself, McCarthy not only is a primo, reliable researcher of decadent types, but also can handle a cozy "you are there" perspective that proffers parallels in modern pop culture without losing context (a style favored by yours truly without the gift of her exquisite polish.) Like great movies that breeze by despite extreme length, McCarthy's art biographies belie their heft. You'll wish there were another 700 pages yet to read the moment you finish.

For less than avid readers of 700 pp. books, there's a dvd set
out there to view of Desperate Romantics based upon Frances Moyle's eponymous tome (would that they'd consulted Gay Daly's "Pre-Raphaelites in Love" with its true-ringing psychological profiles in addition to the fireworks.)
It rocks like The Tudors.

With one sole exception, it's a great series electrifying this art movement for audiences who decidedly are NOT my demographic (despite the myriad, linear timeline inaccuracies.) Clarification of my demographic for full, frontal disclosure: geezer, full time photographer, Fine Art graduate in university- major in Painting, female, well-read enthusiast of Pre-Raphaelite books and have ogled rather a few paintings in person in my time.

It underscores authors Moyle's, Daly's and McCarthy's defense
of the Pre-Raph women's importance to this movement while codifying the creative spirit of young artists everywhere.
(The glaring error is a casting one that betrays like a rotten egg: the production could have hired any high fashion model whatsoever, put her in a brunette wig and had selfsame model's lack of acting experience double for Jane Burden Morris' acknowledged taciturn ways. The first description of Mrs. Morris of every account that exists is "TALL." The elfin cutie they utilized was insulting to Janey's extraordinary visual legacy.)

(video trailer to Desperate Romantics below:)
(below, my Pre-Raph alter ego avatar)

 NOTE: link directly back to http://fastfilm1.blogspot.com if all elements such as photo layouts or videos aren't here.

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