Friday, May 20, 2011

ramble: a gathering of books on the Pre-Raphaelites

Mariana by J. E. Millais, 1851
I've always been in love with the Pre-Raphaelites. To me, their paintings represent "good" art: art that turns all of life into beauty, even the sorrowful bits, and makes that beauty into an emotion. Whether that's actually an appropriate definition of "good" art (or if there is any such thing as definably "good" art) is another debate entirely, but for me artistic beauty is most definitely exemplified in the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.

To contemporaries, however, the Pre-Raphaelites' works were ugly, blasphemous, and retrograde. The controversy the Pre-Raphaelites caused, and the drama of their private lives, are subjects as interesting as their creations.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood formed in 1848 as a group of seven artists, poets, and artistic/literary critics. The founding trio consisted of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt.

There were several other artists and writers of the period loosely associated with them, or influenced by their style and ideals, including Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, and John William Waterhouse. Women also belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite circle: they participated as painters and poets, as well as models and supporters. They included Elizabeth Siddal, Jane Morris, Christina Rossetti, Fanny Cornforth, Effie Gray, Marie Stillman, and Louise, the Marchioness of Waterford. (There is a detailed list of associates here.)

The art the Pre-Raphaelites created was as varied as they were. Though they promoted medievalism, realism, and romanticism, personal creativity was paramount and obviously their ideals sometimes clashed. Nevertheless, their work was a strong and vibrant response to the formal artistic traditions that had developed in Europe since the early 16th century, and they remain popular today; just check out any poster shop. (Or every last one of my walls.)

Thanks to my longstanding interest, I've amassed a collection of books about the Pre-Raphaelites' lives and art, and so I thought I'd relate them for the delectation (I love that word) of others who share my interest, or are looking for sources to start with. There's an overwhelming amount of Pre-Raphaelite titles both in and out of print!

The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Circle ed. by Cecil Y. Lang (second edition)
A lovely anthology of Pre-Raphaelite poetry (both Rossettis, William Morris, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and George Meredith). From the back:
"Lang's introduction describes briefly the founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, discusses each of the Pre-Raphaelite poets, both individually and in relation to the others, and grapples with the questions of definitions of Pre-Raphaelitism and the similarities between its painting and poetry. The book is appropriately illustrated with thirty-two works by D. G. Rossetti, John Ruskin, William H. Hunt, and other Pre-Raphaelite artists."
The Pre-Raphaelite Dream: Paintings and Drawings from the Tate Collection by Robert Upstone
A beautiful, oversized, full-colour catalogue of the Pre-Raphaelite collection of the Tate Gallery. From the back:
"The Pre-Raphaelite Dream showcases the range, virtuosity, and vision of the artists aligned with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Familiar, iconic pictures such as Rossetti's Proserpine, Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience and Millais's Mariana, are brought together with undeservedly less well-known paintings by the major artists.... Exceptional but rarely exhibited Pre-Raphaelite drawings, including major Rossetti and Burne-Jones works on paper that are unique to the Tate Collection, are also highlighted, as are a small group of prints."
Pre-Raphaelites at Home by Pamela Todd
A wonderfully engrossing group biography of the leading members. From the jacket flap:
"[A]uthor Pamela Todd conjures vivid impressions of the lives of [Dante Gabriel] Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and their immediate circle. We learn how and where they lived and, crucially, with whom, in this intimate study of their often complex social arrangements. Thoroughly researched and beautifully presented, the book draws on extensive collections of poetry and prose, as well as revealing diaries and letters of the time."
The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy by William Gaunt (revised edition)
A classic general history of the Pre-Raphaelites, with many colour illustrations. From the back:
"In this account of the Pre-Raphaelite movement William Gaunt describes the various paths taken by the main protagonists, their adventures and trials in pursuit of their aims: Hunt repairing to Palestine in search of the truth of religious expression; Millais turning his skill to more popular themes; Rossetti as poet and painter becoming obsessed by visions of a romantic past in which woman played an ideal or tragic part."
The Pre-Raphaelites by Timothy Hilton
An in-depth work of art history and criticism. From the back:
"This is the first critical history specifically of Pre-Raphaelite painting to have appeared for seventy years. Placing the movement in its historical setting, it relates the individual painters and their art to the larger concerns of nineteenth-century society. Virtually every major Pre-Raphaelite painting is both illustrated and discussed, as well as many works by the movement's minor talents."
Rossetti by John Nicoll
A detailed biography of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite of all. From the jacket flap:
"Many books have featured Rossetti the poet, but none, until now, has exclusively featured Rossetti the painter. Here is the first full account of the life of one of England's major painters and of the impact of his work on nineteenth-century art. ... Here, for the first time, Rossetti's secret sources of inspiration for his paintings are revealed."
Christina Rossetti: A Biography by Frances Thomas
And a biography of the "other" Rossetti (the one who's always the "other" because she's female*). From the back:
"Why is Christina Rossetti, one of the finest nineteenth-century poets, still so invisible today? This is the central question addressed in this important new biography. ... [T]his perceptive study, drawing on many previously untapped sources, enables us to piece together a more complete picture of this passionate, contradictory and enigmatic woman."
And finally,
Pre-Raphaelites by K. E. Sullivan (Discovering Art series)
A great basic introduction, with tons of colour illustrations and eight full-page pull-out prints in the back!

Out of the vast number of Pre-Raphaelite books published, there are many still on my Must-Read-Someday list:
Also a 2009 BBC
miniseries, starring a
whole lot of gorgeous
people, including
Aidan Turner.
  • Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle
  • Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley
  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter and Poet by Jan Marsh
  • Christina Rossetti: A Literary Biography by Jan Marsh
  • Jane Morris: The Pre-Raphaelite Model of Beauty by Debra N. Mancoff
  • Pre-Raphaelites in Love by Gay Daly
  • Pre-Raphelite Sisterhood by Jan Marsh
  • Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists by Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn
  • The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites by Elizabeth Prettejohn
  • The Pre-Raphaelites and Their World by Rachel Barnes
I would love to hear opinions on any of these books, and recommendations for more, from other Pre-Raphaelite devotees. ♥

* sigh

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