Monday, September 27, 2010

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pre-Raphaelite 1828-1882

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet and painter born in London on May 12, 1828 and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. His art was characterized by his complete fixation with medieval revivalism. His art and poetry were entwined with his personal life and relationships to such a degree it was all one. Dante came from a very artistically prolific and poetically inclined family with his sister Christina Rossetti who became a renowned poet, his brother William Rossetti, respected artist and critic, and sister Maria Rossetti, author. His early childhood writing was focused on medieval themes of chivalry and battle, but in adolescence women began taking more and more of a central point in his artwork.  His devotion to female beauty in his poetry and painting mirrored his obsession to his vision of ideal feminine beauty in his personal life. His ideal type of woman was distinctive enough to separate his work from his fellow artist "brothers". His ideal beauty had long lustrous hair, a sturdy, elongated robust neck, almost sculptural looking in it's presentation, heavy eyelids, sensuous pouty lips and skin with a luminous fair complexion. Rossetti used many models throughout his career but his type remained the same. Inspiration from all of his work came from personal experience whether he was portraying mythological or historical characters.  
 A Vision of Fiammetta, 1878, one of his last works. Now in the collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber, model: Marie Spartali Stillman

Rossetti was an eccentric with tendencies toward reclusiveness and depression. In art school he would rather immerse himself in translating medieval Italian poetry than practicing his drawing skills detesting the structure of study at the academy. His knowledge of other subjects such as science and theology was limited due to his singular focus on his own work and inspiration. His growing interest in women and his feminine ideal of beauty kept him from becoming a complete recluse. In 1848 Rossetti left the academy and together with William Holman Hunt developed the philosophy for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which they founded along with John Everett Millais. Rossetti was more interested in the medieval side of the movement rather than the modern. In 1850 Rossetti met Elizabeth Siddal who was to become an important artist's model for the brotherhood and in 1860 she became Rossetti's wife.

In both his painting and his poetry, Rossetti increasingly focused on mythological and symbolic images in his work rather than realistic ones. His medieval Arthurian visions inspired his friends William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones in their work too. He often wrote medieval inspired sonnets to accompany his paintings.  Rossetti worked with  William Morris to design stained glass windows and other decorative items. 

In 1862 Rossetti's beloved wife, Elizabeth Siddall, died from an overdose of laudanum after giving birth to a stillborn daughter which precipitated a deep depression in the artist. He spent several years idealizing her image in his work. In Elizabeth Siddal, Rossetti's dream of the ideal woman first took hold for she embodied his fantasy of spiritual love and a blessed source for his own salvation. He drew and painted her incessantly seeing her virginity and pure sexuality as divine. When she posed for him gracefully, silently, his projections were fulfilled; Rossetti's imagination could fill out the rest of his perfect ideal woman. But when Lizzie spoke her mind even the great artist's imagination couldn't keep the dream from vanishing. In time Rossetti became sexually frustrated with Lizzie during their long 8 year engagement and his imaginings started to turn toward the not so spiritual kind of love. He came to prefer subjects of prostitution and the femme fatale, woman was no longer the salvation of man but man was now the savior of the fallen woman. In disparaging prostitution he could protect his fantasy of the ideal divine fair lady. In order to have any hope for salvation through spiritual love he had to keep the two types separate.

                                               Lizzie Siddall

With the completion of these numerous and obsessively stylized yet soulful paintings, Rossetti became a major influence in the development of the European Symbolist movement. He had come to paint his fantasies from real life. Rossetti said he shut himself within his own soul, where he built his own imaginary world, and where creating art was merely a matter of copying his visions he saw there or expressions of his own soul. In these years Rossetti frequently employed his lover Fannie Cornforth and later his mistress Jane Burden Morris, wife of his business partner William Morris in glamorized compositions showing them as physically erotic or ethereally goddess-like women.  About this time, he also discovered Alexa Wilding, a dressmaker, who was soon modeling for the artist on a full-time basis.
                        Fanny Cornforth as Helen of Troy, 1863 

Fanny Cornforth came to personify the body's beauty in Rossetti's world. She was more overtly sexual than Lizzie was, less delicate, more voluptuous. Her image came to symbolize earthly beauty and physical pleasure or fantasy. Rossetti treated Fanny with condescension because of her lower status and lack of education. From his paintings it is apparent that he treated her more as an object than a person. She is usually shown straight forward, close up and looking the viewer right in the eye. There are no expressive, emotional or soulful qualities to her countenance. In reality Fannie was probably the most balanced and grounded of all Rossetti's women.

                           Jane Burden Morris as Proserpine, 1874

The third important muse in Rossetti's life was Jane Burden Morris. Rossetti knew Jane early on and understood her marriage to his friend and business partner William Morris was an unhappy one. Jane became indispensable to Rossetti after Lizzie Siddal Rossetti died in 1862. The two of them lived together for two years while William Morris traveled for business a great deal. Jane was different in appearance than Lizzie or Fanny having dark raven hair and a pale somber expression. She was also very tall. In most works Rossetti idealized his sitters to conform to his idealized vision of beauty but in Jane's case, it is said, he didn't have to idealize any feature for she was as beautiful as his vision. Whereas Lizzie was spiritual beauty and Fanny was physical beauty, Jane was a blending of the two. And as she was a bit aloof and remote, she was an empty canvas where Rossetti could depict her anyway he desired, in his own image or reflection. As it turned out, over time, he depicted her likeness with too many meanings as she came to mean too many things to him and that created an ambivalence for him.

                               Alexa Wilding in Monna Vanna, 1866
Alexa Wilding was one of Rossetti's most frequent models from 1865 onward. They became loyal friends but were never lovers.

After receiving brutal criticisms of his first collection of poetry, Rossetti suffered a mental breakdown in June, 1872 and subsequently spent much of his time under the influence of his addictions to whiskey and   chloral hydrate. The following summer he was much improved and completed a dream-like series of portraits of Jane Morris and Alexa Wilding. In 1874 William Morris cut Rossetti out of his decorative arts business and soon after Rossetti moved out of the house he rented with Jane Morris. In later years, he plunged further and further into the darkness of his dual addictions and mental illness. He died on Easter Sunday 1882 and is buried at Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England.

(Information for this post gathered from Wikipedia and the Victorian Web.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

I previously posted a blog series on Claude Monet and Impressionism. This new post is going to begin another series on my favorite period, the Pre-Raphaelites. The Impressionist era lasted basically from 1863 to 1886. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was founded in 1848 by English painters Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. They were soon joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner creating the seven member Pre-Raphaelite "brotherhood".

The group's aim was to reject the mechanistic and frivolous painting style of the time and return English art back to realism and nature. They wanted to revive the abundant detail, intense colors and complex composition of the early Italian Renaissance and Flemish art. The Pre-Raphaelites were the first important movement in art although some have argued with that designation since the movement depended on historical, especially Medieval subject matter and the imitation of nature as central to their work. Many critics, among them Charles Dickens, considered the Pre-Raphaelite's fascination with medievalism as backward looking and their attention to detail as harsh and unsightly. Eventually the movement had an unofficial split with the realist side led by Hunt and Millais and the medievalist side headed by Dante Rossetti and followers Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. Additionally, as an aspiring poet, Rossetti wished to unite both Romantic poetry and art.

Rossetti's influence on William Morris enabled him to also influence many architects and interior designers to adopt the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their interest in Medieval designs and other crafts. This led directly to the Arts and Crafts Movement headed by William Morris. The Pre-Raphaelite Movement influenced the work of many British artists (some of whom I will profile in upcoming blog posts) well into the 20th century. In the later century art moved away from representing realism, and the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, who were passionate about attention to detail to a near photographic precision, was derided and devalued by critics. More recently there has been a resurgence of interest in the movement and their work.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Proud Lady by Elinor Wylie

Hate in the world's hand
Can carve and set its seal
Like the strong blast of sand
Which cuts into steel.

I have seen how the finger of hate
Can mar and mould
Faces burned passionate
And frozen cold.

Sorrowful faces worn
As stone with rain,
Faces writhing with scorn
And sullen with pain.

But you have a proud face
Which the world cannot harm,
You have turned the pain to a grace
And the scorn to a charm.

You have taken the arrows and slings
Which prick and bruise
And fashioned them into wings
For the heels of your shoes.

From the world's hand which tries
To tear you apart
You have stolen the falcon's eyes
And the lion's heart.

What has it done, this world,
With hard finger-tips,
But sweetly chiseled and curled
Your inscrutable lips?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Death is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Death Poem by Henry Scott Holland ~ 1847-1918
Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral ~ London. UK

Monday, September 6, 2010

An Armful of Zinnias

I lost someone yesterday. A woman who came into the family thirty years ago with her arms laden with a bundle of long stemmed glorious zinnias the colors of sunset. That vision has been imprinted on my heart ever since and I will carry it with me always. It seems that the self-centered among us go on and on refusing to give up, while the self-sacrificing ones use themselves up in their devotion and commitment and hold onto nothing for themselves in the end. I tried many times but I could never quite put into words the gratitude I have always felt for her dedication and caring. I have always appreciated her love and her presence.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Autumn in the Garden by Henry Van Dyke

When the frosty kiss of Autumn in the dark
Makes its mark
On the flowers, and the misty morning grieves
Over fallen leaves;
Then my olden garden, where the golden soil
Through the toil
Of a hundred years is mellow, rich, and deep,
Whispers in its sleep.

'Mid the crumpled beds of marigold and phlox,
Where the box
Borders with its glossy green the ancient walks,
There's a voice that talks
Of the human hopes that bloomed and withered here
Year by year,--
Dreams of joy, that brightened all the labouring hours,
Fading as the flowers.

Yet the whispered story does not deepen grief;
But relief
For the loneliness of sorrow seems to flow
From the Long-Ago,
When I think of other lives that learned, like mine,
To resign,
And remember that the sadness of the fall
Comes alike to all.

What regrets, what longings for the lost were theirs!
And what prayers
For the silent strength that nerves us to endure
Things we cannot cure!
Pacing up and down the garden where they paced,
I have traced
All their well-worn paths of patience, till I find
Comfort in my mind.

Faint and far away their ancient griefs appear:
Yet how near
Is the tender voice, the careworn, kindly face,
Of the human race!
Let us walk together in the garden, dearest heart,
Not apart!
They who know the sorrows other lives have known
Never walk alone.

Friday, September 3, 2010

From All Around the World You Visit

I thought it would be fun to share with everyone where you all come from who read my blog. It is one of the most exciting parts about writing this blog. I never tire of discovering where you all live. Sitemeter on my blog collects that information for me. I use Google Analytics (GA) to track that information on my etsy shop. GA tells me that in the past month I had 346 visitors to my etsy shop from 28 different countries as the chart from GA below shows.

Personally I have recorded visitors to my blog from 24 countries besides the USA over the past 3 weeks. Here are the countries I noted during that time period: Greece, South Africa, Australia, UK, Belgium, Israel, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, Spain, Columbia, France, Portugal, the Philippines, India, New Zealand, Turkey, Italy, Iran, Romania, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, and Holland. I find that revelation simply thrilling. Thank you all for visiting. Please come back again and again!

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