Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sundays Art: What makes a painting a Pre-Raphaelite?

The guide lines of what constitutes a painting to be regarded as a Pre-Raphaelite is a tricky subject and everyone has their own opinion. In researching this I have noticed one common trend, the trend being that everyone has their own idea of the guidelines and which artists fall under that guideline. I am sticking to what the National Museums Liverpool has listed. I have to believe that if not all, then most of the Pre-Raphaelites have a literary work that accompanies the piece because the inspiration usually comes from a great literary work.
"Toward the middle of the 19th century, a small group of young artists in England reacted vigorously against what they felt was "the frivolous art of the day": this reaction became known as the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Their ambition was to bring English art (such as it was) back to a greater truth to nature. They deeply admired the simplicities of the early 15th century, and they felt this admiration made them a brotherhood".
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Lady Lilith
Oil on canvas
37 1/2 x 32 in
Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington

Guide lines of Pre-Raphaelites from National Museums Liverpool

Subject matter - Pre-Raphaelite paintings are often about serious or religious subjects
Symbolism - many Pre-Raphaelite paintings contain visual symbols
Technique - Pre-Raphaelite painters often used bright, clear colours and small detailed brushwork with paint put onto a wet white 'ground'. Landscape painting was often done out-of-doors with and concerned with 'truth to nature'
Literary links - the painters' inspiration often came from literature.

If the piece has these guide lines then you can bet that it is a Pre-Raphaelite. I do hope that this post will clear up some of the confusion that surrounds these wonderful Pre-Raphaelites. They are very unique in the fact that what you see is not always what you get never take them at face value. There are always deeper meanings in these pieces and I enjoy trying to figure them out. They are like art history puzzles and you never know what you are going to get.
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  1. I am a new follower to your site. I am a recently converted historical fiction fan - due to Phillipa Gregory's books. Now I am obsessed!

    I have given you a blog award. Please go to my blog to find the info: Always With a Book


  2. hmmm, sounds interesting. Are you an art follower? Great tips anyway.

  3. Very interesting - thank you for sharing this. I am fascinated that they did not simply limit it by period or by artist eg if a painting was not by one of a set of artists in a given period then it is not pre raphellite - but I guess that this is such a restrictive way of looking at groups of artists - because it is always possible - in some cases pretty likely that artists have been influenced by a group - and are thus producing similar work - without the core member of the group knowing about it - and without necessarily being acknowledged by history.

    Great post - thoughtful and interesting -

    thanks very much


  4. Thanks for the mini art lesson.

  5. Kristin, A big Historical Fiction welcome! My first HF read was "Mademoiselle Boleyn" by Robin Maxwell, after Robin I went to Philippa Gregory's "The Boleyn Inheritance". My all time favorite PG novel is The Queens Fool because Robert Dudley is my favorite.

    Thank you for the Award, I will swing by.

    Bookventures, I am an avid art lover and an artist myself. It is one of the special things in my life because I enjoy it.

    Hannah, I agree I did find that there really is not a period limit on it. You are right to on the point that other artist influence other artist. I know that if I see other peoples art it just makes things in my mind click of "oh that is how you do it". Very thoughtful comment Hannah and eloquently stated.

    Thank you Pat I am glad you enjoyed this Sundays Lesson, I had to get it out.

  6. Pre- Raphaelites are fascinating , I love this style of painting.I have read great books about them Pre- Raphaelites painters, my favorite being a very interesting bio of Lizzie Siddal by Lucinda Hawksley.
    "Pre- Raphaelites in Love " by Gay Daly was nice as well."Pre- Raphaelite Sisterhood" by Jan Marsh is on my shelves as well.And some more.....
    There is a very nice piece of fiction(a genealogical mystery )revolving around the Pre -Raphaelites :"Pale as the Dead" by Fiona Mountain.
    And for thoses who read french :
    "Autumn" by Phillipe Delerm about the tragic love story between DG Rossetti and L.Siddal.I don't think it was translated in English, I will have to check anyways.
    I am a recent follower and I enjoy reading your blog very much !
    Greetings from France, Virginie

  7. This is interesting - I hadn't seen the National Museums Liverpool "guidelines". It's so difficult to decide where Pre-Raphaelitism begins and ends, I suppose: the original Brotherhood had 6 members, (not including the fictional Fred Walters added by the Desperate Romantics TV series!) and then there was second-wave PR-ism - Morris, Burne-Jones, etc. Yet there were so many artists associated with them or painting in their style that it is difficult to decide sometimes whether paintings are generally Pre-Raphaelite, or "after" the PRB. I always thought that Ruskin's comments provide some of the best guides to PR-ism - "truth to nature" and all that.

  8. Verginie, oooooh good reads picks I will defiantly look into some of these wonderful sounding books you named. Nice to see I lured you in here and greetings also!

    Serenatrowbridge, It seems that no matter how much I read into the Pre-Raphaelites I never get definitive answers for my questions. Ruskin was a big help but maybe I need to read more on him.


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