1 March 2019 Susannah

The Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces

The Lady of Shalott, 1888, by John William Waterhouse

Have you been to see the fabulous Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces in Canberra yet? With glorious paintings from the Tate, it brings together many works that have been inspired by literature. The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of painters, poets and art critics who wished to reject a mechanical approach to art (they felt that Raphael had been a corrupting influence on the teaching of art, and wanted to return to ideals that pre-dated him). They felt art should tell a story and they aimed for a close affiliation between art and literature. Many of them wrote themselves, including Dante Gabriel Rosetti and his sister Christina Rosetti, William Morris and Thomas Woolner. The Pre-Raphaelite artists illustrated volumes of poetry, and turned to Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dante, Tennyson, the Romantic Poets and myths and legends for inspiration.

My two favourite paintings in the Canberra exhibition are ‘The Lady of Shalott’ by John William Waterhouse, depicting the lady from Tennyson’s poem sitting in her boat and floating down to Camelot, and John Everett Millais’ drowning ‘Ophelia’. Other literary pictures in the exhibition include William Holman Hunt’s ‘Isabella’ and ‘Isabella and the Pot of Basil’ inspired by the Keats’ poem of that name, Ford Madox Brown’s ‘Chaucer at the Court of Edward III’, Frederic George Stephen’s ‘The Proposal” inspired by one of the Canterbury Tales, and John William Inchbold’s Wordsworth-inspired ‘The White Doe of Rylstone’. There’s Rosetti’s ‘Dante’s Dream’, ‘Paolo and Francesca da Rimini’ and ‘Arthur’s Tomb’, Arthur Hughes’ ‘La belle dame sans merci’ and Rosetti’s portrait of his sister Christina. A section of the exhibition holds paintings inspired by myths so there is masses for the reader to enjoy.

William Morris was not officially one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but he was very friendly with many in the group and promoted their aims. His painting ‘La belle Iseult’, based on the legend of Tristram and Isolde, is on display in Canberra. Morris was a truly remarkable man. When he died his doctors said it was because he had tried to fit into his life the lives of ten men! He was a prolific poet, a novelist, a painter, textile designer, socialist, translator, interior decorator and conservationist.

Were you able to get to Canberra to see Pre-Raphaelites exhibition? I’d love to hear your opinion of these works so please leave a comment.

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Featured image credit- John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, 1888, by John William Waterhouse, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13463656
Body image credit- William Morris (1834–1896) assisted by Philip Webb (1831–1915) and Henry Dearle (1860–1932), The Forest, made by Merton Abbey Workshop, London, by William Knight, John Martin and William Sleath, 1887.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, https://blog.nationalmuseum.ch/en/2018/06/ornaments-divided-opinion/

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