The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite Designs, Studies and Watercolours

Those of you living in the UK (or visiting) are in for a real treat this month. From January 29, 2011 to May 15, 2011, The Birmingham Museum is hosting what promises to be “the largest survey of Pre-Raphaelite drawings and watercoulours ever staged.” The museum has assembled works Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s world-class collections, together with important pieces from public and private lenders, including some works by D.G. Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and Edward Burne-Jones that have never previously been exhibited. The exhibit, entitled The Poetry of Drawing, will place special emphasis on the important role that drawing played in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

The Poetry of Drawing will include pieces from the most prominent members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, including all the original members of the PRB, Elizabeth Siddal, Edward Burne-Jones, Frederick Sandys and Simeon Solomon. Later artists, such as Aubrey Beardsley, who were influenced by the Brotherhood are also included, as are the Arts and Crafts contributions of William Morris, William de Morgan and Florence Camm.

For those of you who are unable to attend, the exhibition’s curator has created an illustrated volume entitled Pre-Raphaelite Drawing. The book will be published by Thames and Hudson. I would love to see this exhibit in person, but if I don’t get the chance, I will definitely be looking into the catalogue!

For more information and ticket prices, please visit the Birmingham Museum’s exhibition website.

Image above is William Morris’ sketch for his Trellis wallpaper design.

BBC 4 The Pre Raphaelites

For those of you living in the UK, the BBC has released a 3-part documentary series on the Pre-Raphaelites to coincide with Desperate Romantics. Since Desperate Romantics is rather short on historical context, be sure to watch the documentary alongside the costume drama, especially if this is your first introduction to the Pre-Raphaelites.

The documentary, entitled The Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Revolutionaries, features author Jan Marsh (author of Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood) and a number of other art historians discussing the PRB’s rise to fame, their landscape art and the eventual commercialisation of their work.

I really enjoyed the series, although I found it a little annoying that they kept insisting that the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood somehow “sold out” when they began to find a market for their art. The series really pushes the notion that the Pre-Raphaelites were somehow the first artists to commercialise their work (and that this was a betrayal of their earlier, nobler ideals). Artists and writers have always wanted to profit from their work. It’s pure romantic fantasy to imagine that there was some golden age of art where everyone indulged in art for art’s sake without an eye toward profits. The PRB simply lucked out by being in the right place at the right time, and they took advantage of the technology that was available to them. I’m quite sure that if Sir Joshua Reynolds had lived through the Victorian era, he too would have been hawking his lithographs right alongside the former members of the PRB. You will remember that even the socialist William Morris was a businessman! It seems very hard for the BBC to conceive of the possibility that one might simultaneously be a romantic revolutionary and hope to pay the rent.

For those of you living in the UK, several of the episodes are available in streaming video online through the BBC Pre-Raphaelites mini site.

Episode 2, which covers the Pre-Raphaelites approach to landscape art, will be aired again on August 11 at 10:00 pm.

Desperate Romantics – First Impressions

I finally had a chance to watch the first two episodes of BBC’s Desperate Romantics with Javier last week. We both really enjoyed it. Overall, I found it highly entertaining (and yes, it was quite accurately described by its producer as “Entourage with easels”). The production was a bit weak on the historical front, but I suppose this was done by the writers to broaden the appeal of the series.

The series focuses on the early years of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and follows their rise to fame.

I was pleasantly surprised with the casting, particularly that of Lizzie Siddal. The actress who plays Lizzie not only resembles Siddal a great deal, but she also does an excellent job of bringing life and pathos to the character. John and Effie Ruskin are also well-cast, and are more developed than I had anticipated, although the endless speculation about what was wrong with their marriage always gets to me–honestly, nobody has any idea what the problem was (biographers seem to constantly return to the idea that Ruskin was disgusted by Effie’s body hair, but how could they know?). Nevertheless, much like the rumours about Michael Jackson, I suppose this gossip is just too juicy for scriptwriters to pass up.

Unfortunately, the characterization of most of the other major players is rather simplistic, though it is in keeping with the rest of the shows’ approach. Aidan Turner is handsome and energetic as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, if a bit one-dimensional. William Holman Hunt’s character certainly seems to have drawn the short straw in terms of personality. Most biographers of the Pre-Raphaelites tend to consider Hunt a bit of a blowhard, but he’s painted with such a broad brush in this production that it borders on the ridiculous. I hope that the writers will add some nuance to his character in the remaining episodes. Perhaps the most promising character so far is that of John Everett Millais, who is played by Samuel Barnett. Millais’ character is quite endearing, and it looks like we will be seeing more of him in tonight’s episode.

The character I could sort of do without is Fred Walters–a fictional hanger-on that is meant to function as a bit of a window into the lives of the PRB. He’s sort of an amalgamation of a number of real-life members of the brotherhood, but I really wish that they had included William Michael Rossetti in the story instead. William Michael has always seemed quite interesting to me, and he certainly did a great deal to contribute to the visibility of the Brotherhood. I suppose the writers felt that adding in another member of the Rossetti family would rob Dante Gabriel of some of his mystique, but I digress.

Overall, I’m definitely enjoying the series. It’s so nice to finally see the lives of the Pre-Raphaelites dramatized! Desperate Romantics may fall a bit short on historical accuracy, but the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is so inherently exciting that the show can’t help but be enormously entertaining.

I’d be extremely interested to hear from others who’ve had a chance to see the first few episodes. What were your first impressions? Were you pleased or disappointed? Do you think the show will revive interest in the Pre-Raphaelites?

Sin and Salvation: Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision

For those of you in the Toronto area who have not yet had the chance to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario’s current Pre-Raphaelite exhibit, there’s still time! “Sin and Salvation: Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision” will be running until May 10, 2009. Sixty of William Holman Hunt’s paintings are on display at the exhibit, including Isabella and the Pot of Basil, The Awakening Conscience and The Light of the World.

In addition to the paintings, the museum is also displaying the costumes that Hunt and his family used to pose for artworks (Hunt himself used to enjoy dressing up while he was painting–I saw a great photograph of him a while ago in full safari getup while he was painting The Scapegoat). It sounds like an amazing exhibit. I only wish I lived closer to Toronto!

For more information on the exhibit, please visit the Art Gallery of Ontario’s website.

Cast of “Desperate Romantics” announced by the BBC

The BBC Press Office has finally released the casting information for their upcoming series, Desperate Romantics. Most of the actors historically inspired TV dramas are much better looking than their historical counterparts and I’m not complaining. However, the BBC definitely took some rather extreme artistic liberties with this one.

First up: Dante Gabriel Rossetti will be played by Aiden Turner. We all know that Rossetti was a bit of a lady killer, but he wasn’t exactly top model material. The producers have chosen to gloss over this a bit and have chosen an impossibly attractive young man to play Rossetti. While I fail to see much of a resemblance between him and Rossetti (other than the fact that both of them have brown hair!), I’m pretty sure Rossetti would approve. After looking at his photograph, take a look at his self-portrait. Rossetti doesn’t seem to have had a problem with portraying himself as more attractive than he actually was (though, in his defence I’m sure years of drug abuse had taken a toll on his boyish good looks in this photo).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in the flesh

Rossetti’s self portrait:

And finally, his cinematic alter ego :

Correction: it’s not that Aidan Turner, it’s this one:

(And thank you to whoever pointed out which Aidan Turner will actually be starring in Desperate Romantics! A little less soap-opera-ish and a lot more believable.)

And now for the rest of the cast.

Tom Hollander (who bears little resemblance to John Ruskin–for one thing, he’s a bit chubby and Ruskin was practically anorexic) will be playing Ruskin, the famous art critic and patron of the Pre Raphaelites. This casting decision still makes sense to me,though, as Hollander often plays snobby, self-absorbed types. At the same time, I hope he doesn’t overdo it. Ruskin was certainly interesting, even if he was obsessed with his work and had a rather odd way of relating to women.

In more casting news, Samuel Barnett will be playing John Millais, and Zoe Tapper will be playing Effie Ruskin (who later leaves Ruskin to be Mrs. Millais).

Amy Manson has been cast as Pre-Raphaelite “stunner” Lizzie Siddal, Sam Crane as Fred Walters and Jennie Jacques will play Annie Miller. Rafe Spall will also take a turn as PRB founding member William Hunt.

All in all, I predict that the script will be frothy melodrama and the cast will be easy on the eyes. Not a problem, as far as I’m concerned. There’s no denying that the Pre-Raphaelites are ripe for soap opera-esque treatment. I just hope that the series will revive public interest in the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements.