The PRB – my long term and variable relationship

I’ve had a long-term, and very fluctuating relationship with the Pre-Raphaelites; we’ve been together on and off since the 70s. In my late teens I was very taken with them, I loved the colours and the scenes in a way which one might normally associate with a particular kind of artisticly over-wrought teenage girl, the sort with long hair, long dresses and with an excessive enthusiasm for black, crimson and purple. Then I went off them for a fair while because I found them a bit too over-done, too romantic, a bit too, well, teenage girl with long hair, long dresses and an over-enthusiasm for crimson, black and purple. In the last few years I’ve re-engaged with and found that I’m more positive again; though not uncritically. I’m with whoever it was who said that Millet’s Ophelia managed to make dying beautiful, though I have trouble these days with things like A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druidsa painting which frankly I want to spend less time looking at than I would have to saying the title.

How Millet could have produced Ophelia and then gone on to paint Bubbles is beyond me, she’s mesmerically beautiful and tragic (with of course the whole story of Lizzie Siddel catching cold in the bath)…Bubbles is just an exercise in mawkish sentimentality. Blech. Let’s be honest, if you had to be dead wouldn’t you, just a bit, want to look like Ophelia? Would you, really, want your kids to look like Bubbles?  Eve of St Agnes, liking that one.

Holman Hunt is a bit too keen on shoving Christanity down the viewer’s throats, though there is something of the gothic I think in The Scapegoat and you do get all the bit about having to go abroad to marry his wife’s late sister which gives him a bit of romantic shine. Can’t stand The Light of the World, never could. sorry.

Which of course leaves the most Byronic of the Boys in the Band..the rockstar of the PRB, Rosetti. A painter who, for good or ill, has linked every girl with long wavy hair with the word ‘pre-raphaelite’ (including at times when younger, my wife). At his best, he’s amazing as in his drawings of Lizzie and his drawn self portrait, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Ecce Ancilla Domini! though I’m not sure I can put my finger on why. Then you get all those over-lush portraits of women which are verging on pinups…well okay they are pinups. Got to admit it some of them are cute though a lot of them are clearly the work of a man who knows there’s a market for pictures of cute women especially if you dress them up in some kind of classical label.

Do I think they deserve their place on chocolate boxes, table mats and ‘artistic’ girls bedroom walls? Yep, definitely, and I think that both Millet and Rosetti who both in later life worked out that painting stuff people will buy is a good thing 🙂


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