Hylas and the Nymphs
J W Waterhouse
Manchester Gallery England
There is a style of art that draws me in at once-starting with the Pre Raphaelite School in England and encompassing the European Symbolists, some of the Victorian Allegorical Artists and various sub groups that are loosely connected with these movements.
It’s hardly a surprise that I would be drawn to these artists since many of them share my disposition for flitting back and forward between design and flat art, many were designers for the theatre (costumes and so forth) and most liked a good solid hidden message in their work.
It all started because this band of eccentrics thought Raphael (the peer of Leonardo) had ruined art (hence the name PRE RAPHAELite) and they hated SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS who was the head of all things art in England and arguably the best portraitist of his time-at least he had a style.
It all gets a bit mucked up because Art Nouveau shares some of the same values as the Pre Raphaelites and the symbolists and then Gustav Klimt gets into the fray and all the fine painting and adherence to nature starts to wander off, along comes Moreau and the rules change again…and where does poor Aubrey Beardsley fit into all this mess?
There is a challenging but wonderful book (many pictures but alas mostly B&W) called DREAMERS OF DECADENCE-I suspect it is long out of print but some stalwart used bookseller should be able to drum up a copy if any of this piques your interest.
I actually found several used copies available on Amazon at low prices.
Dreamers of Decadence attempts to explain and sort out all these artists and designers and make sense of them and all that they have done.
A gesture in futility when attempted in one volume-it seems to take an entire shelf at the library to even begin make a stab at separating one branch from the vine.
I had a college art history instructor lecture me that this entire massing of art was not noteworthy and too similar to children’s book illustrations to be of any consequence in the scheme of things when discussing the history of actual ART.
I’m certain that Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish and many others would have some harsh words for this naysayer as the genesis of their work is here and stretches on into the world of Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo not to mention the Hildebrandt Brothers in my generation.
If you love richness of form and content, wonderful massing of colour and attention to minute detail I urge you to explore this period in art and see what you bring away with you from the experience.
Be sure to check out Waterhouse and the Rossetti’s along the way or just do a Google search on Pre Raphaelite Art IMAGES and see what you find attractive then follow that focus for awhile.
Allegorical art is a wonderfully frustrating thing to discuss.
Unless the artist had left copious notes and diagrams what may seem symbolic to some was just filling in an empty space to them.
There are agreed upon symbols like Roses, Water and Iris, it was a period of lovely ladies drowning or drowned or floating in a way to LOOK drowned but lovely in limpid pools OR rising from limpid pools like sea nymphs or in this case pond nymphs to great strong and handsome mythical heroes usually in gleaming armor.
My favorites are also the happy bands of revelers strewing flowers as they pass through fantastic marble cities draped in silk (the city and the revelers) happily thronging to be sacrificed by being hurled off a high cliff or some similar dismal fate.
It’s that Victorian thing-pale beauty ravaged by consumption dies while still attractive by sacrificing all for love… how tragically beautiful….sigh, this is the period where weeping became an art form as well.
Take a look, you may find that this sneered at “sentimental tripe” touches something deeper in you I know it certainly has influenced me in my work.
I was reading an article while researching this blog post that indicated designs for the castle interiors in the recent Narnia epics were almost surely inspired by the work of Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema.
He also gets kudos for inspiration connected to INTOLERANCE (D W Griffiths Babylonian spectacular) and even Star Wars.
Alma Tadema was so meticulous in his renderings of marble surfaces that he became known as “that MARBELOUS painter”.
The salient point to all of this is discovery-I realized as I was writing this entry that the Hildebrandt’s (http://www.brothershildebrandt.com ) are no longer the household name they once were.
True “painters of light” the brothers produce some amazing illustrations and I think may be the most glowing modern exponents of the Pre Raphaelites and Symbolists.
Just as the original movement fell into disfavor and were largely forgotten for many years some artists who followed their techniques and brought them into today’s milieu have also been forgotten as styles change.
Hope this gave you some active interest in at least looking at some of the art of the Pre Raphaelites or if you had known them once rediscovering them can be a joy.
An interesting side note, Sir Andy Lloyd Webber is an avid collector of Pre Raphaelite art and allowed use of 300 pieces from his personal collection for a showing in England.