Monday, 10 September 2012



No matter how many times I look at Pre-Raphaelite paintings, there's always something new that catches my eye. I gazed for a long time this morning at Ford Madox Brown's The Last of England, at Tate Britain's magnificent exhibition. Had I really never noticed those cabbages before ...
Surely I must have registered how tightly the woman is pinching the cold, purply-blue flesh of her husband's hand as she clings to him for courage? The skin is puckering under her leather-gloved fingers.
I'm pretty sure, though, that I've never before noticed the child's red sock peeping out from under her cloak. And can you make out the clever cord that attaches the husband's hat to his coat button, so it won't blow away? (If you click on the image, you'll see the detail.)

There were paintings that are old friends, that I haven't seen for a while. Like this one.



 Isabella, John Everett Millais
And one in particular that I looked at with a fresh eye. Now I realise that this is a seriously dysfunctional family ...
But look at that phallic shadow springing from the brother's groin. Was there something incestuous going on between brother and sister?
She, after all, is barking mad and uses her lover's decapitated head as potting compost for her kitchen herbs. And Lorenzo, if it comes to that ... He is the lover, offering the plate of oranges to Isabella. He is a warehouse clerk employed by her wealthy brothers. But look at his face. This is potentially one freaky stalker.
You could make a film out of everything that's going on here.


The Children's Holiday, William Holman Hunt

But there were other paintings that I've never seen before. I don't remember this one (even though it's from Torre Abbey and I lived in Torquay for a while.)
But, oh, that gleaming samovar, those teacups, those currant buns ...

If you don't love the Pre-Raphaelites, but you get dragged along to the exhibition - a friend's husband was shuddering on Sunday afternoon at what is in store for him - look out for this funny little satirical watercolour by Florence Claxton (from the V&A, but I've never come across it before) mercilessly taking the mickey out of Millais and his redheads.

Because sometimes you just have to laugh:

The Triumph of the Innocents, William Holman Hunt

8 comments:

Sue said...

Coming from Birmingham and having been an art student there I know the Pre- Raphs very well. Last of England is an old favourite and there's a smaller version of Work in B'ham Museum and Art Gallery.

mary said...

Lots of favourites from Manchester and Birmingham, Sue, and Oxford, of course. And a few from private collections or American loans that I hadn't seen before. I was in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago and didn't bother going to the art gallery as guessed it would have been stripped bare.

Mystica said...

I like your take on the paintings!

mary said...

It was a stunning exhibition, Mystica.

Fay said...

Following your link to the Tate, I then followed their link to the Pinterest Pre-Raphaelites page. What a visual feast. Thanks so much for this post. News of the exhibit had not yet come through from my usual art news sources.

mary said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Fay; I love that Pinterest page. If you get the chance, the exhibition is going to Washington in the New Year.

galant said...

No idea you'd lived in Torquay; I live close by, too, and have seen the Holman Hunt in Torre Abbey. It's now closed again for yet more restoration, but the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter is now open again after a long refurbishment and building programme, and is an excellent place to visit.
Margaret P

mary said...

Ages ago, Margaret, back in the late 70s.