Sir John Everett Millais – The Controversy Begins

In the last post on Art Nouveau, we met Christina Rossetti, the sister of Dante, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

The Pre-Raphaelites were revolutionary for their time.  But are they still relevant to our time?  How have seven men, who lived in a different century, changed our world?

The answer lies with their personal narratives, which were reflected and magnified in their artistic productivity.  Their lives were remarkable!  They were radicals, unafraid to challenge anything and everything that had the feel or smell of status quo.  A true brotherhood, they fed on each other’s brilliance.

The status quo responded with predictable outrage.  The critics were offended, indignant, infuriated….but alas, the world was ready for the movement.  Audiences were captivated by the beauty of the women, challenged by the symbolism and enticed by the social, moral and political upheaval generated by their exhibitions.

The brotherhood came together in 1848 at the Gower Street, London home of John Millais’s parents. It started with three: William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  William Michael Rossetti (Dante’s brother), James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner followed shortly thereafter to form the group of seven.

It didn’t take long for the Pre-Raphaelite’s to stir the controversial flames beginning with John Millais’s painting: Christ in the House of His Parents.   Blasphemy!  Critics were appalled. Charles Dickens considered Mary to be ugly and accused John Millais of portraying her as an alcoholic.  It must have been a tense moment, especially since Millais used his sister-in-law, Mary Hodgkinson, as the model. John Ruskin, the leading English critic of  the Victorian era, came to the rescue with a letter to the press, but even he disliked the painting.

Out of controversy comes debate.  And when there is debate, there is discussion and communication.  Perhaps that is the greatest legacy of the Pre-Raphaelites.

“It doesn’t matter how beautifully a thing is painted, it is no good if it isn’t right – it’s got to come out… What does it matter how you do it? Paint it with a shovel if you can’t get your effect any other way.”

Sir John Everett Millais

Dante’s Kid Sister – Christina

“Tread softly! All the earth is holy ground.” 
 Christina Rossetti

Every Christmas, I listen to In the Bleak Mid-Winter, never realizing the connection to Art Nouveau and the Pre-Raphaelites.  That is, until recently.  Dante Rossetti’s kid sister, Christina, wrote the poem which was set as a Christmas carol by Gustav Holst and then by Harold Darke.

Christina arrived on December 5, 1830 to parents connected to the art world.  Her father, Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, born in Vasto, Abruzzo, Italy, was a poet who immigrated to England as a political refugee because of his support for the Italian revolutionary nationalism.  Her mother, Frances Polidori was the sister of John William Polidori, the friend and physician of Lord Byron. The Rossetti union produced four children: Dante, the poet and artist, William and Maria, the writers, and Christina the poet. Continue reading “Dante’s Kid Sister – Christina”

Art Nouveau: Morris, Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

“The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.”
William Morris

In my June 22nd post,  William Morris, along with soon-to-be life-long friend, Edward Burne-Jones, entered Exeter College at Oxford determined to become Anglican clergymen.  It wasn’t long before they both gave up this idea to devote their energies on social reform.   William had two ideas in mind: 1) to become an architect and 2) to launch a magazine that would include poetry, short stories, and social articles.  In 1856, both ideas came to fruition. He was accepted as a pupil at the office of George Edmund Street, an English Gothic revival architect. The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, at his expense, came out on New Year’s Day of the same year.   William gave up his editorship position after the first issue.  Even though the articles were noteworthy, the magazine lost momentum in its first and final year.  Out of this venture, William became friends with one of the contributors:  Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This meeting was to have great significance for both men. Continue reading “Art Nouveau: Morris, Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood”

Art Nouveau – Gustav Klimt

“I can paint and draw. I believe this myself and a few other people say that they believe this too. But I’m not certain of whether it’s true.”

Gustav Klimt

On July 14, 1862, the world welcomed Gustav Klimt.  He was destined to be a symbolist painter and one of the most famous members of the Vienna Art Nouveau movement fittingly entitled the anti-conservative Vienna Secessionists. Today, we are celebrating Gustav Klimt’s 150th birthday.  I found out about this momentous event when I went on Google and found their latest doodle was a tribute to his contribution to art.

Gustav Klimt created controversy with his forthright portrayal of the female body.  In fact, Emperor Franz Joseph II would not allow his drivers to go past any place that was showing his art because of the candid eroticism in his paintings. Like other Art Nouveau artists, he challenged conventional thought and renounced mediocrity. Even now, Gustav Klimt’s work continues to inspire open debate.  In my opinion, this is what artistic endeavour is all about.

Happy Birthday, Gustav Klimt!!!!


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Happy Birthday, Antoni Gaudí!

Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.

Antoni Gaudí

December 2007, I travelled to Barcelona to experience Antoni Gaudí.  The Temple De La Sagrada Familia was breathtaking, even mesmerizing.  Although Antoni Gaudí’s architectural designs were in the fashion of the  Spanish variant of Art Nouveau, known as Modernista, experts note that there seems to be a personal dynamic at play that gives him a unique place within the Art Nouveau movement as a whole.

The Temple De La Sagrada Familia includes broader elements such as the Neo-Gothic style which sought to revive medieval forms of architecture.  Although he devoted twelve years of his life to this cathedral, Antoni Gaudí’s untimely death in 1926 from a streetcar accident, left his work on The Temple De La Sagrada Familia unfinished.  Even today, the last stones have yet to be placed.  Completion is scheduled for the centenary of his death.  Antoni Gaudí is buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia.  I like to think that he still watches over the construction until it is completed to his satisfaction.    (June 25, 1852 – June 10, 1926),

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The Temple De La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona