Pre-Raphaelite Sisters: exhibition and congres review

‘The Pre-Raphaelite Sisters: Making Art’ Conference was held at the University of York (December 12 and 13, 2019) in conjunction with the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The mutual goal is ‘to reveal the women behind the pictures and to explore the overlooked contribution of twelve women to the iconic artistic movement the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.’ With my own art project I am trying to accomplish the same so I was very much looking forward to be a speaker at the Conference and to visit the exhibition.

At the Conference I represented Jane Morris with a video and I had the opportunity of meeting the other speakers during two intensive and inspiring days. I especially enjoyed revealing to Elizabeth Prettejohn how she had changed my life… As it happens, she was the curator of the exhibition ‘Dante Gabriel Rossetti’ at the Vincent van Gogh Museum in 2004. It was a photocopy from an article about this exhibition that would become the starting point for my involvement with Jane Morris. Learning that Prettejohn thought my video was very sensitive was a pleasant surprise for me.
My video also interested a curator and after showing her one of my research booklets I had to promise to make another one to juxtapose the photographs made of Jane with my own. We are enthusiastic about creating an exhibition together, somewhere in 2021.

Before and after the Conference I visited musea in Manchester and London. The Royal Academy of Arts showed a career spanning overview of Lucian Freud‘s self-portraits. The National Portrait Gallery inspired me greatly by welcoming the interventions of contemporary artist Elizabeth Peyton to its Tudor, Victorian and seventeenth-century collections.

Elizabeth Peyton, National Portrait Gallery, London, musea, Tudor, Victorian, seventeenth century art, museum collections, paintings, contemporary art, portrait, figure painting Interventions by Elizabeth Peyton
‘Aire and Angels’
National Portrait Gallery

Cherishing the memory of studying Jane Morris related items very closely I had pre-arranged two appointments. At the Manchester Art Gallery I visited the depot and archives with curator Hannah Williamson. Browsing through their artist files I unexpectedly held a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in my hands, written to accompany his painting ‘Astarte Syriaca’, which is on permanent display in the museum.

Rossetti, Jane Morris, William Morris, Manchester, Manchester Art Gallery, museum, art, art gallery, archives, depot, museumdepot, frame, golden frame, Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, Pre-Raphaelite sisters, preraphsisters, preraphs, oilpainting, portrait, figure painting, mythology, poetry, storiesSonnet for ‘Astarte Syriaca’ by D.G. Rossetti, 1877
Manchester Art Gallery

The highlight of my trip was a visit to the British Library, where I spent a few hours reading Jane Morris’s notebooks, filled with several different styles of lettering. Sometimes half a millimeter in height, sometimes written in spirals or in different directions. Definitely worth a second visit, taking with me a sharpened pencil and a magnifying glass, as sadly no photography is allowed. With this illuminated poem, shown at the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhibition, you’ll get a glimpse of Jane’s lettering nevertheless.

illustrated poem, calligraphy, watercolour, jane morris, pre-raphaelites, handwriting, castle howard york, dante gabriel rossetti, william morris, gedicht, handschriftIlluminated poem, calligraphy by Jane Morris, 1878
from the Castle Howard Collection, York

This poem is one of the ‘featured new discoveries and unseen works from public and private collections across the world’. True, I never before saw the lock of Lizzie Siddal’s hair and the asylum entry of Fanny Cornforth is also an intriguing item. But the exhibition didn’t provide me with new insights about Jane Morris’s artistic endeavours. I do understand why the displayed items had been chosen, they paint a picture with a broad brush.

As soon as you enter the room dedicated to Jane Morris you will notice the famous painting ‘The Day Dream’ by Rossetti and how it very naturally blends in with the paintings Edward Burne-Jones made of his own muse. It is a well-known fact that the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood used mythological stories to represent their own lives and it is almost impossible to leave this aspect out.

On the wall next to those large paintings are more intimate drawings of Jane Morris as Guinevere, showing the very early efforts of both William Morris and Rossetti to capture their new stunner. It would have added a new dimension to their triangle love story if the back of the painting ‘La Belle Iseult’ would have been displayed, on which William ‘proposed’ to Jane by writing the words ‘I cannot paint you but I love you.’ Instead, one of the eight versions of the painting ‘Proserpina’ is used to finish this theme ‘Model, Wives and Mistresses’.

Rossetti, Jane Morris, William Morris, Manchester, Manchester Art Gallery, museum, art, art gallery, archives, depot, museumdepot, frame, golden frame, Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, Pre-Raphaelite sisters, preraphsisters, preraphs, oilpainting, portrait, figure painting, mythology, poetry, stories‘Study for Guinevere’ by Rossetti, 1857
Manchester Art Gallery

On the wall opposite there is a selection of photographs made of Jane Morris in different moments of her life (see previous post). Images from the wet plate collodion session, in which a 25 year old Jane was posed by Rossetti, are hung next to photographs of Jane as an elderly lady posing in her garden of Kelmscott Manor. A studio portrait made during one of her frequent travels to Italy is showing Jane in her forties, with some friends. One of them being TJ Cobden-Sanderson who was persuaded by Jane during a dinner party to take up bookbinding.

It is my guess that the curators wanted to stress the importance of mutual inspiration. Close to the photographs hangs a caricature made with pencil by Edward Burne-Jones, depicting Rossetti’s obsession for his muse Jane. The catalogue says he made it to impress his own muse Maria Zambaco who was an artist herself and is represented in the following room.
Other female artists included in this exhibition are Marie Spartali Stillman, who made the watercolour of Kelmscott Manor. It is hanging next to one of the studies for ‘the Hour Glass’, which would become the last painting Jane Morris sat for. The other study by Evelyn de Morgan can be seen in her own room, before you enter Jane’s.

⁠ #janemorris #evelyndemorgan #janeburdenmorris #dantegabrielrossetti #rossetti #williammorris #painter #arthistory #preraphaelites #preraphaelite #preraphaelitemuse #preraphaelitebeauty #preraphaelitesisterhood #preraphaelitebrotherhood #historiadelarte #preraffaelliti #preraphaeliteart #painting #mythology⁠ #preraphsisters #preraphs #19thcentury #artresearch #arthistory #nationalportraitgallery #artdetail #londonmuseum #hands #detailofpainting #drawing Evelyn de Morgan centre‘Compositional study for the Hour Glass’, Evelyn de Morgan, 1905
The De Morgan Foundation

In this exhibition Jane Morris is depicted from the viewpoint of her close contemporaries. Images made of her greatly outnumber the items made by herself. The embroidered evening bag and the illuminated poem ‘Oneglia’ do show her talents but I have seen more impressive embroidery by Jane and I think it is a missed opportunity to highlight Jane’s own creativity and influence as an artist.

#janemorris #janeburden #nationalportraitgallery #preraphaelites #preraphaelite #preraphaelitemuse #preraphaelitebeauty #preraphaelitesisterhood #preraphaelitesisters #preraphaelitebrotherhood #womeninart #femaleempowerment #feminism #femalepower #femaleartist #embroidery #arthistory #williammorris #dantegabrielrossetti #rossetti #artsandcrafts #19thcentury #victorian Victoria and Albert MuseumEvening bag stitched by Jane Morris, circa 1878
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

However, I shamefully have to admit that my own research- and art project was also limited by my own viewpoint as her ‘contemporary double’. One of the recurrent themes was ‘muse versus artist versus woman of flesh and blood’.
I used to state: ‘It is my underlying intention to free Jane Morris of the myth that has been created around her. I have created a role for myself, based on Jane Morris’s history to complement and modernise her persona.’
After participating in the Conference ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters: Making Art’ and visiting the exhibitions and archives described above I became very curious to find out who Jane Morris herself was as an artist.

I would like to finish this travel report with some wise words of Jan Marsh, who curated the exhibition and edited the accompanying catalogue. As one of the key speakers during the conference she sharply answered critical questions about the title of the exhibition that suggests there actually existed a coherent movement of Sisters. She would welcome a dialogue: ‘How would you call it?’
She also explained why the famous image ‘Proserpina’ was used once again to promote the exhibition and why the information about the images was so detailed. ‘Exhibitions must serve the least informed.’
Marsh also suggested that if you would have a critical idea about the exhibition you should propose your ideal exhibition yourself. As I was sitting right next to her I jumped at the chance of creating my own interventions in the National Portrait Gallery or any other museum with a Pre-Raphaelite collection where my Jane Morris related work would fit in. But unfortunately the National Portrait Gallery for example will be closed for at least 3 years as from this summer.
The exhibition ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters’ runs until January 27, 2020 so grab your chance to see it or visit my Instagram account for more spoilers. You can also sign up for my Dutch or English newsletter (on the contact page) if you would like to be informed about the progress of my project ‘Reflections on Jane Morris’.

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters: Making Art Conference

Proud to announce I will be representing Jane Morris at the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters: Making Art Conference. To be held at the University of York on 12-13 December 2019, in conjunction with the exhibition Pre-Raphaelite Sisters at the National Portrait Gallery (from 17 October till 26 January 2020, London).

The exhibition explores the overlooked contribution of twelve women important to the iconic artistic movement Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Featuring new discoveries and unseen works from public and private collections across the world, this show reveals the women behind the pictures and their creative roles in Pre-Raphaelite’s successive phases between 1850 and 1900.

‘The pilgrims of Siena’ by Paolo Lombardi, albumen cabinet card, 1881
From the museum archives © National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG x6955

According to the two-day Conference this contribution demands recognition. It will explore the roles played and diverse contributions made by women to the creation of Pre-Raphaelite art.

Glenda Youde: ‘We are delighted to inform you that we would like you to present a short piece on (or as) Jane Morris as an introduction to our open discussion session on the afternoon of Friday 13th December. The session will be aimed at The Future for the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, and your innovative approach is just what we are looking for.’

With a short video I will be answering the question: ‘We are particularly interested in how you as an artist have interpreted the way in which you resemble Jane Morris as art.’

Keynote speakers are Dr Jan Marsh (Art Historian and Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London) and Kirsty Stonell Walker (Author, Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang). Opening remarks by Professor Elizabeth Prettejohn.

Jane Morris (née Burden) by John Robert Parsons,
copied by Emery Walker Ltd, bromide print, July 1865.
From the museum archives © National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG x199254

 

Pre-Raphaelites in the Museo de Arte de Ponce Collection

February 4th, 2012, I attended the symposium ‘Treasures of the Collection in Context: The Pre-Raphaelites in the Museo de Arte de Ponce Collection’. Distinguished researchers in the Victorian culture presented papers. Alison Smith, Tim Barringer and Jason Rosenfeld being the curators of the upcoming exhibition ‘Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde’ in the Tate Britain, London. Franny Moyle, BBC producer and author of ‘Desperate Romantics, the private lives of the Pre-Raphaelites’. Together with the speeches of Sally-Anne Huxtable, Madeleine Vala and Cheryl Hartup, the symposium provided interesting strings of thoughts on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Alison Smith, Tim Barringer and Jason Rosenfeld being the curators of the upcoming exhibition ‘Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde’ in the Tate Britain, London. Franny Moyle, BBC producer and author of ‘Desperate Romantics, the private lives of the Pre-Raphaelites’, speeches of Sally-Anne Huxtable, Madeleine Vala and Cheryl Hartup, Hein van Liempd, Margje Bijl They are posing in front of ‘Flaming June’ by lord Leighton; my favourite of the ‘Treasures of the Collection in Context’. My other favourite is ‘Roman Widow’ by D.G. Rossetti. These two paintings had been traveling as part of the exhibition ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and were exhibited in the Gemeentemuseum of the Hague in the Netherlands. It was the first time I saw a painting by D.G. Rossetti since I was given a photograph of his muse Jane Morris. Spellbound I caught the attention of an artist. Roman Widow, Rossetti, oilpainting, Margje Bijl, Hans Rietbergen My identification with her is a metaphor for how I see the image of women in modern media. As a contemporary female artist, my struggles with the beauty myth occupied my mind until I visited the symposium and learned about the female issues in Victorian age. Attending the symposium made me understand that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood did not merely represent their female models as objects for male desire. Their art showed social solidarity with the working classes, with democracy and women rights becoming in debate.

Due to the industrialization, many women left the countryside for the city but could not find a decent job there and sadly became prostitutes or even suicidal. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood wanted to rescue these girls of their poor destiny. With their arms tightly locked in each other they roamed the streets hoping to catch new stunners who would model for them. They painted them as to represent injustice for all women in Victorian time. While members of the royal family were painted as if they came straight out the pub, the working class was modeled after Greek beauty ideal.

Jane Morris, the daughter of a stableman, was one of them. She modeled for D.G. Rossetti’s painting ‘Proserpine’. In Greek and Roman mythology, Proserpine was kidnapped to become the wife of Pluto, God of the underworld. She was destined to stay in the underworld half of the year, because she ate a few seeds of a pomegranate. The myth resembles the story of Adam and Eve after the forbidden bite of the apple but also has an autobiographical touch to it. The painting relates to the unhappy marriage of Jane and William Morris and the extramarital affair between Jane Morris and D.G. Rossetti. They were attracted to each other from the start but D.G. Rossetti was already engaged. So, Jane Morris accepted the marriage proposal of William Morris instead and used her intelligence and creativity in climbing the social ladder.

D.G. Rossetti’s fiancée was another ‘rescued’ working class girl: Lizzie Siddal. She was earning a decent income in a hat shop until she was discovered and became the first Pre-Raphaelite supermodel and an artist herself. But her romance with Rossetti damaged her reputation. Men and women were valued differently concerning sex before marriage and adultery. Even modeling for the Pre-Raphaelite painters was considered as the equivalent of being a prostitute. Out of convenience D.G. Rossetti tried to save her reputation by marrying her. However, after Lizzie Siddal bore his stillborn child, she committed suicide. Years earlier, Lizzie Siddal had modeled for Millais’ painting ‘Ophelia’. It represents a transition into the next world as a sensual experience, an orgasm. It depicts female desire. Together with her self portrait, ‘Ophelia’ will be one of the highlights of the upcoming exhibition ‘Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde’ in the Tate Britain, London. I am also looking forward to see the embroideries Jane Morris made for William Morris’ bed, designed by their daughter May.

After the symposium, the cocktail party at the roof of the Museo de Arte de Ponce was a nice chance to meet the speekers. Days later, a song by the Rolling Stones kept popping up in my mind…You’re just a poor girl in a rich man’s house…I’ll be your knight in shining armour, coming to your emotional rescue…