Pre-Raphaelite Sisters: Making Art Conference 2/2

‘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 (due to Corona postphoned with one year).

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.

‘Aires and Angles’ by Elizabeth Peytion
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.

Sonnet for ‘Astarte Syriaca’ by D.G. Rossetti, 1877

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.

Illuminated 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’.

‘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.

‘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.

Evening 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 1/2

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

 

Centenary of Jane Morris’s death

The concept of the current travelling exhibition (now at the William Morris Gallery until 4 January 2015) is perfectly in line with my own exhibition ‘A Memory Palace of Her Own’. Opposite to the room I occupied a few months earlier yet another room is filled with ‘images of Jane as herself’. Photographs, drawings and paintings are juxtaposed with Jane’s embroidery and handwriting. The exhibition offers insight in the relation between Jane as herself and Jane as a muse.

The exhibition illustrates that Jane Morris was multitalented, more than just a pretty face. During the opening speech Jan Marsh surprised the William Morris Gallery by donating, on behalf of Frank Sharp, a book with a cover designed by Jane Morris.
Another recently aquired item is the embroidery ‘Honeysuckle’, designed by William Morris and embroideried by Jane and Jenny Morris. Photographer India-Roper Evans noticed me while I was admiring it and she made some photos of the exhibition.

Rossetti's Obsession

Image 1 of 5


After the private view of the exhibition Kirsty Walker accompanied me to visit Kelmscott Manor. They currently exhibit the Centenary Exhibition; photographs that were exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery earlier this year. At Jane Morris’ grave I have paid my homage to Jane even though she lives on in my mind… You can read Kirsty’s review of our trip here.

A Memory Palace of Her Own at William Morris Gallery 2/2

Photographs from my series ‘A Memory Palace of Her Own’ are exhibited at the William Morris Gallery from 11 January to 9 March 2014. I am proud to be part of the programme commemorating the centenary of Jane Morris’s death on 26th January 1914.

Exhibition flyer, design by Ben Faydherbe

On His Doorstep, Margje Bijl 2011

A New Pattern for the Empress, Margje Bijl 2011

The private view of my exhibition was held on 9 January. Myself I presented the audience with a sound piece and created a drawing while it played.

Live drawing during private view
at William Morris Gallery
(photo Sebastiaan Veldhuisen)

The private view included a Q&A with the author Kirsty Walker who wrote this review. Jan Marsh delivered a short speech on how Jane Morris continues to inspire and pleasantly surprised me by the title ‘Jane’s avatar’.

Q&A with Kirsty Walker during private view
at William Morris Gallery
(photo Sebastiaan Veldhuisen)

The centenary programme includes several exhibitions and lectures. During the opening week of my exhibition I saw ‘Janey Morris: Pre-Raphaelite Muse’ at the National Portrait Gallery.
The Lady Lever Art Gallery explores the role of Jane Morris as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s chief muse and the embodiment of Pre-Raphaelite beauty. The exhibition ‘Rossetti’s Obsession: Images of Jane Morris’ will later travel to the William Morris Gallery.

‘Janey Morris: Pre-Raphaelite Muse’
at National Portrait Gallery

A Memory Palace of Her Own at William Morris Gallery 1/2

Photographs from my series ‘A Memory Palace of Her Own’ will be exhibited at the William Morris Gallery from 11 January to 9 March 2014.

Excerpt from an email I received from the curator of the William Morris Gallery, Carien Kremer: ‘We would like to offer you a slot in our 2014 programme, showing the photographs in the Discovery Lounge…It would be great to mark the commemorative year with a contemporary take on Jane’.

What are you proposing to display?
A series of four self-portraits. I visited several of Rossetti, Jane and William Morris’ former homes and took staged photos on location with the photographer Hein van Liempd. Referring to Jane Morris’ life story I transformed her world into my own, adopting contemporary clothing and poses.

On his Doorstep, Margje Bijl, 2011
(photograph by Hein van Liempd)

How is your work relevant to the William Morris Gallery?
The William Morris Gallery is one of William Morris’ two former homes included in my series ‘A Memory Palace of Her Own’. The other, Red House, was designed exclusively by William Morris and Philip Webb, who collaborated in the design of the ‘Green Dining Room’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum which is also shown in my series.

I cannot Love You, Margje Bijl, 2011
(photograph by Hein van Liempd)

Preparing for the Guests, Margje Bijl, 2011
(photograph by Hein van Liempd)

Are there parallels with the collection?
I took photos at Rossetti’s studio, as this is the location of the famous photo series of Jane Morris which was the incentive for my own project. In the archives of the William Morris Gallery I have studied the reproductions of this series. There, I also enjoyed the privilege of reading Jane’s letters. I have incorporated her handwriting in my photo of the Red House.

A New Pattern for the Empress, Margje Bijl, 2011
(photograph by Hein van Liempd)

Why is it of interest to our visitors?
In the course of my trips to London and Oxford I have seen many inspiring works of art and artefacts from various museums, archives and from one depot. In my work, I often refer to these objects or quote from the many works on the Pre-Raphaelites. As an artist, it is my hope that my personal viewpoint will supplement the existing works of art and artefacts in the William Morris Gallery to contribute to Jane and William Morris and Rossetti’s cultural heritage.