‘Christina Rossetti became a brief star of the Leveson inquiry this morning’, the article began. When I saw a story about Christina Rossetti in my Evening Standard ‘Londoner’s Diary’ for 28 November, I thought I was hallucinating. I am not accustomed to seeing one of England’s greatest poets featuring next to photos of Lily Cole and ‘Mollie King, of girl group “The Saturdays”’. At first I reasoned that writing, teaching and blogging about Christina Rossetti had finally brought on some sort of nerdy breakdown. But then I read on, and realised that in fact Christina Rossetti was part of the collective consciousness today.
Once again, the media have delighted in pointing out the spurious connection between Christina Rossetti’s poetry and suspected murder. Innocent landlord and English teacher Chris Jeffries was originally under suspicion for the murder of Jo Yeates, basically because he had an unfashionable haircut and enjoyed reading Rossetti. If you think I’m exaggerating, google ‘Rossetti and Chris Jefferies’ and see for yourself.
Recent articles and items on the Pre-Raphaelites range from the predictable (Florence Welch described as ‘Pre-Raphaelite’) to the wildly original (Dimbola Museum's 'Best Bohemian Beard' awards).
What emerges from these disparate approaches is the sense that its kaleidoscopic nature has helped keep Pre-Raphaelitism vital. Its refusal to remain in one category (fine arts, literature, music, decorative arts) means Pre-Raphaelitism continues to appeal to film-makers and fashion designers as much as art gallery visitors and poetry lovers.
In the News
11 Feb 2012
The Times chooses Christina Rossetti sonnet for ‘Love Poems Everyone Should Know.’
15 Feb 2012
Jan Marsh: 'Did Rossetti Really Need to Exhume His Wife?' In TLS
20 Feb 2012
Pre-Raphaelite Works from 7 Liverpool art museums newly available on the ‘Your Paintings’ website. Get tagging!
9 March 2012
Islington Tribune appeals for funds to preserve Ford Madox Brown’s grave
When I recently tweeted the question: ‘Why do people hate the Pre-Raphaelites?’, the first reply I received was: ‘Because Andrew Lloyd Webber likes them.’ This is Pre-Raphaelitism’s problem (and the new exhibition’s) in a nutshell. How can Pre-Raphaelitism challenge its image as an insular, conservative, retrogressive, stereotypically ‘Victorian’ movement which appeals solely to the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Margaret Thatcher and ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’?
Tate Britain’s answer is to recast the movement as avant-garde, putting the works in their historical context in order to (the catalogue explains) present the artists as a ‘self-conscious’ ‘radical’ group interested in ‘overturning current orthodoxies in art’ and being ‘directly engaged with the contemporary world’. Whether critics and viewers will be convinced by this approach remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Pre-Raphaelitism has succeeded in exciting debate. It seems everyone (curators, academics and the public) has his or her own very personal and passionately-defended ‘vision’ or version of the Pre-Raphaelite story.
This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.