At 180 years old this month (b. 12 May, 1828) Dante Gabriel Rossetti is still hogging the headlines. There was the previously unknown portrait of Jane Morris which recently came to light in a private collection in Scotland, but it was the strange tale of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent Jeffrey Meehan’s recovery of a stolen picture of Alexa Wilding during a sting in Alaska that really got my attention. In a case that involves surnames right out of a detective novel (Leboeuf, Sternback, Weshenfelder) with a storyline reminiscent of ‘Northern Exposure’ in its heydey, Rossetti’s picture was recovered alongside a haul of illegal walrus tusks.
But the US Fish and Wildlife Service is not the first to suggest a connection between Pre-Raphaelitism and the noble walrus. That honour goes to John Lucas Tupper. His 1850 essay for the Pre-Raphaelite magazine, The Germ, described the intoxicating odour of ‘camphor’ emanating from a stuffed walrus at the British Museum, which ‘permeated the whole collection’. It was ‘a literary smell’. Incredibly perhaps, he regarded this as a good thing, associating the scent of camphor with artistic integrity and imagination: ‘Now let a poem, a painting, or sculpture, smell ever so little of antiquity, and every intelligent reader will be full of delightful imaginations.’ Click HERE for the full essay.
As always, the Pre-Raphaelites trump any twenty-first century pretenders to weirdness, even tusk smugglers in Alaska.
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.