Evelyn Pickering De Morgan

Evelyn De Morgan. 1875.  London, De Morgan Foundation.  Photo: Witt Library, Courtauld Institute of Art (Smith 23).

Evelyn De Morgan. 1875. London, De Morgan Foundation. Photo: Witt Library, Courtauld Institute of Art (Smith 23).

De Morgan, Drawing of a Hand with a Paintbrush, 1875.  London, De Morgan Foundation.  Photo: Witt Library, Courtauld Institute of Art (Smith 23).

Born in 1855 in London, Evelyn De Morgan was the eldest child of the lawyer Percival Pickering QC and the niece of J.R. Spencer Stanhope, another Pre-Raphaelite painter.  At age 15 she received lessons with a drawing master, then attended South Kensington and Slade Schools to produce studies (Marsh and Nunn 139; Smith 13).  Stylistically, her work is characterized by the combination of loosely defined Aesthetic, Symbolist, and Classicist movements and falls into the broad category of late Victorian English artists (Smith 13).

Her paintings portray the traditional ideas of late Victorian art by using historical narratives and allegories.  However, she does manages to stand out, especially as a woman artist, from her contemporaries by doing two things.  One is by infusing her work with a form of spiritualism that was based on Swedenborgian ideas about the development of the soul.  Her work of the late 1870s and early 1880s reveals her curiosity for this ideology.  Her attraction to the mystical may in part be later fueled from her marriage to William in 1885.  William’s mother was the author of From Matter to Spirit (1863) a spiritualist treatise, and it turns out she was also closely associated with other Swedenborgian writers throughout mid-century London (Smith 13).

Secondly, her unique portrayal of the female figure captured the viewer’s attention and set her work apart.  Many artists of the time chose to represent the female form, yet they kept her confined within the standard role of being a self-reflective, aesthetic icon.  De Morgan elaborated on that role,  within both narratives and in an allegorical sense, giving them personifications rich in significance.  Her artwork centralizes around the female figure, which is layered with allusions that imply both spiritualist and feminist intentions (Smith 13).

Even though she was stylistically consistent (some may consider that limiting), she conveys a vast range of possible roles for women, from those fighting against restrictive societal boundaries, to those weary with resignation, and to those with the strength and power to control their outcome in life (Smith 13).

Sadly, even with a long and productive career that spanned over half a century, and  consisted of more than 100 paintings, drawings, and a few sculptural pieces, her work was until recently, overlooked (Smith 13-14).  Do not despair though!  After her death in 1919, her brother and sister arranged for her work to be exhibited permanently.  This initiative allowed many of her works to be preserved and enjoyed today.  This collection now resides with the De Morgan Foundation and forms one of the largest permanent exhibitions by a single artist within Britain (Marsh and Nunn 139)!

I would like to close with a brief comment on the image above.  The realistic rendering of the hand proves that early in her career she had proficient drawing skills.  This differs from Siddal’s situation who was limited to a naive style of work, likely from not having a formal art training as De Morgan had.  The sketched hand looks to be that of a woman’s, due to her slenderness of fingers, neatly clipped oval nails, and thin veins traveling across the back of her hand (though I could be wrong)!  Having taken a couple of drawing classes myself, I know the challenges that hands (and feet) posses, and she easily and elegantly replicates the hand in front of her.

Works Cited

Marsh, Jan, and Pamela Gerrish Nunn.  Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists.  Italy: Thames and Hudson, 1998.  Print.

Smith, Elise Lawton.  Evelyn Pickering De Morgan and the Allegorical Body.  London: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002. Print.


Millais’ “Ophelia”

It just so happens, that yesterday in my 19th Century art history class we discussed Millais’ Ophelia. I originally touched on this topic in regards to Elizabeth Siddal as the model (Siddal Post #3).

Originally, I interpreted the painting as Ophelia being recently deceased. However, I wanted to add some additional thoughts on the matter while it’s still fresh in my mind (that contradicts this suggestion).

I’m not as familiar with Shakespeare’s work as I should be, but it is possible that in this painting, Ophelia isn’t dead yet. She floats in a stupor, with her lips slightly parted as if whispering a melody to herself before being drug down by the weight of her wet garments. This makes sense because her hands are held in such a way as to suggest there is still a touch of life left inside of her. Her cheeks also hold the faint glow of rosiness associated with life. Her life will end shortly after this moment though, so I think it was a deliberate choice to represent her with paler skin (that doesn’t have a healthy flush to it) to portray her transitioning from life to death.

As a side note, I didn’t even realize this wasn’t a typical “rectangle” canvas, but creates a round arc along the top. It may have been intended for a special frame or niche. I like to think that it mimics the way tree branches curve and encompass their surroundings like an umbrella though.

The last little detail (it’s better viewed on a larger image of the work) is that there is a little bird (perhaps a robin) sitting within the branches of the tree (on the left side). If only the bird could speak, it could take flight, alerting others of Ophelia’s dire situation.

I would love to hear what your interpretations of the work are, so comment away!

Image pulled from http://www2.tate.org.uk/ophelia/

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (Siddal Post #7)

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (Siddal Post #8)

Clerk Saunders. (1857).  Signed and dated “EES/1857”. Watercolor, bodycolor, and colored chalks on paper laid on stretcher (Marsh and Nunn 117).

Siddal started Clerk Saunders as a painting in December 1856 and completed it in 1857 (Chapman and Meacock 103; Marsh and Nunn 117). However, a woodblock illustration was produced for a future ballad book in May 1854. Additional studies can be seen in the 1866 photographic record of her work. Inspiration came from the old Scottish ballad Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border by Scott’s (Marsh and Nunn 117). Art prior to the High Renaissance (such as Gothic art and medieval illumination), also influenced Siddal’s work (Prettejohn 183).

Within this painting, May Margaret encounters the ghost of her murdered lover, Clerk Saunders, who appears after making his unearthly entrance through the wall to renew his vows. Kneeling on the bed, she kisses the wand to show her fidelity (Marsh and Nunn 117; Prettejohn 183). Both figures appear ghostly and pale, and this heightens the dramatic scene of the dead confronting the living. Through the window, dawn’s light pours over the slumbering medieval city. On the shelf an empty hour-glass stands, which could symbolize death, as one’s life has literally run out of time (Prettejohn 183).

The theme of love/desire, use of bright colors, a medieval connection, and a literary reference represents several important Pre-Raphaelite characteristics. Her style is defined by compositional layering, enclosed spaces, attenuated figures, and jewel-like colors. (Prettejohn 183).

This painting also reflects upon the contemporary issues between class and gender. Like Siddal’s Lady Clare and Keat’s Isabella painted by Millais in 1849, this is a story about love between social unequals. Items throughout the room (such as the prie-dieu she is kneeling upon which was used to aid in prayer), suggests that May Margaret is religiously devoted, as was proper for women (Marsh and Nunn 117). The podium decorated with an angel, holds a manuscript. The alcove also has a manuscript and what looks to be an apple. Looking closely at the piece, there seems to be a cross hidden in the shadows on the right side of the alcove behind May Margaret (though it could just be me trying to create more religious references)! Looking at Clerk Saunders, I wonder if he was some type of knight, as there looks to be a crest/emblem on his robes? I’m sure the flowers symbolize something too; perhaps life because they are alive (for the time being anyway) and if someone knows the specific type of flower, there could be a more specialized meaning behind it.

To me, May Margaret seems could be partaking in witchcraft (another popular movement within Pre-Raphaelite work). Did she “summon” Saunders to appear? I believe it could be a possibility; her manuscripts are closed, if there is a cross in the shadows, it could symbolize her wavering faith because it isn’t displayed prominently, plus she has a wand! Just my thoughts though. Also, this could be another self-portrait-the woman has that red hair again!

Comparisons can be made between Siddal’s Clerk Saunders & Morris’ La Belle Iseult. They both have similar environments of an enclosed chamber and a bed with crumpled sheets (Prettejohn 186; Chapman and Meacock 103). I also noticed that in La Belle Iseult, the manuscript is open, which could suggest her strong religious devotion.

Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 10.24.04 AM

William Morris’ La Belle Iseult1858

Clerk Saunders was exhibited at the 1857 Russell Place Show and also included in the British Art exhibition that was sent to America later in that same year. Charles Eliot Norton of Harvard then purchased the painting. Charles Fairfax Murray later acquired it and inscribed on the back: “This picture by Mrs Rossetti, esteemed by her husband the best of her works,” and later continues, “Gabriel Rossetti himself worked on this picture as was customary with him, as Mr Burne-Jones told me long ago.” However, the painting doesn’t display D.G. Rossetti’s touch and it’s possible that Murray hoped to enhance the value of this work by his statement. Sir Galahad at the Shrine (1855-7, Tate Gallery 1984, no.217) was signed by both Siddal and D.G. Rossetti so Murray may have also confused the two works accidently (Marsh and Nunn 117).

Works Cited

Marsh, Jan, and Pamela Gerrish Nunn. “Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists”. London, Thames and Hudson: 1997. Print.

“Pre-Raphaelites: The Poetry of Drawing”. The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Web. 6 Mar. 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/8296065/Pre-Raphaelites-The-Poetry-of-Drawing.html?image=12.

Prettejohn, Elizabeth. The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites. New York, Cambridge University Press: 2012. Print.

“William Morris, Jane Burden”. Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May. 25 Mar. 2010. Web. 6 Mar. 2013. http://gather-ye-rosebuds-while-ye-may.blogspot.com/2010/03/william-morris-jane-burden-la-belle.html.

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (Siddal Post #3)

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (Siddal Post #4)

John Everett Millais. Ophelia. 1852. Oil on canvas. 762 x 1118 mm. Tate Brtitain, London. Art, Archaeology and Architecture (Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives).

Siddal also modeled for Millais’s Ophelia. After posing as Ophelia in a basin of tepid water during the chilly winter months, her health deteriorated, and illness plagued her for the rest of her short life (Elizabeth).

In this painting Siddal is portrayed in death, yet she is still beautiful. The viewer is immediately drawn to her face as her porcelain skin contrasts with the dark water that flows around her form. If her eyes were shut (and we didn’t see the rest of her body), the expression on her face gives off the appearance that she is peacefully sleeping.

Millais has kept Siddal’s familiar red hair, however it is toned down in this painting. I believe he wanted the emphasis to be on her deathly pale skin. By blending her hair into the shadows of the water, it also adds a touch of soberness and reinforces the reality that she is no longer alive. Continuing on this note, her dress is also very pale, and the only color comes from what still has life, which are the plants.

After learning more about Siddal and her early death, this painting is fitting for her actual life. There is a beauty to Ophelia and the viewer feels sadness that her life was cut short, paralleling the abrupt death of Siddal, who I believe had much art and poetry left to produce.  If anyone else has anything to add, please feel free to do so!  I would love to get individual reactions and extra knowledge from my readers!

Works Cited

“Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (1834-1862)”. The Victorian Web. 16 Sep. 2006. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/siddal/index.html

“Rosetti’s Other Woman: The Silent Contribution of Models and Muses.” Blue-Stocking. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. http://blue-stocking.org.uk/2011/03/01/rosetti’s-other-woman-the-silent-contribution-of-models-and-muses/ 

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (Siddal Post #2)

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (Siddal Post #2)

In the early 1850’s, Walter Howell Deverell (1827-1854) asked Siddal to model for Viola in his Twelfth Night (pictured; detail of left figure). Her tall physique, porcelain skin, and beautiful coppery-red hair inspired other Pre-Raphaelite artists to use her as a model as well (Elizabeth; Walter).

In Deverell’s work, we get a glimpse of Siddal’s fiery red hair that frames her delicate features. One can almost feel the smoothness of her fine tresses as they glint with copper, shimmering in the light and ending in curly tendrils that softly brush her neck.

There is a liveliness to her pale skin. A faint, rosy blush canvases her cheeks and spreads across her nose. Her lips are warmly tinted and she is clothed in a brilliant, red silk or satin dress that catches the light with luster.

I get a sense of passion from her attire and how Deverell has painted her with such vitality. However, her expression is very guarded or bland in comparison. There is a look of slight boredom or uncertainty on her face. Not knowing the story behind this work I can only make assumptions to what is happening within the work. Eventually, I would love to have a post on Deverell’s Twelfth Night, so check back in!

Works Cited

“Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (1834-1862)”. The Victorian Web. 16 Sep. 2006. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. http://www.victorianweb.org/

“Walter Deverell”. ArtStor. ArtStor, Inc., 2012. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. http://www.artstor.org.

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (Siddal Post #1)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, 1854, Delaware Museum of Art, Wilmington, DE

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, 1854, Delaware Museum of Art, Wilmington, DE

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal was an intriguing Pre-Raphaelite artist who produced a variety of works, including poetry, drawings, and paintings (mainly watercolor, but she dabbled in oil too (Prettejohn 185, 189).

Siddal’s birth is debatable; some place it at 1829, while others in 1834 (Elizabeth; Prettejohn 183). Her death occurred on February 11th, 1862 of a laudanum overdose, a type of opiate to relieve pain. After being found unconscious, doctors pumped her stomach to no avail (Chapman and Meacock 144). Her early death points to suicide (in 1949, Helen Rossetti Angeli claims that Siddal left a suicide note), and she likely had a laudanum addiction too (Elizabeth; Chapman and Meacock 144).

The watercolor Miss Siddal (pictured) by Dante Gabrielle Rossetti is one of the many works he produced of her; he obsessively sketched Siddal’s features throughout the 1850’s until her death in 1862 (Chapman and Meacock 59; Rossetti).
Look for more exciting information on Siddal in my next post!

Works Cited
Chapman, Alison, and Joanna Meacock. A Rossetti Family Chronology. Great Britian, Palgrave Macmillan: 2007. Print.

“Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (1834-1862)”. The Victorian Web. 16 Sep. 2006. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/siddal/index.html.

Prettejohn, Elizabeth. The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites. New York, Cambridge University Press: 2012. Print.

“Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription” Rossetti Archive.  2008.  Web. 5 Mar. 2013.  http://www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/nd497.r8.m33.rad.html#A.R37.1.

(Image from: http://artseverydayliving.com/blog/2012/04/rossetti/)