"The Blue Bower": Rossetti in the 1860s
By Paul Spencer-Longhurst
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) is best known as a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a society of artists dedicated to reforming British painting. By 1853 he and his colleagues, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, had gone their separate ways, and Rossetti retreated into a medieval fantasy world. He concentrated on themes from the life and works of his namesake Dante Alighieri and from Malory’s legends of King Arthur, depicting these and other poetic subjects exclusively in watercolor. In 1859 his art changed again. He reverted to oil painting and produced a series of idealized and symbolic portraits of "stunners"—beautiful women shown at close range in exotic settings —who were to become his staple subject matter for the rest of his career. Rossetti’s themes emphasize the female domination of men, often linking it with male destruction. His symbolic use of flowers and of motifs drawn from Japanese and Oriental art in these "subjectless" pictures posit him as a founder of the Aesthetic Movement in Britain and a precursor of European Symbolism.
This book is the catalogue for an exhibition organized by the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, the University of Birmingham, England, which focuses on a selection of languorous beauties painted between about 1860 and 1870. Its centerpiece is The Blue Bower, a masterpiece that Rossetti executed in 1865, using his housekeeper and mistress, Fanny Cornforth, as model. The seminal picture is explored within the context of the artist’s development and his personal circumstances during the 1860s. The reasons for his change of style and medium are investigated and particular attention is paid to his relationships with women, especially Fanny Cornforth, Lizzie Siddal, Alexa Wilding, and Jane Morris. The exhibition explores thematic links with the history and literature of the period. It also discusses Rossetti’s connections with the Old Masters, notably Titian and the Venetians, and with his contemporaries, including Whistler, Courbet, Burne-Jones, and Munch.
128 pages, 8 1/4 x 9 3/4 inches
44 color and 19 black-and-white illustrations
Published by Scala Publishers in association with the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, the University of Birmingham, England
ISBN 1-85759-260-3 (softcover)
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