Bocca Baciata by Rossetti (model: Fanny Cornforth)
William Hunt’s, Awakening Conscience
Millais, Eve of St. Agnes
In 1848, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. By autumn, they were joined by William Michael Rossetti, Thomas Woolner, James Collinson, and Frederic George Stephens. Believing that the methods taught by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the founder of The English Royal Academy of Arts, were too formulaic and frivilous, they wished to return art to the lofty “truth to nature.” They turned their attentions away from Raphael (whose work they considered too theatrical) and back to the artists who came before him- appreciating the more simplistic, yet detail-riched, and vibrant colors of the past.
They declared their main goals were:
To have genuine ideas to express;
To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
To sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote;
And, most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.
Rossetti’s, Lady Lilith
Rossetti’s, Bower Meadow
The Pre-Raphaelitess were also influenced by Romanticism which emphasized that individual freedom and responsibility were inseparable, and aimed to only paint earnest subjects. Their style was remarkably focused as they insisted on painting from direct observation. Therefore, while many of their subjects came from poetry, legends, and plays, they were drawn in an intensely realistic manner.
The painters went through great lengths to achieve this photographic realism. (as did their models) One famous example of this is the painting, Ophelia, by Millais. For four months, he painted the wildflowers and vegetation on one exact spot in Surrey, England. He then returned to London to paint his model, Elizabeth Siddal, posing in a bath full of water, to capture the doomed woman’s demise as accurately as possible.
In 1872, Dante Rossetti also used Siddal in his painting, Beata Beatrix. In it, he depicted Elizabeth as the Beatrice of Dante Alighieri’s poem, La Vita Nuova, at her moment of death. Dante Rossetti had to paint Elizabeth Siddal from old drawings he had of her. For his favorite model (and his wife) had been dead, herself, for ten years.