Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tess Avelland Benefit Auction -- Snow White Original Art Box by Me!

This post is a re-post from a benefit auction group I am leading for my friend, Tess Avelland. Tess owns an absolutely amazing store, Midnight Muse, that caters to wonder, imagination and beauty...not to mention a LOT of Pre-Raphaelite art. Late last year, she was diagnosed with Psuedomyxoma Peritonei, a very rare form of cancer. Her friends have been occasionally holding auctions to help her pay for her medical bills, and the expenses that arise from lost work time.

The story of Snow White is perhaps one of the most maligned fairy tales we know today. The original story, once full of metaphor, darkness and light, symbol, and meaning, was the first feature length cartoon by Disney, and the beginning of the entire Disney-fication of fairy tales. But the original story has so much more depth to it than Disney shared. These layers of meaning and symbol are discussed in the excellent article Snow, Glass, Apples by Terri Windling

When I considered a subject matter to interpret for my painted box auction for Tess, one of the first thing to spring to my mind was Snow White. There is the obvious reason...when I went with Tess to Faeriecon 2007, a very special memory, she dressed as the Evil Queen from Snow White for the Bad Faeries Ball, and she looked divine, tempting everyone with her glossy red apple. But also, Tess' long dark hair has often reminded me of Snow White's beauty.

The most fascinating part of the Snow White story to me is the moment when she chooses to eat the apple her step-mother offers her. Although she was innocent and naive, it is difficult to imagine that Snow White didn't know on some level that it was her step-mother in disguise, come for a third time to try to kill her. I first read this suggestion of Snow White's conscious decision years ago, in an essay evaluating Snow White's possible thoughts as she bit into the apple, and the image has never left me. This image is also brilliantly stated in Delia Sherman's poem, Snow White to the Prince:

Do you think I did not know her,
Ragged and gnarled and stooped like a wind-bent tree,
Her basket full of combs and pins and laces?
Of course I took her poisoned gifts. I wanted
To feel her hands combing out my hair,
To let her lace me up, to take an apple
From her hand, a smile from her lips,
As when I was a child.

It is this moment, when Snow White gazes at the apple, already bitten on its white cheek by the mother-figure she longs to please and love, that I wanted to paint on my box.
In the image on the box lid, Snow White gazes down at the apple loosely held in her lap, lips parted, and reaches one hand to her cheek, perhaps imagining the brush of death's fingertips that may soon enfold her if she chooses to eat the apple.

The box lid is framed in "black as ebony" acrylic paints, upon which is written in gold ink, "Red as Blood, White as Snow, Black as Ebony, The Fairest of Them All." The base of the box's exterior is painted a deep blood red. Opening the box reveals a beautiful blue interior, the color of Snow's gown on the lid. Resting on the inside of the box top is the abandoned apple, now bitten on its red cheek as well. Snow White must be awakened.

This box features 100% original, one-of-a-kind art by Grace (me!). The artwork has been rendered in acrylic and pencil, and the box has then been given a varnish clear coat to ensure durability and vibrant colors.

Bidding will start at $25. Auction ends at 11:59 pm on Thursday, May 7th. Please comment here with any questions, and with your bids!

Miranda - The Tempest

The auction at Sotheby's has ended! The final hammer price was $746,500 USD

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Fairest of Them All: Fairy Tales and the Pre-Raphaelites

To those of you who don't know me personally and already know this to be true, my greatest love and fascination aside from the Pre-Raphaelites is the realm of fairy tales. I am fascinated by the original tales, their modern retellings, any art based on them, and all professional criticism and theory surrounding them. Therefore, I don't know why I didn't think of this subject for a blog post here sooner...a combination of my two greatest loves. But the question is an interesting one. Where did the Pre-Raphaelites and the classic fairy tales intertwine?

We know that, of course, Arthurian romances, Shakespearean tales, and the romantic poems and tales of Victorian poets like Tennyson were all frequent subject matter for the members of the original Brotherhood and the artists of the second generation (Rossetti, William Morris, Burne-Jones), but what about the classic fairy tale stories so popularized (and changed) in Victorian times? What of the Brothers Grimm, Mother Goose? Were these treasure troves of imagery ever explored by the Brotherhood?

Well, to begin with, one could take the easy road out, and argue that the famous illustrators of the Golden Age of Illustration (1880s-1920s) were greatly inspired by Pre-Raphaelite work, and sometimes these artists were the Pre-Raphaelites themselves (Rossetti, Burne-Jones, etc all contributed art to narrative story books in their careers). Even such famous fairy tale artists as Walter Crane, Howard Pyle, and even the revered Arthur Rackham have traces of Pre-Raphaelite romanticism in their work.

But among the original Brotherhood, the romance of the fairy tale seems strangely lacking. Arthur Hughes (not an original founding member, but very closely associated with them) did a painting entitled Beauty and the Beast, which strangely enough considering the title, features just Beauty (perhaps the viewer takes on the role of Beast, watching his beloved?), standing in front of a wardrobe of gowns, sadly contemplating a poesy of flowers. The magic mirror that figures into the tale is barely visible on the edge of the painting. This may be the closest thing we can find to a founding Brotherhood member doing a fairy tale work.

The most prolific connection between fairy tales and the Pre-Raphaelites' second generation would certainly come in the person of Edward Burne-Jones. Among his most famous images are his Briar Rose series of paintings (seen at top). He also painted Cinderella, and painted sets of tiles telling the stories of Beauty and the Beast, Briar Rose, and Cinderella. But Sleeping Beauty definitely seemed to be his favorite image. A few Burne-Jones scholars have theorized about his fascination with the innocence of youthful womanhood translating to his subject matter in the Sleeping Beauty paintings, where youth and innocence are frozen forever in time.

Sleeping Beauty tiles, by Burne-Jones:

Beauty and the Beast tiles, by Burne-Jones:
Cinderella, by Burne-Jones:

And then there is a more indirect link to the Pre-Raphaelites and fairy tales...the legends that revolve around the artists and their families. Recently, I was looking online for articles about Snow White, and in an excellent article by Terri Windling on the subject, she mentioned how fascinating it was that Snow White was perfectly preserved in her coffin, never decaying or dying. The same can be said of the 100 year sleep of Sleeping Beauty. I think you can probably see where I'm going with this metaphor. When Lizzie Siddal was exhumed seven years after her burial to retrieve Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poems, legend sprang up that she was still perfectly beautiful, her long red hair having grown to fill the casket. That certainly sounds like a fairy tale to me!

Among the artists of the late Victorian era who cite the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood among their inspiration, this list of fairy tale-inspired paintings grows far larger. Many thanks to Art Magick's wonderful search by theme feature on their website, without which tracking down all these artworks would have been a far more challenging proposition.

Cinderella, by Valentine Cameron Prinsep:
Little Red Riding Hood by Edward Frederick Brewtnall:
Rapunzel by Frank Cadogan Cowper:
Snow White by Marianne Stokes:
Sleeping Beauty, by Edward Frederick Brewtnall:
The Princess on Glass Mountain by Marian Stokes. This image especially fascinates me. The strongly patterned fabric is reminiscent of Cowper's work, but the woman's face seems straight out of Waterhouse's A Tale from the Decameron. (click the link to check out the similarities) The glass shards look so utterly modern, Picasso-esque almost, but the figure is utterly Pre-Raphaelite. Amazing.
This utterly Pre-Raphaelite image is actually from a Nursery Rhyme! The Queen was in the Parlour, eating Bread and Honey by Valentine Cameron Prinsep:

And finally, there are, as I have already mentioned, numerous artists of today whose work reflects the Pre-Raphaelites. Among those who have done fairy tale paintings with a Pre-Raphaelite look, there are Kinuko Craft, Angela Barrett, and Howard David Johnson:
among many, many others.

I've utterly enjoyed this chance to combine both of my great interests into one blog post!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cincinnati Art Museum - A Pre-Raphaelite Lover's View

A couple of weeks ago I promised you more pictures from the Cincinnati Art Museum. These artworks aren't necessarily Pre-Raphaelite, but they are ones I felt bowed to its aesthetic.

A gorgeous, immense painting of Ophelia from Hamlet. I didn't get the name of this one, apologies.
My first Bouguereau! Meditation. I was struck by how very real the central figure's face was. Quite believable as a person who truly lived.
My first Alma-Tadema! Comparisons. I was awed by how small this painting was, and how delicate the detail work.
Eve Hearing the Voice by Moses Ezekiel. I was absolutely dumbstruck with the power of this statue's pose. No matter what direction you approached it, the figure's expression was palpable.

and I also appreciated that the figure was rendered realistically...including cellulite!

Also note the serpent twining around the base.The Harp of Erin by Thomas Buchanan Read. An allegorical painting in which the woman, with shamrocks in her hair, represents Ireland, chained to a large rock that represents England. I was quite smitten with this painting. A corner cupboard with carvings of Freya and Thor, by Henry Fry. Click the image to see the carvings better!I am smitten by this bedstead by Benn Pittman, Adelaide Nourse Pittman, and Elizabeth Nourse (and how neat that it's two women and a man who created it, and all family). It's described on its plate as "probably the finest example of American Aesthetic Movement furniture." I must agree. The two painted panels represent day and night, and the birds in the center are very three-dimensional. This is a gorgeous study for Moods to Music by Robert Frederick Blum. I love the romance and the sense of movement to this artwork.A hanging cabinet designed also by Benn Pittman, carved by Emma Marqua, and painted by Charles T Webber. The plate beside this explained that it was very much inspired by the British Aesthetic Movement in furniture. The painted images are a memorial to the recipient's sister, showing the subjects of a poem she once wrote.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Waterhouse and the Philosophy of the Sublime

The other day I was looking (again) at John William Waterhouse's painting, Miranda - The Tempest. And all of a sudden it occurred to me one reason why this artwork of his is one of his most famous and popular works.

It is the perfect blend of Pre-Raphaelite philosophy and the Victorian philosophy of the sublime.

Sublimity as a philosophical theory dates far further than the Victorian era. It is the concept of mankind standing in awe of something that demonstrates a vast greatness or magnitude beyond what we can comprehend, and it is especially used in reference to nature. During the Victorian era espeically, however, it was a focus of many an artwork in which the viewer was either staring at an observer of nature and was meant to put him or herself in the shoes of the subject on the canvas (who was usually faced away from the camera and was rarely the focal point) and experience the vastness and greatness that the figure was admiring... (pictured above is Friedrich's Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, a great example)

or the figure was so small on the canvas as to be almost completely overlooked by the viewer, until they noticed the small smudge on the canvas and imagined how overwhelmed and dwarved one would feel in the same situation.

Back to the artwork by John William Waterhouse, I think that at least part of why the work is so effective is because the figure of Miranda is partially facing away from the viewer, like so many of the sublime Victorian artworks. It is easier to place yourself into her experience, and feel the magnitude of what she is seeing. Yes, there is narration...the boat crashing, the sailors trying to swim to shore, the context of the play that is referred to...but there's also an overwhelming sense of the power of nature...the wind that sweeps her hair and skirts into a riotous mass...the waves crashing just yards away from her feet.

I can think of no other Pre-Raphaelite style (I emphasize style since again, Waterhouse was not technically a Pre-Raphaelite) artwork that focuses so much on the awe and majesty of nature, and that so perfectly invites the viewer to step into the shoes of the painting's subject and experience the sublime.

The inherent philosophy of the Pre-Raphaelites seems almost an exact contrast to the philosophy of the sublime when you first read it. In The Germ (the first publication documenting the very beginning of the Brotherhood), the P.R.B. expressed their philosophy as the desire to "enunciate the principles of those who, in the true spirit of Art, enforce a rigid adherence to the simplicity of Nature either in Art or Poetry." (emphasis mine)

The idea of focusing on the simplicity of nature certainly seems in contrast to the concept of celebrating its majesty. And in this strictest sense, the painting Miranda - The Tempest may not qualify as Pre-Raphaelite, since it certainly isn't a "simple" scene. But as time went on and the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelites went their separate ways, the movement continued with Rossetti, and a more romanticized version of the founding philosophy.

At this point, the work of Rossetti and his fellow artists may be seen to almost create their own new definition of what is sublime. To them, they were certainly celebrating a vast greatness and magnitude beyond what we can comprehend. But to them, the focus of this awe and majesty...was embodied in womankind. They preferred to explore the peaks and valleys of the feminine rather than those of mountaintops. And the divinity they discovered was the divinity either expressly stated in their religious paintings of women, or indirectly stated in paintings such as Rossetti's reverent portraits of Jane Morris, in which every curve of her shoulders, every tilt of her head, seems painted with utmost worship.

J.W. Waterhouse's painting of Miranda also seems to echo this sort of reverence for the main figure. In some strange way, although the viewer may at first be invited to put oneself into her experience, and stand in awe at the power of nature (the more direct and traditional concept of the sublime) one's gaze is afterward drawn in by the central figure herself: the grace with which she holds back her hair, the curve of her back as she fights against the push of the wind that seems to want to draw her forward into the ocean. J.W. Waterhouse paints her in his signature gown...the blue and red dress that can be seen in at least three other artworks he painted (Ophelia 1905, The Enchanted Garden and Fair Rosamund), so in that way she is an archetype. She is somehow reminiscent of a siren, watching a sailor find his death among the sharp rocks. One gets the feeling that she is somehow a part of it all, and has become something greater than herself by experiencing this moment in time, becoming sublime and god-like herself.

So somehow, the artwork works both with the traditional idea of the sublime, and the Pre-Raphaelite vision of sublime womanhood. Ahh, the wonders of the works of John William Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelites!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Want a Waterhouse original?

....and one of his most famous artworks? Got a spare $800,000?

If I won the lottery in the next week (which is unlikely, since I don't even play), I would SO fly to New York and run away with this painting.

J.W. Waterhouse's Miranda - the Tempest is going up for auction at Sotheby's in New York on April 24th. For anyone close to New York, the artwork will be available to view in person prior to the auction:

Sat, 18 Apr 09, 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Sun, 19 Apr 09, 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Mon, 20 Apr 09, 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Tue, 21 Apr 09, 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Wed, 22 Apr 09, 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Thu, 23 Apr 09, 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM

If you don't live near New York, the above link will still take you to an image of the artwork. You can zoom in and see a great amount of detail on this masterpiece of Waterhouse's career.

Many thanks to Art Magick's webmistress for posting this on's forums.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tess, Grace, and Matthew's Homage to the Masters

I knew when I visited my dear friend and fellow Pre-Raphaelite afficionado, Tess, a couple of weekends ago, that it would spurn numerous blog posts here. And sure enough, here is another one!

On Saturday night, Tess and I stayed up till 5am taking photos inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite masters. The lighting wasn't the keenest, but the poses are, of course, classic. Those Victorian guys really knew what they were doing when it came to dramatic poses.

But after a while, we started to giggle to each other, because as I was giving her direction in her posing, (holding a print-out of the artwork we were trying to duplicate and staring at the hands and pose) I finally just started saying "hold yourself in the most awkward, unnatural and uncomfortable way you can imagine. Yes...just like that. Now hold that pose!" The Pre-Raphaelites knew what poses were dramatic and romantic, but I have a whole new appreciation for the models themselves. After about a minute in a given pose, we'd have to take a break to shake out cramped necks and hands.

As I always say, feel free to click on the below images to see them larger!

The first pose of Tess and me, adjusted some for our varying heights, was based on The Crystal Gazers by Mowbray

The second pose was inspired indirectly (no attempt to directly reproduce a pose) by Jane Morris portraits by Rossetti like this one:

The next pose was inspired by Dicksee's artwork, The Magic Crystal:

The portraits of Tess and Matthew together were inspired indirectly again (no attempt at exact pose) by paintings like this one by Rossetti:

And last, we recreated Burne-Jones famous artwork, Love Among the Ruins: