Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"I am half sick of shadows"

Before we were married, Kathleen gave me a book on the Pre-Raphaelites. At the time I had never heard of them. She instinctively knew I'd like them, and I did. The Pre-Rapahaelite Brotherhood was a school of artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century which held that the painter Raphael had corrupted painting through his use of classical poses. The Brotherhhod particularly rejected the Mannerist school of painting as mechanistic. Whatever their philosophy, the pre-Rapahelites gave us incredible detail and brilliant use of color. Their themes could be overly sentimental, but their best work shows emphasizes the beauty of nature and the human form. And just sometimes they give us a glimpse into the soul.

One favorite theme of the Pre-Raphelites was the Arthurian cycle of legend, and its many interpretations. Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shalott," loosely based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat, was the subject of several pre-Raphaelite paintings, including three by John William Waterhouse. The poem tells of a woman who is confined to a tower, and is cursed to weave a magic web without looking at the world. When Sir Lancelot passes by her tower, she is so enamored of him that she abandons her loom and sets off in a boat to pursue the knight. Because of the curse, she dies before reaching Camelot.

"'I am Half Sick of Shadows,' said the "Lady of Shalott," pictured above, illustrates the following stanza:

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

The painting now hangs in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. A larger copy of the painting can be found here. And yes, I fell in love with the woman at the loom the first time I saw the painting. Kathleen doesn't have a lot to worry about. For one thing, the woman's hair and figure are very much like Kathleen's And for another, the painting is from 1916, and the model for the picture has surely passed on.


Charles Gramlich said...

That is a gorgeous picture. I love the color of the dress, and the detail in the windows.

SzélsőFa said...

I think this is what is also called Secession and also Art Nouveau and I loved it ever since I met it in high school.

At the same time I love Raphael (Raffaello in Italian) as well :)

Anonymous said...

I cannot see the Lady of Shalot poem mentioned without the interminable song (Loreena McKinnit) of the same name ringing in my head. I like some of her music, but this one just drags on.

steve on the slow train said...

Charles--Couldn't have said it better myself.

Szelsofa--Actually, the Pre-Raphaelites started in the 1840s and were pretty much confined to the British Isles. I think they influenced Art Nouveau (or the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain), but weren't really part of it. Waterhouse is what the art historians would call retardataire--a latecomer to the style. By 1916 the Cubists and post-Impressionists were in the avant-garde, while Waterhouse continued to paint in the older pre-Raphaelite style.

P.S. I like Raphael as well, though my favorite Italian Renaissance painter is Botticelli.

Gerry--I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the song. Maybe just as well.

Lisa said...

This is one school that I really have never learned much about, but I'm inspired to check into them now.

SzélsőFa said...

Thanks for the information Steve.
In the mind of an educated, but not specially educated Hungarian, like me, Pre-Raphaelites equal to Secession. But now I know :)

I like Leonardo, too.

SzélsőFa said...

A photo of a train in the Hungarian puszta:
- I was thinking of yuo when posting the photo that belongs to the post.

steve on the slow train said...

Lisa, Check out the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood blog at: http://preraphaelitesisterhood.com/

Szelsofa--According to the Wikipedia article, the Per-Raphaelites considered themselves to be the first avant-garde movement, so in that sense they were a secession--just a lot earlier than the Secession movements in continental Europe.

SmartlikeStreetcar said...

The Lady of Shallot is a very long song, almost 12 minutes, but I love it.

Sorry, Lisa!

We have the lady on our small kitchen table.

steve on the slow train said...

Smartlikestreetcar--Thank you for visiting. It was Gerry from twoblueday, not LIsa, who didn't like the song. I listened to it on Youtube, and also thought it dragged on, but it might be something that improves with listening. I thought Ewan Macoll's Thomas the Rhymer was monotonous the first time I heard it, but after listening several times, it grew on me.

Shauna Roberts said...

Lovely, lovely picture. I too love the pre-Raphaelites. I'd loved to be painted in that style.