Monday, 27 April 2015

Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle

This book came into my hands as a direct link to the Poldark series. I was looking at youtube and found this BBC drama from 2009 via Aidan Turner (Ross in Poldark). It is about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, their lives and deeds in 19th century England. I had never heard about this group, but as is usual, once you hear about something it pops up everywhere. I downloaded the book and found a fantastic, real life story of passion, love, fanatism and a quest for the perfect painting.

The group consisted of seven English painters, poets and critics who formed the initial "brotherhood", and the aim was to reform the art. They did not agree with the teachings of academic art at the time, and wanted to go back to older ways of painting, where much more detail was shown, the colours were more intense and more complex compositions from the Quattrocento Italian art.


This biography follows them all, but are mostly concentrated on the three, very talented founders William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. They were joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner.

Hunt, Rossetti and Millais
Franny Moyle starts her story when all of them are struggling to be acknowledged, although painting in a different way from the norm.  They often used the same models, and the models themselves became famous and integrated parts of their lives, for good and for worse. Their motto seemed to have been 'this day is the last'. As they get older and establish themselves, their interests are developing in different ways, and they split. Rossetti, who seemed the most diabolic of them, starts a second group with new upcoming artists. They are all like a big family, and relationships start and end, at regular intervals. Apart from Millais who settles down when he marries Effie Grey and live a family life, the others are restless souls, who never seem to find their peace.

One  of the most famous critics at the time is John Ruskin. He is a very important part of the group's lives, in more ways then one. He is a very peculiar person, highly intelligent and a patron of the arts. He takes the Pre-Raphaelite painters under his wings. We follow his troubled marriage to Effie Gray, who finally divorces him and marries John Everett Millais.

From BBC's 'Desperate Romantics' drama
There are a lot of fantastic characters in this book, and they all come from real life. Franny Moyle has managed to vitalise them into, what I can imagine they were, highly passionate, dedicated painters. It seems that the painting was what kept them alive, sometimes on behalf of personal relations. It was, as if they could not separate their paintings from their lives. A highly interesting book about a set of characters that made a stir and a scandal in Victorian England.

Cannot wait to see the BBC drama. In a future post I will tell you more about my visit to Tate Britain to see some of their paintings, and other literary references to this fascinating group.

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