Janey Morris: Pre-Raphaelite Muse

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2014 marks the centenary of Jane Morris’s death, and to mark this the National Portrait Gallery have a small exhibition devoted to images of Janey. This includes photographs and paintings of her friends and family, including a marvellous, though unsmiling, photographic portrait of the Morris and Burne-Jones families which gives a real sense of how closely the families were entwined (and explains why the children were described as ‘medieval brutes’). The images of May and Jenny, the Morris children, are appealing but they are in many ways only a shadow of their more dramatic mother: the star images here are the late photographs of Jane by Emery Walker.

These are a series taken in 1898 at Kelmscott. Georgiana Burne- Jones described Jane at this stage as ‘still a splendid looking creature’, and so she is – serious, dramatic, melancholy, she is pictured here in profile (still that strong line of her earlier image) and straight on, facing down the camera with a challenging stare. In one, she gazes slightly past the camera, as if she has lost interest and is thinking about something more important – what to have for dinner, perhaps…
I’m slightly dubious about the decision to use the affectionate diminutive Janey in the title of the exhibit – though Morris and others called her this, it seems a little patronising (and not something we do for all historical figures). Although small, though, this exhibition is worth a look: I can’t say it added to my knowledge of Jane Morris, but I left feeling as though I had encountered the woman herself and seen something mysterious in her eyes.

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You can read more about Jane Morris at the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood site.

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Parade’s End: Pre-Raphaelite Aesthetics

In my previous post on Parade’s End, I mentioned a Pre-Raphaelite connection. Having seen the second episode, this still seems very pronounced. As I said before, Ford Madox Ford, the books’ author, was the grandson of Ford Madox Brown. He wrote a biography of his grandfather, and was interested in and proud of his Pre-Raphaelite connections; in fact a book, The Last Pre-Raphaelite?: Ford Madox Ford and Visual Culture (ed. Laura Colombino) suggests that Ford took a deep interest in the aesthetics of Pre-Raphaelitism and used these ideas in his work. Ford’s childhood was spent immersed in Pre-Raphaelite connections, and these clearly filtered through to his work in references to the artists.

As I said before, I haven’t read the books (yet) so am basing this on the BBC series. It seems to me that Pre-Raphaelitism, and Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics, play a small but significant part in Stoppard’s adaptation, particularly in the production’s visual resemblances which reference Pre-Raphaelite figures. Tietjens’ friend Vincent MacMaster has written a biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti; he refers to a range of poets and artists, and collects about him a literary social circle. McMaster, played by Stephen Graham in the series, seems to me to bear a surprising resemblance to Rossetti, as if he somehow embodies a kind of essential Pre-Raphaelitism; he even calls his mistress ‘Guggums’, as Rossetti did with Lizzie Siddal. Moreover, MacMaster is the opposite of Tietjens’ ‘mealsack Anglican sainthood’; nobility is not for him – rather, he pursues art and love (and Edith Duchemin) with a gentle enthusiasm. Like Tietjens, he is a relic of a bygone era – but one with a more positive and happy outlook (although, I think, not necessarily with a happy ending).

Edith Duchemin, played by Anne-Marie Duff, married to a mad clergyman, falls for MacMaster, and shares his romantic, Pre-Raphaelite dream. She also seems to look like Georgiana Burne-Jones. As she stares dreamily, in melancholia or in love, into the distance, she looks like a Pre-Raphaelite muse, and sometimes behaves like one too – she could even be Jane Morris, trapped in a loveless marriage. Though her character may change in future episodes, so far she is hard-done-by, struggling, but on the brink of escape and happiness. It seems to me that Parade’s End contrasts two very different types of Victorianism: the noble, suffering, somewhat martyred doing-one’s-duty Victorianism of Tietjens, denying his true feelings in favour of doing what is right; and that of MacMaster, living life fully, falling in love and acting upon it, with a kind of poetry in his life of which, I think, Rossetti would have approved. Yet the ending will, I think, offer a way forward for Tietjens’ moral rectitude which the Pre-Raphaelite figures will not see; in the end, morality is stronger than Pre-Raphaelitism, which turns out to be all surface and no depth.