Saturday, December 15, 2012

Arthur Hughes Meets Millais

Based on a true story.

Everyone agreed that Arthur Hughes was an Incredibly Nice Guy. He was known for his graciousness and modesty. William Michael Rossetti had this to say about him :

Arthur Hughes at 19, a self-portrait.

If I had to pick out, from my once numerous acquaintances of the male sex, the sweetest & most ingenuous nature of all, the least carking & querulous, & the freest from envy hatred & malice, & all uncharitableness, I should probably find myself bound to select Mr Hughes.”

He also had a very happy marriage, five children and wasn't particularly concerned if he had fame or fortune as long as he and his family were comfortable. This of course makes him the complete weirdo of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Hughes once returned a check one of his patrons paid him for a painting, writing that she had paid too much and to please write him a new one as he couldn't possibly accept such an exorbitant amount. I don't think I could be ever be that modest....

Arthur Hughes was not one of the official Brotherhood, of course, but he was a devoted follower of The Germ (a sort of Pre-Raphaelite magazine published in the early days of the PRB, full of reviews, PRB philosophy and poetry. With pictures, of course.) He would later become acquainted with Dante Gabriel Rossetti through Walter Deverell (Pre-Raphaelite friend and auxiliary member of the PRB who is probably most known for having discovered Elizabeth Siddal working in a hatshop and being the first artist to hire her as a model.)

Arthur Hughes' first version of Ophelia with the pond that Millais didn't like.
 Arthur Hughes' first version of Ophelia had the bad timing to be hung at the Royal Academy at  the same time as John Everett Millais' more famous rockstar version of the same subject.While Millais gained quite a lot of deserved fame from his Ophelia, Hughes' version was relegated to the Octagon Room, called by the resident artists "The Condemned Cell". Not only was it in a terrible location, it was hung extremely high up ("above the line") where it could only be observed with the use of a ladder. This, sadly, would be the fate of many of Hughes' future paintings at the Royal Academy.

However, young Arthur was resigned to his fate but was astounded when his hero, the older former student Millais (with whom he had never spoken) wandered over and asked him if he was "Cherry". (Arthur Hughes' artist friends had given him this nickname because he frequently blushed.) Millais told him that he had indeed climbed the ladder to look at his version of Ophelia and that it had given him "more pleasure than any picture there".

 But... he didn't like the pond.

 Millais enlisted Arthur Hughes to pose for his painting, The Proscribed Royalist, 1651 (below):

He's the one in the tree.
April Love
"Ned, go grab it before Ruskin
gets his hands on it!"
Arthur Hughes quickly became known for his Millais-inspired paintings of couples in love and delicately rendered maidens-- many done in his trademark purple and green. Infact, his most well-known painting April Love was bought by William Morris-- who sent a grumbling Edward Burne-Jones to scurry off and purchase it for him before anyone else did. (He'd heard John Ruskin wanted it.)

 When Walter Deverell introduced Hughes to Rossetti, Rossetti was delighted by Hughes' Ophelia. (Deverell complained that he hated the somewhat sinister addition of a bat flying above the stream in the painting; but of course animal-loving Rossetti proclaimed  it to be one of his favorite things about it.)

Rossetti enlisted Hughes among others (including young William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Valentine Prinsep) to help paint the murals in the Oxford Union Hall that famously began to fade because the young artists failed to prepare a proper protective "ground" on the walls first. (And revealed underneath the fading paintings were some wombat cartoons, proving that the Oxford Union gang wasn't above having a good time.)

Ophelia, Version 2.0

Arthur Hughes would go on to do a second version of Ophelia (left) and produce an incredibly huge amount of work that also included book illustrations. He most famously did illustrations for Victorian fantasy writer George MacDonald (Phantastes and The Princess and the Goblin.)

An illustration for George MacDonald's fantasy novel Phantastes.

One of his biggest fans and later a good friend was Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), who became a sort of "uncle" to Hughes' children and frequently photographed them.

Arthur Hughes would always remain a well-liked and lifelong friend to many members of the PRB as well as the "Second Phase" PRB, led by Morris and Burne-Jones. Cherry's cheerful, self-effacing and non-competitive demeanor was probably refreshing for everyone.

The elder Cherry.
Still happy that Millais
 hated his pond.

Coming up next: Ford Madox Brown Meets Young Rossetti.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Not Pre-Raphaelite but... "Kubla Khan"--The Retry


A slight break from the Pre-Raphaelites here so I can indulge in some fun with the Romantic poets (of which I am also very fond.)

I admit that my two favorite poets are John Keats and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and this cartoon was done just for fun on Coleridge's birthday (October 21st).

Young Coleridge sporting an early mullet.

The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by the Romantic Poets (Blake, Keats, Byron and Shelley) as well as the "founders",  William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Most people are familiar with the story of how the dream-like imagery of the poem "Kubla Khan" was interrupted by a knock on the door and a laudanum-using Coleridge went to attend to his visitor and completely forgot his train of thought. This story was famously spread by Coleridge himself, who claimed he was detained by a "person from Porlock".

Since then, a Person from Porlock has been used by a number of fantasy authors as a mystical being who interrupts some major, earth-shaking undertaking. But it was shrewd publicity stunt on Coleridge's part that gave this unfinished poem an air of mystery. It was Lord Byron himself who coaxed Coleridge into finally publishing it after he read it to him.

It begins:     
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. (lines 1–5)

And the last lines written:
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise. (lines 48–54)

...which is when the Person from Porlock allegedly struck.

William Wordsworth
Not really known for practical jokes
 but what the heck...
Charles Lamb
Pretty much known for his practical jokes,
bad puns, and Essays of Elia.
Read up on this guy: he's fascinating!

I decided to have William Wordsworth and Coleridge's impish childhood friend Charles Lamb do some pranking on poor STC. (Or "Col", as he liked to be called rather than "Samuel", which he hated.)

For an excellent and epic biography about Coleridge I recommend Richard Holmes' 2-volume set:
 Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772-1804 and Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804-1834 .

See you next time when we meet Pre-Raphaelite fanboy Arthur Hughes.