Updated: Oct 15, 2021
When I was at college I was very taken with the Pre-Raphaelite artists and the stories represented by their muses, particularly The Lady of Shalott and Proserpine. Having recently watched the films Effie Gray and Ophelia my interest in the movement had been rekindled lately, so I was delighted to learn that part of the latest collection by Thought takes the theme of 'Muse in Nature' as its inspiration.
Painting in the Victorian era, The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a secret society who wished to return to the style of 15th century Italian art, with its rich detail, intense colour and intricate composition. At the time, the study of art was highly influenced by the work of Raphael and Michelangelo, which the PRB considered to be too much of a mechanical approach, with the classical poses and imagined heavenly scenes depicted by Raphael having a negative influence on the learning of the arts. They wanted to revive the styles seen in art before that - pre-Raphael, as it were. Whilst believing that one should paint what they actually know, they also found the everyday subjects of contemporary art to be too trivial. Instead they created a vibrant, highly detailed imitation of nature, using subjects from literature and poetry and exploring modern social problems.
Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti (1828- 82) was a key figure in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, which included William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. He was born in London to an Italian-English mother and an Italian father, a scholar of Dante. Rossetti grew up to become an English poet inspired by the Romantics Keats and Blake, as well as an illustrator, painter, and translator. One of Rosetti's most famous muses was Jane Morris, the subject of the painting The Day Dream.
Jane Morris (1839-1914) was the daughter of a laundress who went on to become one of the original designers and embroiderers of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Aged 17, she was spotted by Rossetti in Oxford, who was struck by her otherworldly features, considering her perfect for the figure of Queen Guinevere. She began to sit for him and also William Morris who she later married, although it is said she and Rossetti began a love affair after he was widowed in 1862 . In total it is believed she features in over 30 Pre-Raphaelite paintings. After her engagement, she was privately educated, becoming keen on reading, proficient in French and Italian as well as classical piano. Her style was individual and directional, at home she would wear medieval dress with strings of beads rather than the corsets and crinoline of the time. The creative work of Jane Morris can be seen at Red House in Bexleyheath, the home she shared with William, now a National Trust property.