Pre-Raphaelite Inspiration

My eldest daughter Jess was in London for a few days visiting friends, attending a ball and catching up with everyone. She also visited the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition which is on at the Tate, 12 September 2012 – 13 January 2013.  She found it beautiful.  The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood was founded in 1848,  A time when many Victorians felt that in the machine age, beauty and spirituality had been lost.  I can look at Pre-Raphaelite paintings for hours; the detail, realism and accuracy of their work is incredible, and they were dramatic storytellers which of course is something I love being used in art. Here are a couple of my favourites along with some classic interpretations of the elements used in the composition.

A well known Pre-Raphaelite painting “Ophelia” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Sir John EVERETTE Millais.

Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia 1851-2 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896
Ophelia 1851-2 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

Act IV, Scene vii, in which Ophelia, driven out of her mind when her father is murdered by her lover Hamlet, drowns herself in a stream:

There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element; but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

The model Elizabeth Siddal, a Pre-Raphaelite favourite who later married Rossetti, posed as Ophelia over a four month period in a bath full of water kept warm by lamps underneath (Brrrr). Every now and again the lamps went out, causing her to catch a severe cold. Her father threatened the artist with legal action until he agreed to pay the doctor’s bills.

The plants in this painting were reproduced with painstaking botanical detail, I love them, each having its own symbolic significance. The roses near Ophelia’s cheek and dress, and the field rose on the bank, may allude to her brother Laertes calling her ‘rose of May’. The willow, nettle and daisy are associated with forsaken love, pain, and innocence. Pansies refer to love in vain. Violets, which Ophelia wears in a chain around her neck, stand for faithfulness, chastity or death of the young, any of which meanings could apply here. The poppy signifies death. Forget-me-nots float in the water. Jess got to see the original “Ophelia”, which is presently part of the Tate’s collection. Of course Tom wanted to know how much it was worth; well its currently valued at at least £30 million ( about $48 million US ). Tom is now wondering if I make an Ophelia, could I ask a similar price on Etsy. It’s not about the money Tom!

O.K I’ll just mention one more Pre-Raphaelite otherwise I’m going to be here all night and I have work to finish and then a glass of very nice red wine will be very much needed and appreciated.

This Pre-Raphaelite painting is “The Beloved (The Bride)” and it’s by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The subject of this painting, the power of woman’s beauty, is inspired by the biblical Song of Solomon. The Song of Songs of Solomon, commonly referred to as Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, is a book of the Old Testament —one of the megillot (scrolls)—found in the last section of the Tanakh, known as the Ketuvim (or “Writings”). Goodness me, how many songs of Solomon make up the Song of Solomon. Anyway, the bride pulls back her veil to reveal her beauty and engages the viewer with her blue eyes and full red lips. The rich colours and exotic fabrics in which she is clothed heighten her sensuality: her intricate leather headdress is Peruvian, while her dress is made from Japanese kimono fabric.

Pre-Raphaelite The Beloved ('The Bride') 1865-6 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882
The Beloved (‘The Bride’) 1865-6 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882

My beloved is mine and I am his. (The Song of Solomon 2:16). Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. (The Song of Solomon 1:2). She shall be brought unto the King in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee. (Psalms 45:14)

The painting has a number of symbolic readings: the boy offers up roses, a symbol of love, but also a Christian image indicating someone who is matchless or without peer. The virgins hold lilies, normally a symbol of purity, but their red colour suggests passion and physical love. The composition is extremely shallow, and the attendants crowd around the bride, providing a rich and sumptuous setting for her jewel-like beauty. The detail is fabulous.

I think my next lot of work will be inspired by the women and stories painted by this amazing group of artists. But, that will have to be after I complete my current project – a collection of ball gowns; I’m just finishing one which is inspired by Vivenne Westward.  The idea for these has come from another exhibition, this time “ball gowns” being shown at the V&A. I’ll tell you more in my next blog and hopefully I’ll also have some pictures to share with you.

Meanwhile, you can find out more about the Tate’s Pre-Raphaelite exhibition by following this link Pre-Raphaelite – Victorian Avant-Garde

To purchase any of my art work please visit my shop on Etsy or contact me by e-mail at

One Reply to “Pre-Raphaelite Inspiration”

  1. Beautiful! So glad Sue’s thumb is better, too. Hard to not have your hands working right! I got my dress from you yesterday! I ADORE it!!!! I’ve loved the dresses for so long and finally ordered one for myself! It’s simply wonderful!

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