William Gaunt’s captivating art history classic features beautiful images of the movement’s most significant works.
Lush, colourful and unquestionably beautiful, Pre-Raphaelite works are much admired today. Yet on their release these paintings – and the artists who created them – were reviled as immoral and dangerous. Artist, writer and art historian William Gaunt had a particular passion for Victorian art, and his biography of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is the finest account of the period. This lavishly illustrated edition includes colour images of 14 of the most significant pieces of Pre-Raphaelite art, as well as many black and white integrated images and photographs of the artists and their circle. The exquisite art silk cover features an image of Pia de’ Tolomei, Gabriel Rossetti’s painting of Jane Morris, William Morris’s wife – with whom he was having an affair. The Arming and Departure of the Knights, the tapestry designed by Edward Burne-Jones and woven by Morris & Co, appears as a stunning double-page spread.
Brimming with the author’s extensive knowledge of art and art theory, The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy introduces all the key players – Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, among others – and delves into the intimate dramas and revelations of their lives. From the initial flurry of revolutionary zeal to the increasingly complex web of cliques, love triangles and feuds, Gaunt underpins these vivid events with a fascinating and clear-sighted discussion of Pre-Raphaelite art and philosophy.
‘They fitted real people and real backgrounds to imaginary scenes or vice versa, painting these imaginary scenes from nature with the most scrupulous fidelity of detail and pure and vivid colour. It was the rudimentary stage of the Pre-Raphaelite magic’
All the best-known stories of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are explored, as well as the less familiar details – Lizzie Siddal’s death from an overdose of laudanum, and her later exhumation by a grief-stricken Gabriel Rossetti, who regretted burying a precious set of poems with her; Rossetti’s menagerie of animals and his muse Fanny, who he affectionately referred to as ‘my dear Elephant’; the abruptly annulled marriage of John Ruskin, whose wife fell in love with Millais over the course of a rainy month in Scotland; William Morris’s socialist awakening and arrest for assaulting a policeman; and the creation of the Kelmscott Chaucer, the ‘final Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece’. Taking in, as Gaunt describes it, ‘drug addiction … psychopathology, a shadowy conflict with the devil, a soap advertisement and an abortive attempt at political revolution’, The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy is art history at its most engrossing and its most human.
William Gaunt (1900–80) was an artist and art historian. After serving briefly with the Durham Light Infantry in the First World War, Gaunt went on to Worcester College, Oxford, and graduated with honours. He completed an MA at the Ruskin School of Drawing and found work as a painter, art historian, art critic, novelist and travel book writer. During the Second World War he was commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to paint London bomb sites, notably painting a watercolour of the ruins of St Anne’s Church, Soho. Gaunt was drawn to the Pre-Raphaelites, whom he considered to be underappreciated, and wrote his most enduring book on the subject, The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy (1942), followed by further studies of Victorian art, The Aesthetic Adventure (1945) and Victorian Olympus (1952).
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