Book Review: Essential Pre-Raphaelites by Lucinda Hawksley

Updated on June 4, 2019
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Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet, and artist who lives on the Wirral peninsula in England.

5 stars for Essential Pre-Raphaelites by Lucinda Hawksley

What's it About?

This heavily illustrated book tracks the rise of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood from inception and early struggles for recognition and respect, to the heady years which saw the blossoming careers of some of the Western world's best loved 19th Century artists.

In the autumn of 1848, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his brother William Michael Rossetti, with William Holman Hunt, Thomas Woolner, Frederick George Stephens, James Collinson met at the home of John Everett Millais, on Gower Street, London. Inspired by etchings antique Italian works, they chose to create a new artistic aesthetic inspired by paintings created prior to the era of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, (1483 - 1520). Thus the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was born.

These young art students were roundly ridiculed for their pretension. Stoically, they forged ahead and organised independent exhibitions of their work. At first, these failed to attract anything but scorn from the art critics of their day.

But the PRBs were ambitious and serious artists and poets. They aimed to reject cold, academic approaches to art, such as that then being taught by the Royal Academy, and to insist on accurate depictions of natural forms, not just in paintings but in literature and in design. After the respected critic John Ruskin wrote in praise of their work, gradually the PRBs began their gradual climb to lasting admiration.

Essential Pre-Raphaelites brings together works by the founders of the PRB plus the second wave of the PRB movement, such as William Morris, Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Evelyn de Morgan, Arthur Hughes and Elizabeth Siddal.

This book also presents work by a wide range of other related artists who tend to be less well-known, including Anna Lea Merrit, Edward John Poynter, Eleanor Fortesque Brickdale and GF Watts. While these were not actual members of the original PRB, the PRB's influence on their work is obvious.

About the Author

Lucinda Hawksley is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles and Catherine Dickens. She has written 19 books on art history, social history, biographies and travel.

She has appeared on TV and international radio stations, and maintains a busy schedule of public speaking, being represented by The Speakers Agency and Women Speakers.

She is a volunteer for the Whales and Dolphins Conservation Society, and a patron of both the Charles Dickens Museum and the Norwegian Pickwick Club. Between 2014 and 2017 she was a member of the management committee for the Society of Authors. In 2017 she was appointed to be a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

What's to Like?

Every second page is entirely filled by a high-quality reproduction of a painting. The facing pages often carry smaller paintings or related material in order of offer the reader comparisons or context. This book is a delight to browse through, and offers not only a visual feast but a comprehensive overview of the broad range of Pre-Raphaelite works, with their artists' varying technical approaches.

The text gives only brief biographical details of the artists, and focuses instead on a description of each of the paintings shown within, with perhaps something of the history of that particular work, or an interpretation of the symbolic meanings encompassed within that image. The text manages to be informative without becoming intrusive, as this book seems primarily a visual, rather than an academic, experience.

A truly lovely book, which I highly recommend.

Discover Pre-Raphaelite Art with Andrew Lloyd Webber

What's Not to Like?

The inclusion of womens' contributions to the PRB movement could have been much more extensive. The book features work by twenty-eight men but only five women: Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, (more usually known for her work as a model); Anna Lea Merrit; E. Corbet; Eleanor Fortesque Brickdale; and Evelyn de Morgan.

Candidates could have included: Joanna Mary Wells; Emma Sandys; Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon; Rebecca Solomon; Marianne Stokes; Marie Spartali Stillman; Joanna Mary Boyce; Rosa Brett; Catherine Maddox Brown; Anna Mary Howitt; Anna Eliza Blunden; Jane Benham Hay; Joanna May Boyce; Lucy Maddox Brown; Francesca Alexander Kate Elizabeth Bunce; Marianne Preindelsberger Stokes; and Christina Jane Herrigham. No doubt the list could go on.

This is my only grumble about what is otherwise a fabulous book.

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© 2019 Adele Cosgrove-Bray

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