The Great Pre-Raphaelite Fiction List!


Let’s talk books, specifically books with a Pre-Raphaelite slant. While there are a couple of blogs and Goodreads pages that list some there’s not really a substantial list in one place. Let’s change that! I propose a list, broken down into categories such as General Pre-Raphaelites, books about a specific model and/or artist (so A Curl of Copper and Pearl by Kirsty Stonell Walker would be in both the Alexa Wilding and Dante Gabriel Rossetti section) and perhaps a section where Pre-Raphaelites are mentioned or inspired by.  Does this sound like something the community would be interested in? Let me know! Leave a comment or message on twitter (@thebluebower) if so!


Pre-Raphs in the First State: Part 1


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They say to never leave a project you had meant to do in the year undone on New Years Eve so here is part one of my visit to the Delaware Museum of Art!

Ever since I moved to Washington D.C. one of the things I’ve most been looking forward to is visiting the Delaware Art Museum, home of the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings outside of Britain. Now the DAM has had its share of troubles in the past couple of years (don’t think I’ve forgotten about you selling Isabella and the Pot of Basil *shakes fist*) but the museum still has quality pieces worth making the trek to see if you’re in the area. Washington isn’t so much in the area but it is a relatively short (2 ish hours) drive so 3 weeks ago with a car full of somewhat art fans and a copy of Kristy Stonell Walker’s book about Alexa Wilding, I made the pilgrimage. This post is split into many parts, this one discusses one of the Rossettis. The museum has a small website dedicated solely to their collection, so please take a gander there as I won’t be rehashing all the pieces! Just some of the ones that caught my eye…starting with a Rossetti.


It’s the Alexa version of Lady Lilith! You may recall that last year I attended the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I saw the 1867 replica of the original version. For those who aren’t aware, originally DGR painted Lady Lilith with Fanny Cornforth as her face. Some sources believe that the man who commissioned it, Frederick Richards Leyland, suggested a new face and we got Alexa instead. DGR eventually painted another version of Lilith, keeping Fanny’s face intact. This was the version on view (and held!) by the Met. After seeing both versions in person (something I never thought would happen since the Met doesn’t really show the 67 one) I can attest that the feel of both is completely different and it’s quite…well it’s bonkers to be honest.

The version with Fanny is more pronounced and earthly. You get the sense that Lilith is a very vain woman, who knows how beautiful she is and can’t be bothered to hear otherwise. It’s very present, very grounded. Lilith is basically saying “Here I am, I’m beautiful, deal with it.” You get an idea of how Fanny was to Rossetti and their relationship. This is one of the reasons I LOVE art. Even without knowing what I do of their relationship, you get the sense that whomever painted this really loved the subject.

Contrast with Alexa who just looks untouchable and ethereal. I got to the museum as it just opened so was able to spend more time in front of the paintings without the threat of being in someone’s way. One thing that consistently floors me about seeing Pre-Raphaelite paintings (well most classic paintings really but especially in Pre-Raphaelites) is the brushstrokes are visible 148 years later. You would expect some of this detail to fade away but it hasn’t and it’s not hard to imagine Rossetti toiling away, covered in a smock, half disheveled furiously painting. “You can look but not touch” Alexa seems to say, languidly brushing her hair.

All in all I have to say that I do prefer Alexa’s version but by only a smidge. Fanny’s version is more intimate and it feels as if I’m intruding on a moment between two lovers.

Stay tuned for part two: in which I wax poetic about the color red!


Flame On!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that as soon as you move out of a city fantastic things will happen there.

“Flaming June, by Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896)” by Frederic Leighton

Case in point: Flaming June is currently on display at the Frick Collection until September 6, 2015.

I’ve talked about Flaming June on the blog before but to say I am excited about this is a gross understatement. If you’re in the area and have the chance to go see it DO SO. I’m planning a trip back up to NYC specifically to attend this exhibit.

Also I apologize for the comic book pun in the title. I couldn’t resist 🙂

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”



One of my favorite blogs ever is The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, run by the lovely Stephanie Piña. The PRS was responsible for me feeling that I wasn’t alone in my love of the Brotherhood and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t know nearly as much about the Brotherhood without the blog. I say all this because Stephanie is going through some health troubles at the moment and could use a little help! A GoFundMe has been set up to help with expenses and the lovely Raine Szramski has designed an amazing shirt with the proceeds going to Stephanie. If you can spare a bit to help out a wonderful lady please do so!

Upcoming Posts

Good afternoon! My deepest apologies for the lack of posts, between the death of a friend and some other unpleasant matters I took a bit of a mini break. Things should be getting tip-top shape next week however. I have a couple of posts lined up in the pipeline:

  • A celebration of my favorite stunner, Alexa Wilding
  • A review of the Museum of Moving Image’s Chuck Jones exhibit
  • A beginners guide to Pre-Raphaelite fiction
  • The wasting away of Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • The Pre-Raphaelite Bucket List

Please bear with me as I go through a bit of a transitional time. I hope to have the first of these posts up sometime next week. Thank you!



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I apologize for the delay in posts, last week was one of the most trying in my recent memory. A couple of unhappy anniversaries, a friend of mine died and just general life unpleasantness combined to make a heady mixture of sadness. A lot of times people will have a stiff upper lip when it comes to depression and power through whatever it is that triggered it, while others people will end up wallowing in their own mire. While I tend to do both more than anything I took a lot of solace in art and thought I’d share some of the paintings that helped me recently and in the past.

loveamongtheruins Love among the ruins, Edward Burne-Jones

This painting has a really interesting history that is well worth reading up on. One of my favorite things about Love among the ruins is the blue stocking foot of the man that perfectly matches the woman’s dress. Those little touches pepper most of Burne-Jones paintings and make studying them a joy. The woman is clinging onto the man with a fierceness and she seems shell-shocked. Her lover has her in a protective embrace, gently placing a kiss on her forehead and taking his own reprieve. There are dark clouds in the background with no sun breaking through and the only hope to be found lie in the flowers. The deep rich blue of the woman’s gown perfectly contrast with the deep indigo of her paramour. I always wondered what Burne-Jones was thinking of when he painting this. Was this inspired by his affair with Maria Zambaco or something else? It’s intriguing.

unicorncaptiveThe Unicorn is in Captivity and No Longer Dead, Unknown

One day I will write my ode to the Unicorn Tapestries, located at the offshoot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art called the Cloisters. It will be absurdly long, full of flowing adjectives and references and perhaps some pictures of the surrounding area. For now let me state that more than just about any other picture, this comforts me. Yes the Unicorn is in captivity. Yes it has been hunted and perused and tricked. However the serene look on its face just makes me feel as if everything will be okay. It never ceases to amaze me how vibrant the whole Unicorn tapestries series are, there’s also a tangible sense of awe whenever you walk into the room. I’ve spent many a moon in the room where the hang, contemplating life, the universe and Everything. The Cloisters itself is located in Fort Tyron Park and the whole museum is well worth spending an entire day.

threegracesraphaelThe Three Graces, Raphael

Back when I first began to study art I was told I must devote a significant time to the Italian Renaissance. I balked. I found most of the Renaissance paintings boring and full of allegory I couldn’t give a fig about. That changed when I first spied the Three Graces by Raphael and to this day it is still my favorite Renaissance painting. I can’t rightly state what most appealed to me about this painting. It might have been the apples the graces are holding or the jewelry but either way once I discovered it I was enthralled. More than any other painting in the past week (and there were a few, I’m only highlighting a few) this has brought me the most solace. I think it’s because the Graces themselves give off this feeling of serenity and support. I also think it’s masterful the way Raphael staged the stars in the background of this, they give just a hint of the sublime to the whole piece.

Times_of_the_Day_Nights_Rest The Times of the Day: Night’s Rest, Alphonse Mucha

Happy Birthday Alphonse Mucha! I’m publishing this on his birthday so it seems fitting to highlight one of this works. I first discovered Mucha when I was doing research on Absinthe. I came across the famous Absinthe Robette painting done by Henri Privat-Livemont and a friend remarked that if I enjoyed that style, I might like Mucha’s work. I took one look and was absolutely floored. The way he frames all of his paintings is a joy to behold. I feel like this painting a lot of the time, just completely worn out yet also dreaming of more. I love the background images in this a lot, it’s almost as if you are looking at the picture through a slight haze, perhaps induced by the moon. Mucha’s works always have this dream-like ethereal quality to them.

My next couple of posts will take a closer look at some of the stunners of the Pre-Raphaelites and how I use them for inspiration in the modern world as well as an ode to Nefertiti. However if you enjoyed this particular one, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!

Anywhere but here – paintings cooler than NYC


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“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
 ~ John Steinbeck

Summer has officially hit here in New York City and with it has come stifling heat and humidity. Make no mistake about it, I loathe despise and abominate summer. I’ve been working on one particular blog post for about 2 weeks now and the words just aren’t coming. While it gestates in my mind and (hopefully) comes to fruition at some point in the future, I have decided to switch tactics a bit. Presenting a smattering of paintings I’d rather be in then New York in the summer! I should state that this list will probably be skewed against the Pre-Raphaelites (but features their associates) because let’s face it; the PRB tended to pick heavy topics. Heavy is a word I do not want associated with anything in the heat.

acoignofvantageA Coign of Vantage, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1895

Lawrence Alma-Tadema is one of those artists whose body of work is almost instantly recognizable. If you look at A Coign of Vantage, Expectations & Ask Me No More you can tell that all of them were done by the same man. The ladies have this sort of ethereal almost hazy quality to their faces and dresses, the color palette skews toward somewhat bright pastels and the skies are almost always this amazing gorgeous shade of blue. Alma-Tadema drew the sky in ways that I don’t think have been seen since. One of my favorite songs is Blue Skies by BT featuring Tori Amos. Whenever I listen to this I think of the blue skies of Alma-Tadema.

flamingjuneFlaming June, Sir Frederic Leighton, 1895

At some point I’m going to have to devote an entire post to Flaming June because it is in many ways one of the things that has completely shaped my adulthood. For now let me say that when people wax poetically about summer I always imagine them somewhat resembling this picture. Minus the woman’s somewhat contorted pose (when she wakes up she is going to have one painful crick in the neck a la the genie in Disney’s Aladdin) she looks very peaceful. The dress she is wearing seems to be made of a light airy material so combined with the fact she’s resting on what seems to be a patio with the sun setting behind her, I imagine she’s very comfortable indeed. My favorite part of this painting however is the reflection of the setting sun on the water. One of my lifelong goals is to go to Ibiza and watch the sunsets (while listening to downtempo music because naturally that is what one does there) with a nice cold drink in my hand. Flaming June invokes that in me;a feeling of absolute serenity after a long hot day.

twilightfantasiesTwilight Fantasies, Edward Robert Hughes, 1911

Ah Hughes. While Midsummer Eve is my favorite painting of his (and my favorite Fairy painting ever) this is a list about where I’d like to be in summer. Summer in the woods = bugs = Karyn getting bit by said bugs and generally being a miserable beast the rest of the time. Twilight Fantasies at least looks to be in the Autumn so the insect population is smaller than normal! I love the color scheme in this painting so very much. When I was first going to redo my room and was casting about for ideas Twilight Fantasies immediately popped up in brain because the scheme is just so cool. With deep purples and a hint of gold the painting is rather dark but still illuminated. I’m not sure what or who the main character is playing for, a first the cluster of figures looked to be angels but then I thought perhaps they were the Fae and then further I thought maybe it was anthromorphic frogs. Who knows! One of the things I’d like to highlight about this painting though is the usage of light, particularly on the woman’s face and shining through the background of the trees. It’s almost as if the music coming from her flute is what is illuminating the sky. Most of Hughes’ work is imbued with this sort of mystical quality.

winteroseWinter Rose, Kinuko Y. Craft, 1997

A (somewhat) recent work! Le gasp! Kinuko Craft has the distinction of being my favorite living artist. I first discovered her work when I picked up the book that this painting was made for, Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip. Craft seems to be mostly inspired by a combination of both the Elizabethan age and faeries. It’s a strange heady mix but it works. I love the starkness of this picture, the wild hunt riding in the background and our heroine front and center with the blood-red rose border. The eyes of the woman haunt me in this, not only do they masterfully accent the eyes of the owl on her shoulder (who is then again reflected in her cape) but no matter which direction you stand, they follow you. While I’m not entirely sure if I would like to be in the painting because of the plot (Winter Rose is a retelling of Tam-Lin and yeah, I’m no Janet) I don’t deny that on grossly humid days I would like nothing more than to take a horseback ride in the brisk winter air with light snow on the ground. Sans the Wild Hunt of course.

In conclusion I’d like to that while summer has its virtues (eating gelato in a sidewalk cafe, boat rides, the Jazz Age Lawn Party) I would gladly trade the humidity, swampiness of the subway and general grumpiness of people for the chance to be in one of these paintings. Unfortunately I will have to settle for the ability to gaze lovingly at these works, preferably in a place with lots of air conditioning.

Shopping the Pre-Raphaelites: a-England Nail Polish


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Apologies, I did not expect to have not written a blog post in 2 weeks! After I attended the Jazz Age Lawn Party my life got somewhat harried and I was sick for a couple of days. Hopefully everything is copacetic right now so blog postings should resume weekly. I’ve got another installment of shopping the Pre-Raphaelites for you today and it features my very favorite nail polish company in existence: a-England!

a-England is the creation of Adina Bodana, who originally hails from Italy. Adina previously worked as a designer for fashion, ballet and opera and also worked with Gianni Versace. In her own words (taken from the company’s website):

a-England loves nail varnish and stories
dreams and being real
being human and heroic in the common daily life
to face challenges and receive rewards
to treasure the secret corner in everyone where lays the spirit of creativity
the touch of regal and beauty in everyone
self esteem and to be kind to the others

Adina is inspired by the myths and legend of England so you KNOW she’s a kindred spirit to the Pre-Raphaelites. Not only that however she has numerous polishes named after works of the Brotherhood that seem to really capture the feelings and I suppose vision of the group. There are currently 5 collections of polishes with each collection boasting anywhere from 5 to 10 polishes each. I’ve chosen to highlight a couple of these with the assistance of polish swatches from the Polishaholic. My deepest gratitude goes to Jen for allowing the use of her pictures, please go visit her site for more gorgeousness.

Love is Enough by a-England polish. Swatch picture courtesy of the Polishaholic

Let’s start with a polish that is inspired by my newest Pre-Raphaelite obsession, William Morris. I have previously mentioned that out of all of the PRB Morris was the one I knew the least about and while I have had this polish since it first came out, I did not love it until I saw some Morris textiles in person. Love is Enough is a part of the Heavenly Quotes collection, a series which takes its inspiration from great words. This polish more than ever reminds me of the Blackthorn print, especially the way the glitter is reflected in the light. Out of all my a-England polishes (and I have er, quite a few) this is the one that nets me the most comments from strangers. The name of course is taken from the poem Love is Enough by Morris. Incidentally the weirdest bit of merchandise I own in regards to the Pre-Raphs is a t-shirt based on the “Keep Calm” design but it just says Love is Enough.
ladyofshalottaenglandThe Lady of Shalott by a-England. Swatch picture courtesy of the Polishaholic
This lovely polish is based upon a poem that was the subject of numerous paintings, not only by the PRB itself but many other great artists: the Lady of Shalott. Taken from the Gothic Beauties collection, LoS is probably my favorite blue nail polish ever. When it was first announced I was taken aback because it’s rather dark and I almost never associate the poem with dark colors even though the subject matter is fairly gruesome. After I received it though I realized the polish perfectly encapsulates the “‘I am half sick with shadows,’ she said” line from the poem. This polish is amazing in the sunlight.

My last two pictures are both taken from the same collection, inspired by Edward Burne-Jones 4 paintings that make up the Legend of Briar Rose series. Trying to get these polishes at once was HARD, it sold out fairly quickly but where the Pre-Raphaelites are concerned I do not play. This is naturally my favorite collection so far. First up is the one of the namesakes of the painting series, Rose Bower:
Rose Bower by a-England. Swatch picture courtesy of the Polishaholic

For reference this is the painting Adina used as inspiration. I’m mesmerized by this polish. It’s a deep rose color, almost red but not quite. The shimmer in this is absolutely gorgeous, I find myself talking with my hands more whenever I wear it so I can see it often. I feel the color it most represents in the painting is the back pillow Briar Rose is laying on. Rose Bower also has the distinct pleasure of being one of the very few pink shimmer polishes that don’t make me look like as if I’ve dipped my hands in pink dye.

Finally we have Briarwood.

Briarwood by a-England. Swatch picture courtesy of the Polishaholic

This is the painting it is based on and it perfectly captures the feeling. Briarwood is a lovely dark burgundy, almost brown with this shimmer that is absolutely bonkers. One of the things that stands out the most to me in the painting is the look on the guards’ faces as they slumber. Everyone else in the series seems to be peacefully in repose whereas the guards look like they are just plum tuckered out. The knight saving Briar Rose is also in this picture and his face just looks confused. I’ve always loved Burne-Jones’ male faces, compared to the other members of the PRB his men always seem more rugged. Briarwood also sort of echoes this feeling because it’s definitely less ethereal then the other polishes in a-England’s collections.

a-England also has polishes inspired by the Legend of St. George as well Arthurian myth. Their newest polish is “Hurt no living thing” inspired by the Christina Rossetti poem of the same name. The whole idea of nail polish inspired by art mind sound a bit weird but I urge fans of polish to give the company a shot, not only are the colors amazing but the formula is free of harmful substances and pretty darn flawless. Adina is hard at work on the next collection and I am highly anticipating it! I’m hoping at some point to get a gorgeous burgundy red based on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s a Sea Spell or maybe something inspired by Blodeuwedd. 

That’s all for this edition of shopping the pre-Raphaelites. If you are in England you can order the polishes directly from a-England itself, if you are outside of the UK there is a list of international stockists located here. Thank you for reading!

Sinking into her spell: Rossetti’s A Sea Spell


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I am writing this shortly after the sale of Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt via an auction done by Christie’s. The piece was put up by the Delaware Art Museum to help pay for a renovation bill. To say this makes me angry is a slight understatement. I am appalled, disgusted, horrified and find the whole situation an abomination. Kirsty Stonell Walker has written an eloquent post that sums up most of my feelings on the subject. The circumstances of this had me thinking about my feelings if this was my favorite painting. I realized that I haven’t ever fully expressed my thoughts on exactly why my favorite painting is my favorite so I thought I would discuss that today.

Last year during Pre-Raphaelite Day, the Pre-Raphaelite society held a vote on twitter to find what the most popular painting done by the brotherhood was. My vote was a painting I don’t really see mentioned:


This is A Sea-Spell by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and it is my favorite picture of all time.

As I’ve mentioned in the about page of this blog, my grandfather was the jazz musician Fats Waller. One of the perks of this growing up was my family was gifted with a lot of things, mostly music (my father’s vinyl collection was sort of insane) but sometimes we got bits and bobs of art or books. When I discovered the Pre-Raphaelites and was deep in my research phase, I decided to go through our book collection to see if we had anything about them. We did. I saw a small reproduction of this painting in one of the books (and I have no idea which one, I wish I did!) and I fell in love. While Prosperine was the first Rossetti I saw, A Sea-Spell was the painting that made me into such a huge fan. I suppose that’s why Alexa is my favorite model of the PRB.

The thing that stands out most to me about this painting is just how luxurious Alexa’s dress is. The gold just shimmers, the folds (which is one of my loves, when a painter gets the folds of a gown just right is one of my personal benchmarks for great art) make sense, the design is just exquisite. I told a former paramour once that if he wanted an idea of the type of wedding gown I wanted, he just needed to look to this work. Also of note is how vibrant the red in the hair is, even in the background when it sort of flows over the apple branch in the back. I am not sure what flowers surround the painting and her hair, perhaps apple blossoms? I know there have been books written on the flowers in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, however I wonder if there is a definitive guide to them. It would be a rather large book I suppose, but an invaluable resource!

Rossetti was also a poet and there is a poem that accompanies this painting:

Her lute hangs shadowed in the apple-tree,
While flashing fingers weave the sweet-strung spell
Between its chords; and as the wild notes swell,
The sea-bird for those branches leaves the sea.
But to what sound her listening ear stoops she?
What netherworld gulf-whispers doth she hear,
In answering echoes from what planisphere,
Along the wind, along the estuary?
She sinks into her spell: and when full soon
Her lips move and she soars into her song,
What creatures of the midmost main shall throng
In furrowed self-clouds to the summoning rune,
Till he, the fated mariner, hears her cry,
And up her rock, bare breasted, comes to die?

We can infer from the poem that the subject is actually a siren, the mythological (or is it dun dun dunnn) creature that has a beautiful voice which she uses to lure men to their death. I love sirens, they are some of my favorite beings of myth. What strikes me about this however is just how innocent Rossetti’s siren looks. Sirens are usually described as being seductive, sexy and this siren is…well she’s quite melancholy and pensive isn’t she? Not the bloodthirsty, come-hither types you normally associate it with sirens.

I found this painting at a time in my life where I honestly thought I wouldn’t survive. Looking at it makes me happy, it takes me out of my head and into someplace sweet. I think that’s one of the great things about finding an art piece that speaks to you, that feeling of something or someone just GETTING it. I’ve never seen this painting in person, even though it’s only in Boston at the Fogg Art Museum. I have been putting it off for various reasons, the main one being I might have a nervous breakdown in front of it. With the recent sale of Isabella though I feel like I really do need to take the time to do see it.

I’m not sure why this painting isn’t talked about more. Maybe the subject matter is too broad for some or the poem doesn’t move them. That’s fine, Rossetti isn’t for everyone. I do hope that those who do enjoy his work will take a closer look at A Sea-Spell and perhaps find something there that they hadn’t seen before.

A Sea Spell is on display at the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

A review of The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design


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This is a review of The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design, one of 2 currently running exhibitions dedicated to the Pre-Raphaelites at the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York City.

A couple of things to note about this particular exhibition. If you are expecting something on the scale of the previous  Pre-Raphaelite exhibition that originally was at the Tate and then came to the US via the National Gallery you will be disappointed. There are only about 30 pieces or so with the greatest concentration on Edward Burne-Jones. This is not a complaint by any means, I just want to temper expectations for those who might be coming out of town to see this. I’ll be splitting my review into two parts: part one will focus on William Morris: Textiles and Wallpapers, an adjoining installation that runs until the end of July and part two will focus on The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design. I’m doing it this way because the Morris ends first and I really do think everyone interested in textiles, not to mention the Pre-Raphaelites, would do themselves a disservice to miss it.

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