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!