After reviewing so many paintings by various Pre-Raphaelite artists, I was struck by some similarities I would like to review through two sets of paintings which I have titled The Power of Three and Out of the Tree.
The Power of Three
The use of three central figures seems to recur quite a bit. I wonder if this number is the highest that can maximize visual impact while avoiding clutter. In this sense, the careful arrangement of three can be elegant.
Out of the Tree
There is something artistically appealing about the lines of a human figure blending with or emerging from the lines of a tree trunk and branches.
The only way I can think of to conclude this series and segway into other topics is to quote Monty Python. “And now for something completely different…”
This (as well as last) week’s selections demonstrate another common theme in mythology: the spiritual personification of the elements of nature. The Storm Spirits (pictured above) again makes use of multiple objects to achieve a visual synergy. The darker cast of the painting combines well with winged forms, fabric, clouds, and mountains to bring the title to life.
I have included Moonbeams because of its interesting visual composition. First, there is the choice of three female figures linked by their hands and by a stream of ethereal fabric. Second, the variance of position in each figure adds to the sense of visual flow. Note the curvature of the top woman’s arm around a partially lit moon leading down into a diagonal descent toward the water. Finally, the glow of the moon and clouds and the reflection of light on the water provide an almost subliminal effect while the attention is drawn to the women in the foreground. I find this a very imaginative depiction of the personification of moonlight.
For my next several posts, I will discuss my impressions of individual paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This group includes artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, Herbert James Spencer, John William Waterhouse, and Evelyn DeMorgan. These individuals are often noted for their realism, and they have sometimes been criticized for this and for their practice of working off of photographs taken in their studios. This was explained to me by Michael Greenholt, an animator for DisneyToon Studios.
What can be said about these painters? They were predominantly men, enjoyed portraying scenes from mythology, and evidently also enjoyed painting naked (or nearly naked) women, which was at least sometimes in keeping with the myths they portrayed. The realism for which they are criticized also made mythology more tangible. In my opinion, the composition of their paintings is unusual and visually arresting. What often draws my attention is that which is implied but not shown.
Next week, I will begin examining specific examples of their work.