By Colin Cruise (Thames & Hudson, $50)
Released in conjunction with the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s major exhibition “The Poetry of Drawing,” the book reproduces the most comprehensive assembly of pre-Raphaelite works on paper to date.
Just flipping though the 313 illustrations in these pages, the reader can discover both the rough preliminary sketches that later became the group’s famous masterworks, as well as fully realized watercolors and etchings.
Most importantly, this volume embodies the renegade spirit that makes the pre-Raphaelites the eternal teenagers of art history. We’ve heard the story before—a band of young rogues firmly opposed to the banal and inexpressive output of their predecessors, who were impassioned by the belief that they could change the status quo, and made a point of seizing the opportunity to cause controversy along the way.
Yes, that might seem like a plot line ripped from a John Hughes movie, but this small cadre of Englishmen, who came together in 1848, rejected the aims of their peers and called out Raphael as the harbinger of the academic style they found so detestable. Together they laid out a set of doctrines, wrote poetry, published—though briefly—their own journal entitled The Germ and managed to leave behind a legacy of romantic paintings which recalled the haunting mysticism of medieval Europe, reinterpreted classical and Christian imagery, and breathed new life into the lush palette of quattrocento art.
Here is the place to find sweeping floral patterns that directly influenced those of the Arts and Crafts movement, dramatic illustrations of haunted heroines detailed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and an early drawings of John Everett Millais’ famous Ophelia (the painting now hangs in the Tate Modern) that embodies the “live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse” spirit captured by Shakespeare and immortalized by James Dean. —Sarah Fensom