Friday, July 21, 2006

it's hot; I'm grumpy, and i blame the Pre-Raphaelites, goddammit

"When I was a child I spoke as a child I understood as a child I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." I Cor. xiii. 11.
Which is fine as far as it goes, save the part about being a man. Well then.
(This one goes out to Arabella! who is a Brit; so don't get all poopy with me ya limey bastards.)
When I was young I was SWOONY over the Pre-Raphaelites.

My God, the opulent colors, the dramatic poses, the ethereal forms and languid gestures! No one was more shocked than I was to discover that these paintings came out of a 'serious' school of art. I had always thought they were book illustrations.
Now that I am a grown woman *ahem* there isn't a one of them I would hang in a main room of my home. I still look at the 'serious school of art' aspect with the same bemusement, though.

William Waterhouse occupies the nadir of the pretty wallpaper-whups, the Pre-Raphaelite movement. I believe he had a keen enough appreciation of business to realize that in the end he needed to create something in keeping with a passing trend that would look nice on a clients' wall. Take poor St. Eulalia* here, dead in the snow with the pigeons picking at her toes. Somehow he manages to make even this decorative. Give the man his due; he was a fantastic artist and technician.

Wacky, zany, loveable madcap commie William Morris actually DID turn out pretty wallpaper. Pretty textiles, pretty furniture, pretty homes and pretty bad fiction, too. Still, good for you, Bill. He stated exactly what his aim was; elevating craft, and by God he did. He may have been a goofturd, he may have been windy and self-important, but he was honest about his calling. Publicly.

There are lots of other artists who gathered under the Pre-Raphaelites' banner, and many of them were quite good at what they did and worthy of a favorable mention. But I, uh, don't know very much about them. And since it's more fun to leave a flaming bag of shit on someone doorstep than it is to sing praises, I present you Holman Hunt.

Holman Hunts' work has an extremely visceral effect on me. It makes me long to travel back in time and beat the living crap out of him with a pitching wedge for being such a SENTITOUS WAD OF PUKE. Remember the kid on the playground that smelled like pee, the tattletale, always trying to kiss girls and wipe boogers on people? I am certain that this describes Holman Hunt as a child.

I can't help it. Everything about his work makes me want to dig him up and set him on fire. His use of color BLOWS. His models are ugly and have a strangely unwashed look to them, many times.
And he uses INDOOR light on OUTDOOR subjects. GOD, this makes me nuts!

This is like bad carnival superimposition. Am I not supposed to notice this? What the fuck? GAAAAAAAH.

Yet stay; and let us focus for a while on his poor grasp of symbolism. Yes, do lets.
Poor grasp indeed; in his hands symbolism is a highly annoyed dogfish that he's frantically trying to club to death with a sock. Remember: Just because you use a lot of symbolism does not automatically mean that you use it well. Let's give it the hamster test, shall we?

Guest hamster: bluto schmuggleware,
a typical hamster on the street

Tell me what is going on in this picture.
-Well, its some sheep.
What else?
-It's sheep...outside.
-Um. Yeah. Sheep.
No no no you dumb hamster! This is a stinging, biting sociopolitical comment on Englands' lack of preparedness and leadership and stuff! Bad hamster! Go back to college!

Gentle reader, I ask you: Should this have ever been painted?

No. No, it should not ever have been painted.
At this moment I cannot think of another single image that annoys me as much as this one.
Lets give it the hamster test!

Now tell me what is happening here.
-It looks like she sat in his lap and got surprised when he popped a wooder.
Victorians never, ever popped wooders. It made Queen Victoria cry.
-No, lookit! He's saying, like 'Hey, come one, it's friendly!' and she's like 'Woo! Wasn't expecting THAT!"
-She looked out the window and saw a UFO?
You Philistine of a hamster; that is CLEARLY a picture of a womans' higher being awakening. She is leaving the embrace of luxury to embrace Salvation! She has realized that she CAN rise above debasement and leave delivingroom!**

And then...there's this. Well?
-She owns a depressing houseplant?
Try again...
-She owns depressing pottery?
-She forgot to take her birth control pills? She forgot to use moisturizer after she exfoliated? She's trying to hear the ocean?
No, no no. NOTHING could be more clear. Obviously she is a woman in the grip of a strange and powerful love...a love so strange and powerful that it cause her to decapitate her recently deceased lover and put his head in that giant urn. And plant basil on top of it.
-...All right. Now you're just fucking with me.

Bluto Exuent.
Good thing too, because here comes a man who really needed a hamster up the ass;
Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
What a prize creep. I can hardly stand to look at this guy...he's begging for an aluminum baseball bat; man, right to the side of the head. Wwwwwwwwhap! Home run! Right over the fence.
First of all, he self-named. Wwwhap! That earned him a freebie.
Notice how people who self-name never choose anything like Paul or Mary? Its always something simpy. Like Dante. Or Moonshadow Warrior or Jas'Mynne.

Today, our Mr. Rossetti would be a sweater humping emo boy with a razrphone and ironic hair. He'd weigh 98 lbs soaking wet and be prone to bronchial aliments. And smoke 'Camel' cigarettes. He would be a vegetarian. He would have a dirty, dogeared copy of Joseph Campbells' 'Hero with a Thousand Faces' and it would be papered with yellow Postits. He would have a rip-roaring case of herpes, genital warts and be a carrier of chlamydia. Every woman he knew would be itching and burning and afraid to go for long car rides.
God I HATE this guy.

This is his wife and model, Elizabeth Siddal; a plain, thin unremarkable woman, yet a perfect tabula rasa for him to scribble all over. He marries her after condescending to live with her socially inferior ass for 11 years, all the while putting the meat to everything female that crossed his line of vision. A few months after he does her this huge favor, she loses a child and commits suicide. But he loves her SO MUCH that he buries a book of his love poetry with her-what a romantic gesture!! Except he gets to thinking about how great this poetry is and how it's his only copy, so he has some friends rob her fucking grave a few months later so he can get it back; the self-centered, craven little prick. What a guy!
This is his picture of his wife.

Ah. Much better. She has lips now. And she's, you know, pretty.

This is a picture of his friends wife, just about everybody's model, and Rossetti's mistress, Jane Morris.

A woman who possesses an undeniably glorious bone structure, not to mention a head of hair you could get lost in. And a decidedly Mediterranean cast to her features.

This is her, whited-up jest a tech, by yours truly. The way he always sees her. Neck and bone structure, hair and lips. What an IMPROVEMENT,, huh?

All his women are the same...mindless, exquisite, room-temperature bodies flapping around the landscape like wet laundry. The very last thing Rossetti wants in his 'idealized' women is anything like a person present.
This is not just wallpaper...
This is icky wallpaper.

And Bluto agrees.

With no detectable aroma whatsoever. Other than cuteness.

**boy, I remember the martyrdom of St. Eulalia a little differently than this...torn with hooks and set afire, wasn't she? maybe they tossed her in a snowbank to put her out or something.
**forgive me; I could not help it. I truly apologize for any permanent damage that may have caused.


  1. Love the post. I agree completely about Holman Hunt. I think we should rename him Holman Cunt. Much better. Come to England sometime and I'll take you up to Manchester. The museum there has a really good collection of pre-raphelite stuff, including a couple Ford Maddox Fords that will make you weep.

    (Um, you do know that's not actually Bluto, don't you?)

  2. re: The couple at the piano.

    The man with the surprise wooder is practicing the forerunner to the modern 'dick in the popcorn box trick.'

    You know, the one in which the couple go to the movies and the fella places the popcorn box on his lap.

    His date reaches in for a handful of popcorn and surprise! Wooder!

  3. cb: god, i'd love to. my hs english teacher had a william waterhouse that stopped me dead in my tracks the first time i laid eyes on it.
    sweetheart, check the cage. see that little portmanteau in the corner? look at the stickers. see the 'Evergreen State' one? yep.
    mj: see, and Hunt is documenting an important first in the history of the practical joke! when you explain it, it makes so much more sense.

  4. Re the popping wooder picture. It creeps me out to the max, but I can't stop scrolling back up to look at it. Something to do with her facial expression.

    Is there something wrong with me?

  5. i'm adopting you. you are now my mother.

    i mean this totally. be afraid.

  6. William Morris used to live here in Bexleyheath, about 10 minutes' ride from ours in the Red House, which was designed for him by Philip Webb and is a National Trust property. Wasn't he a pioneer of kitsch before it was considered kitsch? Not my sort of thing, and God knows why he wanted to live in Bexleyheath ... there wasn't even an Asda here then.

  7. Hey...easy on Joseph Campbell.

  8. But honestly...again, I am nurtured at your art history tutorial. The image of the boner during the piano recital struck me exactly the same way..."Ah, come on Baby! What do ya want from a guy when you're lookin so hot." The young maiden looks as if she may be having a Joan of Arc moment in response. Aaah, it happens.
    And also the woman with the plant, struck by some mental health emergency: it seemed she also might be tuning the plant to see if she can get the ballgame.
    Any way you slice it...meds are necessary. And apparently cures for ever sexual disease known to the medical community for the artists. Now THAT is sexy.

  9. Anonymous3:18 PM

    i'm not too proud to admit i am a Philistine when it comes to art (or, if i've read this correctly, non-art, or questionable art, or "fuck me in the heart what the hell is going on in that picture anyway?" art) so i truly appreciate this tutorial on the subject. or wallpaper. or hamsters. what are we talking about again?

    i just realized one of the reasons i'm so glad to be reading you is that i'm gonna sound mighty smart when i'm around other people who know even less than i do about such things! (hard to imagine, but there *are* a few). thank you! seriously, this was fascinating... and i so love your style and attitude (truly i do) i don't care that i feel stupid by the time i get to the end!! xoxo

  10. Here's what I thought when I saw the Surprise Woody pic...
    'Holy fuck, she's farting in his face. Why? "You blaggard, take back what you said about my sister!"'
    Dude, I'm so fucked up...

  11. The Pre Raphs and the domestic fart - now there's a thesis waiting to be funded by the British Academy.
    Well it funded mine till I started truanting in a jazz club and realized I didn't want to be a Dr. much anyroad-up.
    It was me versus Christina Rossetti; studying the Pre Raphaelite muse and model in a postgrad student basement hovel in Leeds (now there's a smack-down!.
    I bailed before I could become as barmy.
    Youth eh? I was attracted to the art well before the poetry and now that I think about it, I thought D.H Lawrence was pretty cool then too! And Keats. Oh. No, I still like a bit of Keats every now and then: Isabella and the Pot of Basil! Well you would, wouldn't you? Put your boyfriend's head in a pot, like?

    Still like the frocks. Thanks! What a larf.

  12. And Chaucer's right about Manchester. For the rest, head to Birmingham City Art Gallery where you can have afternoon tea surrounded by Burne-Jones.

  13. billy: no, i understand completely. she has a demented, thorazine kind of allure. its the googly eyeballs i think.
    surly: NO BREASTFEEDING. i mean it.
    betty: yes! i've heard that! and thinking about it i can see the point, too, though i still like his stuff. over here he is considered a patron saint of the arts and crafts movement which is enjoying a HUGE revival at the mo.
    mutha: J.Campbell is only here being used as a lifestyle prop by the emo-beast. hell, the ones who weren't abusing laudenum were huffing chloral and nitrous, or rapping back the absinthe. decadent bastards.
    neva: i'm just an ordinary little muk floating in space and time who really, really likes art. except for some of it which blows goats.
    noshit: DAMMIT NEXT TIME YOU GET FUCKED UP LIKE THAT GIMME A HIT! that comment cracked me up so bad people walking their dog out on the sidewalk heard me whooping and he[hawing. shit i wish id thought of that! you're right!!!!!
    ara: oh crap you STUDIED this? *so paranoid* don't feel bad; i used to have a thing about Yeats. brrrr.
    i thought the pot of basil story was from the Decameron? seems like thats where i remember it from.
    you have no idea how i envy all of you who can take a bus or walk down the street and see some of the greatest art that mankind has ever produced and know its YOUR LEGACY. the closest i've come to that feeling in my life is seeing the American Modern Art exhibit a few years back. but tea with burne-jones? snuffling into a hankie with ford maddox ford? probably never happen.
    folks, don't ever take it for granted. XX.

  14. I have come to the conclusion that Holman Hunt must have been colour blind.

    And did anyone notice the resemblance between Elizabeth Siddal and Bree van du Camp from Desperate Housewives??

  15. Wow, great post. I loved the way you wrote about that Rossetti guy. I love history and I love art. But they are two things I have not found the time for lately. Thank you for making it interesting...and funny!

  16. Don't fret - I read CR's devotional poetry. That was a laugh a minute.
    Yes - Keats took the story of Isabella from the Decameron, and the tale of Lamia too, I think.
    There's your next masterpiece! The Romantics!

  17. There is some very swoopy and dramatic Burne-Jones in Kenwood. I enjoy looking at it and am a complete sucker for pre-Raphaelite-looking women (mostly redheads with butt-length hair), who always cast me aside.

  18. I think the wife looks like Jonny Lee Miller.

  19. That analysis was a work of brilliance. I particularly love the woman at the piano.

  20. Anonymous5:19 PM

    Freakin' amazing.

    Here's a business suggestion; my little gift to you. Write your own art guides and hire people to sell them outside major museums. You'll make a killing as it brings people closer to the art by making it attainable.

    "Indoor light in an outdoor setting" . . . even an idiot like me can get suddenly smart reading that stuff.

    Again . . . freakin' amazing write-up. I wish I had a publishing contract to give to you, but unfortunately, I don't.

    Keep it up.

  21. I'm with anonymous. And I believe Frobisher's onto something with the Bree Van der Kamp connection.

    As irritating as that little weasel Rossetti is to look at, I see he may have some box office draw and so I thought Steve Buscemi may be the man for the job. Give it some thought.

    Oh and that old popcorn trick just brought to mind the movie, Diner - need to see that again.

    Your art lectures are phenomenol - I'm catching up on all that I've missed.

  22. frobi: you're right! that tightass little miss perfect lady...she really does!
    awaiting; and thank you for showing me the most amazing pair of human hindquarters i've ever, I mean, dang...folks, click on her link and watch the flash video of the dancehall dancer. you will TRIP.
    ara; christine rossettis poetry...i ran into some on my trips around the preraph sites. very...victorian. sadly, i cannot do the Romantics because the Romantics make me want to stab myself in the eye with a fork.
    davethef: you could always idolize Maureen O'Hara (The Quiet Man)...she has the look, but she's been dead awhile so she cant do anything mean. one hopes.
    katty: thank you!
    anon: and thank you as well. why don't you put up a link instead of an 'anon'?
    g: dang, you're on to something. he does look kinda like buscemi in that picture. but i like buscemi and i dont like rossetti. whats a girl to do.
    I have not seen 'Diner'. do tell!

  23. you do need a publishing, y'know, keep you off the streets and whatnot. If the cops bring you home one more time for being belligerent and harassing art students and philosophy majors at the coffeehouses (not to mention heckling the poets and folk singers), I just don't know what I'll do.
    Well, I'd probably join you, actually. We can shout about overrated cultural and artistic icons at them.

  24. My head is spinning, SPINNING I TELL YOU, and why oh why could I not have had a teacher like you rather than the boring freaks who lulled me to sleep? (And me falling asleep is dangerous I tell you!) DANGEROUS!!)

    Why oh why did you have to imagine Rossetti as a vegetarian! OH NO! Can we say f-reak?

    When you were young? Oh lady you still are young so live it up! Wait, I don't have to worry about that one now do I? You seem to be doing a great job of it on all fronts and I do love me these lesson slams! Fo sho!

  25. FN these type of pre raff paintings just make me angry....and I dont know why....but now I do.

    Can we have a bloggers trip , we can take a picnic , find the graves of a few of the boys you mention and have a dance on thier graves.

    We could even dig Holman Cunt up , he cant be as rotten as his paintings :-)

  26. How does the Spotted Gooneybird in his great itchiness? Fingers xed for the little tyke. i've had the pox and it's no picnic.

  27. Anonymous1:59 PM

    Sits down beside Neva on the "no fucking clue" bench.

    All though the "woody" summation had me howling then trying to sober up when my boss walked in. Ahem. Oops.

    I know it's art when I totally miss the symbolism.

    Oh and the farting in his face again had me snickering at my desk. I'm soooo going to get into trouble. Meh. Whatevs.

  28. I'm with the hamster on all this. We're similarly built, and equally smart.

  29. Anonymous5:21 PM

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