All entries for Wednesday 21 June 2006

June 21, 2006

From Aestheticism to Modernism and back again, an article by Elizabeth Prettejohn

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Although Prettlejohn points out that her move to recognise the ‘concealed continuities’ between Victorianism and modernism is by no means new, her recognition of the similarities between different paintings so rarely considered in parallel, as well as her integration of the overlap between Aestheticism and Modernism, is very revealing. For instance, she draws a link between Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850) and Vincent Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Aries(1888), on the basis of their shared perception of ‘perspective construction.’ Her approach, she suggests, is ‘revisionist’ in the sense that she is more like the historian who rescues the maiden (that is, Victorian art) ‘from the evil modernist dragon or sea monster’ rather than the modernist historian who writes of heroes vanquishing over ‘the reactionary Victorian past.’

Her very illuminating article is worth reading for an insight into the not so very decisive cut between ‘Victorianism’ and ‘proto–modernism’ in art as well as literature. In addition to looking at the similarities in the form and structure of the paintings that are categorised as belonging to the two eras, she also considers questions of ‘aesthetic emotion’ and ‘effeminacy’ as well as outlining the origins of representational arts in early portraiture. The artists she considers include Whister, Picasso, Klimt, Burne–Jones, and Leighton. An unusual combination but not one as irregular as it at first appears.

Is the ‘long–nineteenth century’ over yet? she concludes. Her arguments have certainly convinced me to think hard about how to answer this pertinent question.

June 2006

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