Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pre-Raphaelite Rock Stars

Ophelia by John Everett Millais

As I said in some older posts, I'm currently obsessed with the Pre-Raphaelite art. For those of you who don't know this art movement, here's a brief introduction: the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was a secret group of English artists founded by the painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, who were joined by other painters later, such as William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The group's intention was to take back English art to the freshness and originality they found in paintings of the early Italian Renaissance.
I'm absolutely in love with the PRB's paintings and models/muses (Lizzie Siddal now is on my list of "Women who inspire me") and since I reached my life's purpose, the next thing I want to do is make a pilgrimage to the Tate Britain (or visit a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, if possible) and Elizabeth Siddal's grave.

OK, now I've bored you enough, so I'll tell you what this post is about: since I knew the PRB through Catherine James' book, I decided to write about rock stars and their connection to the Brotherhood. 

Jimmy Page

Edward Burne-Jones, The Attainment: The Vision of the Holy Grail to Sir Galahad,
Sir Bors and Sir Percival
. From

Jimmy was definitely struck the most by the PRB. In 1978 he purchased two tapestries from a set of six by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. That set illustrates the quest of the Holy Grail and Jimmy lent his tapestries several times to museums for exhibitions, including one which took place last May in Washington DC.

Jimmy and the tapestry behind him. From

This is an article which features the story of Page's passion for the PRB: 
I have had a passion for the Pre-Raphaelites since my early teens. I would have initially seen them as reproductions, but I remember a visit to Tate and encountering the actual paintings. They had a profound effect on me. It was quite an experience – the realism of their technique along with the idealism, and of course the romanticism.This was before I attended art college. Most people would assume that it was there that I was first exposed to their work, but actually the teaching and syllabus of that time was much more to do with modern art and using modern materials – acrylics in particular – so oil painting, particularly of earlier styles, was not championed. My study of Pre- Raphaelitism, if you need to call it that, was therefore entirely self-driven and a personal quest.
As you know, this art was selling for mere hundreds of pounds at the time, but I was a student and didn’t have that kind of money to buy it. However, as soon as I was in a position to do so, I indulged myself. As to which of the artists I most admired, of course I adored Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti but is there any point or justification in singling out any of them? The art and life and death of Lizzie Siddal always moved me. I think it would be fair to say that I was pretty intoxicated with the whole movement.
Later, I had the chance to buy the two tapestries which are on loan to the Tate exhibition. There were three in an auction at Sotheby’s, Belgravia; I think the date was 1978. I fixed on the two I acquired, although all three were beautiful. What enthralled me was the majesty of their drawing and of the execution of the tapestries by those unbelievably skilled craftsmen. The attention to detail of the subject matter and even the background of verdure and flora is still quite astonishing to me. At the time I found it overwhelming. I only hope visitors to the exhibition will feel the same intensity of passion as I did when I first saw them. They were the absolute zenith of Burne-Jones’s and William Morris’s output. I believe Morris himself said the series of tapestries was his masterwork.
Catherine James

Catherine has pretty many pre-Raphaelite memories. In her book, Dandelion: Memoir of a Free Spirit, she writes that Jimmy page had a "pre-Raphaelite angelic face". She also tells about the long walks she and Mick Jagger had through Chelsea, during which he used to tell her the stories of the houses they saw. Catherine writes her favorite was Dante Gabriel Rossetti's house in Cheyne Walk. There Rossetti lived with one of his models, Fanny Cornforth, his friend, the poet Algernon Swinburne, and many exotic animals, including a wombat named Top and two peacocks.
Also, Catherine started to collect several pre-Raphaelite prints in the early Seventies, 

and for her official website she had Portrait of Katie Lewis by Edward Burne-Jones as the header.

Roger and Heather Daltrey

Roger and Heather's house, Holmshurst Manor, has stained-glass windows which were made by Edward Burne-Jones (as I write this post, I see that Ned is the most popular PR artist here!) and the two of them bought some Arts and Crafts (the design movement led by William Morris) furniture.
Furthermore, Heather is described as a John Waterhouse's princess by Catherine James:

Heather was my second visitor, and she made a splash in the drab, prewar maternity ward, gliding in wearing full Edwardian regalia. Her floor-lenght orange velvet cloak shimmered and billowed along with her elegant gait. She wore an antique jeweled band around her sumptuous flowing red hair. Victorian lace and tiny embroidered red roses peeked up through the rouched collar of her cape. Heather always looked like a John Waterhouse pre-Raphaelite princess. She said she was off to a party, but she always dressed that way.
Mick Jagger

Mick's house in Cheyne Walk.

Apart from his walks with Catherine James in Chelsea, Mick also lived with Marianne Faithfull at number 48 in Cheyne Walk, the street where Rossetti lived.

David Bowie

The Man Who Sold The World

David owned a dress which was known as the "pre-Raphaelite dress" and which he wore for the cover of his album The Man Who Sold The World. In an interview, David said that his album's cover "was a parody of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Slightly askew, obviously". A blogger, not knowing if he had a specific Rossetti's picture in mind, found a drawing of Jane Morris (one of the Pre-Raphaelites' models and muses) whose pose is quite similar to David's.

Jane Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Other pictures of the (in)famous dress:

Apparently there's another PR dress...




  1. This is such an interesting post! Also I must say that Ophelia is one of my favourite paintings and pre-Raphaelite art could never bore me. I found some great books on it yesterday so I'm definitely returning to that bookshop to have a better look! xxx

  2. I visited the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit in Washington, DC in 2013. It was a delight of beauty and inspiration. I didn't want to leave, and returned to many of the exhibit rooms again and again to look at various pieces. Everything was beautiful - from the textiles to the art to the furniture. Of course, Ophelia is beautiful in its romanticism, and tragic heroine image. Jimmy Paige is so eloquent in his description of how the art moved him and the tapestries he owns.

  3. I think Roger Daltrey looks like a PRB painting - so beautiful. He certainly did in his long haired days.