It is in some ways a bit funny that when many of us think of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, we often first recall the works of the latter Pre-Raphaelites and the artists associated with them, rather than the actual Brotherhood that began the movement in the early second half of the 19th Century. Many of the latter-day artists, such as Burne-Jones and Waterhouse, have become as synonymous with the movement as its founders like Rossetti or Millais, and to me that is all the more impressive a testament to their work. Edward Coley Burne-Jones‘ works were more heavily influenced by Medieval legends and ancient myth, and he was not confined to just the medium of paint on canvas, as he explored other venues of expression in painted and stained glass, chintzes and tapestries, and set design and decoration for the stage. As his work matured and he grew artistically, he showed a deep and abiding affinity for narrative art, creating entire series inspired by Sleeping Beauty, Perseus and the Gorgon, and Pygmalion. The darkly sensuous imagery he conjured from his imagination has become as immortal as the myths and legends that he idolized in his youth.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler rose to prominence as an artist during two very popular, very influential, and very different movements in the art world: the movements of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Impressionists. He was a bit of both, in terms of his aesthetics, and yet not really either in terms of his subject matter or his worldview. His paintings, unlike his eccentric and at times combative personality, were subtle and nuanced. Whistler founded a new movement called Tonalism, which featured an emphasis on detailed texture, bold brushstrokes, muted Earth tones, and a soft focus. Many artists, particularly Whistler himself, oscillated between intimate portraiture and moody landscapes. The resultant accumulation of his life’s work is an oeuvre that is imbued with conceptual depth and intellectual thought, but not necessarily wrought with emotion or overt expression of oneself. Whistler’s legacy is not one of sentimental gratification; not for the artist, who strongly believed in art for art’s sake, and not for the viewer, whose eye is caught more by his technique than by his romantic philosophical worldview. Rather, his legacy, as one must assume he would have preferred it, is the art itself.
Drawing inspiration from mid 19th Century art movements like The Pre-Raphaelites, and from late 18th Century Romanticism, John Atkinson Grimshaw created indelible images that are imbued with Victorian Era ideals. Innocence. Romance. Beauty. These simple aesthetic tropes of the times are permeated throughout Grimshaw’s work. Whether depicting Gothic manors or urban streets lit by moonlight, faeries soaring through the night or ships in the harbor, Grimshaw’s paintings are almost photo-realistic and yet simultaneously elevated by his imaginative lighting and saturated by his use of Earth tones. Little is known about Grimshaw as a man, and little more is known about him as an artist, but his work on the other hand is quite recognizable even to those outside the art community. Our modern notion of what Dickensian London was like has been greatly influenced by Grimshaw’s work, which itself is just as timeless and unforgettable as the writings of Dickens.