Past Events

DRN WIP Workshop: Laughing at the Pre-Raphaelites: Reading the Label in Visual Parodies

DRN Events – Susie Beckham

  • 23 November 2021
  • 4:00 – 5:30 pm
  • Online

This is an event for DRN members only. You can find out more about the network here.

The DRN’s WIP Workshop series is an opportunity for members of the network to present papers on their research relating to British art histories. We are keen to encourage collaboration within our research community and hope that these WIP workshops will help researchers develop their work whilst simultaneously making all our members productively aware of new issues, ideas, directions and methodologies developing within the field of British art history. As observed by William E. Fredeman, ‘Almost from the outset [...] Pre-Raphaelitism and its devotees have been satirized, parodied, caricatured, and in general made the subject of much humorous spoofing and criticism’, with notable examples including Charles Dickens’s hostile tirade against the group and their name in Household Words in 1850. However, whilst many humorous written responses to the Pre-Raphaelites have become well-known and discussed within the existing scholarship, visual parodies have received less recognition and consideration.

I argue that it is through parodic imagery – here defined as either an original design that has drawn from the visual language of Pre-Raphaelitism or a picture that has imitated an existing Pre-Raphaelite design(s) and added/changed elements of the composition to advance satirical critique – that the viewer is able to gain significant insight into the contemporary reading of Pre-Raphaelitism and its principles at a specific moment in time. The details that have been isolated and heightened by the parodist are therefore able to act as a magnifying glass, providing the modern viewer with the power to identify the elements of a work of art that were seen as fundamental to its Pre-Raphaelite character (and thus deserving of mockery). This paper is focused on the tricky transitional period between what scholars have frequently defined as the first (typically aligned with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) and second (typically framed around Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his circle of followers, c. 1857 onwards) phase of the movement. Through the utilisation of visual parodies, this paper explores the contemporary understanding and communication of Pre-Raphaelitism (and the Pre-Raphaelite label itself) and plays with the notion of destabilising this popular framing of the movement’s development and evolution.

The case studies that will be explored include Frederick Sandys’s A Nightmare (1857), based on Millais’s painting A Dream of the Past: Sir Isumbras at the Ford (1856-7); John Burley Waring’s satirical pamphlet titled Poems Inspired by Certain Pictures at the Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester (1857); and Florence Claxton’s The Choice of Paris: An Idyll (four located versions in watercolour, c. 1860). Through these examples, this paper explores the defining features of the Pre-Raphaelite movement at this time and considers what these images can tell us about the contemporary understanding of the ‘Pre-Raphaelite’.

About the speaker

  • Headshot of Susie Beckham

    Susie Beckham is a PhD candidate in the History of Art department at the University of York, having completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Glasgow (2011–2015) and master’s degree at Birkbeck, University of London (2017–2019). Her PhD research is focused upon a re-evaluation of the Pre-Raphaelite label, exploring its evolution from mid-nineteenth-century England through to its international and intermedial use and value in the present day. She is particularly interested in the relationship between text and image, pictures-within-pictures, and the visualisation of time and temporal anchors within nineteenth century art. She continues to conduct research on the artist Anna Alma-Tadema (1867–1943) whose work was the subject of her master’s dissertation; her article ‘Recovering Anna Alma-Tadema’ is forthcoming. Susie is also an Associate Editor at Aspectus: A Journal of Visual Culture.