Red-haired rebels: The female Pre-Raphaelites

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Red-haired rebels: The female Pre-Raphaelites

There was a sisterhood in the genre that produced works as impressive as their better-known brothers

Hannah Furness


They have gone down in art history as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: a generation of male genius beloved for its romantic depiction of beautiful, often red-headed, women.
The National Portrait Gallery in London will this year aim to tell the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, replacing the image of women as “passive mannequins” to reveal their true influence.
The “untold” stories of 12 women now known to have had their own influence on the artists is to be told by the gallery, which hopes to put women front and centre of the “immensely creative social circle”.
An exhibition, entitled Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, will highlight female artists such as Joanna Wells, Marie Spartali Stillman and Evelyn Morgan who curators say played integral roles in the movement but have been largely omitted from history.
It will also uncover the details of the muses used for some of the era’s most famous paintings, including Elizabeth Siddal, a long-term muse of Rossetti who famously posed for John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, who is “for the first time” presented as an artist as well as a sitter, a spokesperson for the gallery said.
Special focus will be paid to Annie Miller and Fanny Cornforth, who together inspired and modelled for some of the movement's most famous paintings, as well as Fanny Eaton, a Jamaican-born model whose life story has never been fully told before on this scale.
Eyes will also be on Christina Rossetti, the poet of Pre-Raphaelitism and a model for early paintings, Effie Millais and Georgiana Burne-Jones, described as providing “domestic support for their husbands’ artistic and social successes while relinquishing their own ambitions in the process”.
A curator said the exhibition would prove the women of the time were not simply “passive mannequins” but “members of an immensely creative social circle”.
The collection will feature paintings displayed by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the second half of the 19th century.
Previously unseen works including The First Meeting of Petrarch and Laura by Spartali Stillman will be on public display for the first time, alongside as Thou Bird of God by Wells, which has not been exhibited for over 25 years.
Photographs, manuscripts and personal items will also tell of how the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters worked as models, muses and companions.
The exhibition will appear next to a collection of work by contemporary artist Elizabeth Peyton, which will focus on the painter’s portraiture.
Jan Marsh, curator of Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, said: “When people think of Pre-Raphaelitism they think of beautiful women with lustrous hair and loose gowns gazing soulfully from the picture frame or in dramatic scenes painted in glowing colours. Far from passive mannequins, as members of an immensely creative social circle, these women actively helped form the Pre-Raphaelite movement as we know it. It is time to acknowledge their agency and explore their contributions.”
- © The Daily Telegraph
• The exhibition will run from October 17 to January 26 2020.

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