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Pre-Raphaelites and the Decorative Arts

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From left: Evelyn De Morgan, The Potion; Waterhouse, Circe Summoning Ulysses Over the Waters; Charles Megnin, Sappho; John William Waterhouse, The Crystal Ball

How could Salvador Dali fail to be dazzled by the flagrant surrealism of English Pre-Raphaelitism? The Pre-Raphaelite painters bring us radiant women who are, at the same time, the most desirable and most frightening that exist. ~Salvador Dali, 1936

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Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites

Arts and Crafts has been called the Decorative Arts wings of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

At the center of Arts & Crafts, is a philosophy, and a reactionary one at that: To elevate the decorative arts to the level of fine art, and to make them personal and accessible.

For those unfamiliar with Pre-Raphaelitism, it is important to understand that this was not an artistic movement solely concerned with canvas and paint. It was a movement of artists whose paintings and designs were thoroughly entwined with stories: with ancient myths and medieval romance, with 18th and 19th century poetry, with the great heroic epics of the past and humble folk tales from the fireside. (Two of the most important artists of the movement — Rossetti and Morris — were equally famed as writers.)

Furthermore, these artists were positively revolutionary in Victorian times for bringing their rich aesthetic ideals out of the painting galleries and into every aspect of daily life — from the clothes one wore, to the chairs one sat on, to the gorgeous hand-bound books from which one read Chaucer and Malory. It is this aesthetic, along with the paintings and prose, that has survived for over one hundred years, as compelling to some of us today as it was during Queen Victoria's reign. ~Terri Windling

Pre-Raphaelites images are built around the symbolic and the sacred. Each element must have meaning, point to something beyong itself. Pre-Raphaelite work is laden with flowers and symbolism, mythic qualities and idealized women. Artists associated with the Aesthetic Movement ("Art for Art's Sake") are not really Pre-Raphaelite. The Pre-Raphaelite concept is closer to "Art for Truth's sake".

At Morris &. Co., designs for one medium were often translated into another medium. The Pre-Raphaelite artists here are "second wave", primarily Burne-Jones and Rossetti. Morris, while not a fine artist, was emblematic of the Pre-Raphaelite Art as Truth philosophy and at the social and intellectual center of the second wave Pre-Raphaelites of the 1860-1890s. Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones was Morris's best friend.

Preraphaelite Women

Days of Creation Angel backsplash

Jenny Morris was the primary model for Edward Burne-Jones' angels in Days of Creation; May Morris, his younger daughter, also appears. Jenny suffered from epilepsy, beginning in 1876, which grieved Morris greatly.