Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Geoffrey to the Parish Room last night to talk to us about the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB).
As we had hoped but more than we anticipated, Geoffrey enthralled our near forty audience with a passionate and detailed account of how the PRB (which was how the artists originally signed their work) came into being, and how this changed the direction of painting away from the ‘Grand Style' extolled by Sir ‘Sloshua' (Joshua) Reynolds, founder and first president of the Royal Academy.
Geoffrey began by introducing the ‘Dramatis Personae' involved with the PRB: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, who together formed the PRB. Ford Maddox Brown, John William Waterhouse and John Ruskin then joined, and it seems all of these young artists were actually very angry men who railed against the conventions of the Grand Style.
Geoffrey then discussed the impact on the brotherhood of Christina Rosetti, one of Englands greatest women poets, Effie Gray, a muse who annulled her marriage to Ruskin and later married Millais, and Elizabeth Siddal, an artists model who was painted many times. He recounted the experience Siddal had while posing for Millais' Ophelia in 1852, when she had to float in a bathtub full of water to represent the drowning Ophelia. Millais painted daily into the winter, putting lamps under the tub to warm the water, but on one occasion the lamps went out and the water became icy cold. Being absorbed with his painting, Millais and did not notice and Siddal did not complain, but she then became very ill with a severe cold / pneumonia, for which her father held Millais responsible, forcing him to pay for her doctor's bills.
Geoffrey then began showing us many of the artists pictures, but rather than simply detailing the important aspects and symbolism of each, he got the audience to participate in describing what was going on, and why. His easy-going style, much appreciated and commented on later by our audience, positively encouraged this involvement, and when he later explained the symbolism of each picture in detail, it made a great deal more sense.
Everyone had a really entertaining evening learning much from an easy narrator who really knew his stuff and could put it across in both a passionate and absorbing manner.
At our next talk, Anthony Arbuthnot will entertain us with his talk on the history of Great Yarmouth, which was founded by the Angles, recorded as having a population of a few hundred in the Domesday Book, but today is better known as a seaside town. It was an important fishing port for hundreds of years, with an annual Herring Fair that dates back to the 12th century, and in the Middle Ages it prospered, despite the harbor continually silting up. Several attempts were made to dig a new haven during the Middle Ages and the 16th century, and the present one dates from 1614. The town then grew rapidly in the 19th century, particularly after the railway reached it in 1844, and the herring fishing industry reached its peak at the beginning of the 20th century. Sadly there was also an appalling bridge disaster in 1845 that killed 79 people, mostly children.
Anthony is sure to cover this and a whole lot more, and we very much look forward to welcoming guests new and old to the Parish Room on Wednesday 19th November for what is sure to be a most fascinating and educational evening.
Andy Sheppard 16th October 2014
Some photos from the event