Thursday, February 9, 2012


     I honestly don't know why I started drawing  Pre-Raphaelite cartoons...

A cartoon of William Morris and Edward
Burne-Jones, from my sketchbook.

...only it seemed like a fun thing to do at the time, considering that I was reading about them on my lunchbreaks in the bookstore where I work. But I've had a pretty long fascination with these men and women....

Topsy and Ned "inked" with acrylic gouache.



It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I love the Pre-Raphaelites. I was always drawn to the romance and color and beauty of this period of 19th Century art. Here I could find  depictions of myths and chivalry... or just paintings entirely devoted to a single ethereal woman in what looked to me like fairy tale garb.

Having worked at various bookstores over an 18 year period, naturally I relished the employee discount which helped lead to the accumulation of these:
My Pre-Raphaelite library.

But wait! There's more!
This also includes Pre-Raph-inspired novels as well. And there's still more than this and it
continues to grow as we speak...

Fred Stephens by William Holman Hunt. (1847)
I've had a crush on this painting for
I don't know how long...

So naturally when I had an opportunity to finally go to London, one of my destinations was the Tate Gallery. Unfortunately for me that year, the Tate had chosen to undergo renovations and the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit was on loan or on tour. There was a lot of construction work and what seemed like endless rooms of Turner. No offense to Turner, who I do like, but he was not who I'd come to see.
Millais' "Ophelia" wasn't there, there was no
Rossetti or Burne-Jones or Holman Hunt...
And possibly worst of all--

There was no painting of FRED!!

But thank God they left this one for me to see...

The Lady of Shalott (1888), by JW Waterhouse.

I've had a framed print of this on the wall of my apartment for years, so naturally I always thought this painting was considerably smaller. My friend Donna Dietrich took a picture of me standing next to it  

and you can see how big it actually is. (For the record, I'm on the short side...)

Seeing this magnificent painting helped make up for the disappointment I felt for not being able to see the other Pre-Raphaelite paintings I had only seen in my books. So I bought a "Lady of Shalott" fridge magnet, looked at a lot of Turner and moved on.

Thank goodness for the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We visited the V&A the day before we had to fly back to Philadelphia. And it was here I finally came face-to-canvas with one of my heroes, Edward Burne-Jones, for the very first time.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones standing infront of the world's
 largest gouache painting, "The Star of Bethlehem".
(This particular painting is in Birmingham
 and hopefully someday I'll get to see it...)

First off, I want to mention that I'd been having some artist's block before the vacation. I was still struggling to teach myself how to paint in gouache and I had a painting of a mermaid at home on my drawing table that I was convinced was the worst thing I had ever done. I had brought my sketchbook with me to London, but despite seeing a wealth of things to draw and having plenty of time to draw them, I only did a halfhearted sketch of Trafalgar Square and some pigeons and then never drew another thing on the trip.
At the V&A, I encountered the biggest watercolor/gouache paintings I had ever seen, which I at first mistook for oils. (Unfortunately for poor Ned Burne-Jones, someone trying to clean one of his paintings in Paris made the same mistake and wiped away a year's worth of work.)

But here was someone painting on very large scale with a medium that I was becoming very fond of. But it got better... in a glass case in one of the rooms was...

The Sketchbook.

Ned Burne-Jones' sketchbook, to be precise, opened to some random pages. I stared at it in fascination because it was very loose, very unpolished, playful and serious at the same time. I think I loved it for its imperfection. It wasn't as intimidating as those huge, beautiful gouache paintings of his. It was the shot of inspiration I was looking for.
When I finally went back home to my mermaid painting, I decided it wasn't really so bad after all.    

Winged Mermaid, 1998. Gouache with chalk
and colored pencils.
Something else I've always done (privately), was draw cartoons. Maybe my childhood years of reading Mad Magazine and the movie parodies rubbed off on me. As a little girl, I drew my OWN versions of movies or tv shows I had seen.

All this was before I properly discovered comic books... but that's another story.

But one thing led to another through the years and I began to like storytelling with word balloons. And sometimes the sillier the better.

Topsy and Ned compare sketches,
from my sketchbook.

Fred Stephens, the only male "stunner",
also another sketchbook cartoon.
So it was to my delight when I discovered the Pre-Raphaelites themselves drew cartoons of themselves and each other. Here are only some:

                                                        Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A young Millais and (beardless) Hunt express their opinion of  the Royal Academy's taste in art.

Jane Morris and Rossetti's pet wombat named
 Top after Jane's husband, William Morris.

Rossetti mourning the death of Top the Wombat.

Gabriel's sister, Christina Rossetti, responding unfavorably to a review of her poetry.

                                                     John Everett Millais
An overly windy day in Scotland with a bemused Scotsman fishing in the background.

Effie Gray, (who was married to famous art critic
John Ruskin at the time) giving Millais a
haircut after he banged himself up in
a swimming accident that day.

Edward Burne Jones

The artist has found some extra enthusiasm for working.

Ned nods off while Morris recites one of his epic poems.

Burne-Jones did quite a number of silly cartoons of his friend William Morris.

One of the many cartoons in the series
"Morris Gets Plastered."

Morris goes to Iceland--as Ned imagines it.

Coming up next: My own Pre-Raph cartoons and how Grace Nuth exposed them to EVERYONE. (Ahhhhhhh!!!!!)


  1. Color me the same color as your background with envy over that Pre-Raphaelite book collection!! I think I've read most of those volumes, but working at a library means I borrow them instead of buying. I would love to have a shelf (shelves) like that in my own house!!

    And what a wonderful story about finding inspiration through Ned's sketchbook. You can't argue with results like that mermaid painting ;)

    1. Thanks, Grace. :) Most of these are used books with the obvious exception of "The Last Pre-Raphaelite". The very first book I bought with my employee discount 18 years ago was that huge book on Rossetti by Alicia Craig Faxon.