Cruise introduces his article with the succinct statement that criticism of Pre-Raphaelite paintings was often considered under the premise of ‘badly drawn figures and faulty perspective as much as for their jarring colours and morbid subjects’.[1] Quoting from the Quarterly Review, Cruise demonstrates the often acidic criticism levied at the Pre-Raphaelites who ‘appear to have fallen into the grave error of believing that the correct drawing of the human frame is not essential’. A brief introduction to the academic tradition of the Royal Academy Schools is given which stresses ideals of proportion, anatomy, beauty and ‘the Ideal’. Cruise rightly points out that R.A. shaped many a career, not least with its insistence upon a certain level of drawing ability before one could even enter their school; these aesthetic practices are, of course, inherited from the Discourses of Reynolds.

Rossetti, Dante Drawing the Angel on the First Anniversary of Beatrice’s Death (1849, BMAG)

For the Pre-Raphaelites, ‘‘correct drawing’ and idealization were not simply conventions but lies, at odds with the honesty that lay beneath the true artistic creativity they aimed for’.[2] Cruise suggests there are two types of graphic work in the late 1840s and 50s. These are a modified version of the ‘outline style’ which can be found in drawings produced in 1848 – 1852, e.g. Dante Drawing the Angel on the First Anniversary of Beatrice’s Death (1849, BMAG). Such linear style drawings challenged academic techniques, and are apparent at the earliest stages of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. A second style relates to Ruskinian notions of seeking nature, e.g. representing undergrowth or landscape. Cruise does not offer an example and a lot of the available ones on-line are post this period. However, Cruise’s main point is that these distinctly different styles of drawing suggest a possible fundamental split even at the commencement of the Brotherhood. A third style is possible, one which stems from the first, and can be identified by its ‘intensely composed and densely detailed’ look.[3] Cruise suggests the fullest expression can be found in works of Burne-Jones and Solomon. Cruise equates the earliest drawings as a type of graphic handwriting, one which implies a level of personal investment and individual character can be read from the works. This style, ‘properly ‘graphic’ in its penmanship’ is enhanced by titles, dedications, quotes etc. I refer you again to Rossetti’s Dante Drawing sketch (which Prettejohn reads as an almost declaration of the brotherhood itself). Whilst other pen and ink drawings do also sometimes incorporate watercolours, they are not treated within this article, focusing instead on the outline style and its variations.

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Retzsch, The Chess Players, a design for Goethe (1816).

Considered as somewhat old fashioned by the 1840s, the style had found favour in Flaxman’s works such as his designs for the Odyssey (1793) or Retzsch’s designs for Goethe (1816). Millais’ abundant youthful talent had presented itself in a form not dissimilar to Retzsch’s and Cruise offers the Isabella pen and ink as an example (1848, Fitzwilliam). His youthful rejection of the R.A. should be seen within the context of this different ‘outline’ drawing style, in fact Cruise suggests this adoption was a deliberate and provocative one, exacerbated by their evolving angularity and stiffness. Interestingly, Cruise reads the Christ in the House of his Parents drawing (1849, Tate) as being a significant moment in this ‘outline’ style production, and he stresses that the linear awkwardness of this drawing actually ‘encodes their sincerity of purpose, evidence of their rejection of the ‘lies’ of conventional art’. This drawing, and by extension the corresponding oil painting, can therefore be seen as encompassing a very specific Pre-Raphaelite agenda. It is not a surprise to learn the painting was symptomatic but it is this new pinning down of the sketch within a hierarchy of practice and doctrine of technique that is of interest. What fascinates me further is that this sketch, the very foundation of this programme of aesthetic intent, is one which includes a suggestion of an angelic being (see the figure on the right hand side of the sketch). This style relates to the Cyclographic Society which was formed in 1848, in part as an alternative to the R.A. schools. The images which appealed to the Pre-Raphaelite interests of this time were the 1828 prints of the Campo Santo frescoes by Lasinio. These frescoes stem from the Catholic world of early Modern Italy. The Campo Santo Monumentale frescoes were produced as early as 1360 and as late as the 15th century. The themes range from the Old to the New Testament (e.g. Genesis, and Job) and include images such as the Last Judgement, The Hell, The Triumph of Death, as well as many images of Saints. The contributing artists include: Traini, Buffalmacco, Gozzolli, Veneziano, Aretino and Gaddi.[4]

St. Michael in a fresco from Campo Santo Monumentale, Pisa.

Rossetti’s drawings of this period inevitably have variations, as much as they do similarities. His illustrations for Poe’s The Raven are described by Cruise as being ‘freer, more expressive’ in their handling of pen and ink, whilst his Dante Drawing the Angel is exemplar of this ‘modified outline style’. Cruise reads the image of the angel upon the tablet as that of a ‘automatic’ work, and interprets the angel as indicative of the interior mind of the poet, whilst the rest of the image works as that of the interior of the room (exterior to the poet). ‘The visionary and the familiar are united in this work which is a graphic expression of an idea about the power of drawing and its union with the poetic imagination’.[5] Cruise goes on to read the drawing as not only a self-identification, but also as the potential of successful artistic duality. Importantly though, the depiction anticipates the ‘vogue for trance-drawing which moved from the inner circles of spiritualism in the mid-nineteenth century’.[6] Cruise bestows a strong sense of declaration and intent upon Rossetti’s drawings, considering them to have ‘the most communicative kernel of his pictorial ideas’ which were not always able to be reconciled within paint form. Later images seem to be influenced more by Blake than early Italian art, and this would follow suit, particularly as Blake was very engaged with spiritualism and religion as illustrated by quotes such as ‘a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars’ and watercolours such as The Good and Evil Angels (1805, Tate).[7]

William Blake ‘The Good and Evil Angels’, 1795/?c.1805
Blake, The Good and Evil Angels (1805, Tate).

Cruise moves on to discuss the limitations of outline style for achieving a Ruskinian truth to nature. ‘Drawing is neither simply a preparatory task nor a demonstration of skill but a fundamental activity linked to the ability to ‘see truly’’.[8] Ruskin praised their drawing in the well quoted letter of 13th May, 1851, The Times although he is also keen eyed enough to criticise their ‘over-carefulness’ of drawing.[9] Drawing was an important consideration for Ruskin, as well as writing two books on the subject, he also taught drawing at the Working Men’s College between 1854 – 1858. His ethos seems to be captured within the statement ‘I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw’.[10] One of his books The Laws of Fesole (1877) is based upon the practice of ‘the Tuscan Masters’, e.g. the Catholic Masters (again this may explain why there was a growing interest in the angelic body). Ruskin contributed drawings by Turner and Dürer, as well as those of Burne-Jones, to the School of Drawing at Oxford that people may learn and see.[11] Ruskin’s influence centred around encouraging a ‘general system for thinking about the role of drawing in education, and more generally, in national culture’.[12] Charles Eliot Norton, amongst others, extended this central activity beyond Pre-Raphaelitism. Cruise continues his final section with an interesting opening suggestion about Siddal’s drawings, remarking that her works would lend themselves well to such analysis due to be unblemished by formal training. The link between word and image was a long running Pre-Raphaelite theme. Drawings permitted design plans, but also opened up a world of illustration and publication which could bring a source of income. Publication of Pre-Raphaelite drawings helped to affirm their reputation and identity. The Parables of Our Lord (1864) are a case in point, which Cruise sees as having ‘great importance for the development of British art in the latter half of the nineteenth century’.[13] Such works extended and developed the ideas of the earlier Pre-Raphaelite phase, e.g. the Dante Drawing an Angel and as such it is no surprise that the theme also returned to religious texts and themes.[14] ‘Works such as Mary Magdalene at the Door of Simon the Pharisee (1858, Fitzwilliam) set new standards for independent drawings with ambitious narrative goals’.[15]

Dürer, Melancholia (1514, British Museum)
Sandys, If he would come to-day (Published 1866).

Sandys was an example of Pre-Raphaelite style technique (although it should be noted that Sandys objected to Rossetti’s suggestion that he was somewhat overly influenced by Rossetti’s own work. They subsequently fell out over this). It is evident that Dürer was of interest to Sandys and Cruise compares Dürer’s Melancholia (1514, British Museum) with Sandys’ illustration for Christina Rossetti’s poem, If.[16]

Rossetti, The Maids of Elfen-mere (1855, Tate)

Burne-Jones described Rossetti’s The Maids of Elfen-mere (1855, Tate) as the most beautiful drawing for illustration that he had ever seen.[17] Traces of this work can be found in Burne-Jones’ Going to the Battle (1858, Fitzwilliam). Such images all stem from their deep respect for illuminated manuscripts. Burne-Jones’ later designs move away from the angular stiffness of this ‘outline’ drawing, as they take on a greater concern and response to the use of sfumato. The penumbrous shadow of these later drawings is more in the spirit of European Symbolist artists (which in turn could also be considered as representing an interest in spiritual worlds, barriers between worlds, and the indeterminate realm). The final section of the article turns toward Solomon, whose ‘tendency towards synthesis and eclecticism’.[18] With a brief insight into Solomon’s personal tragedy, Cruise adeptly suggests the figure of Medusa represented Solomon’s own personal frustrations and grief. The oft repeated motif has much in keeping with the ‘mystical and literary subject matter’ of Redon.[19] Cruise considers Burne-Jones and Solomon as departing from the original aesthetic programme of the brotherhood – however, the angelic body is one theme which continues throughout both artists work. I concur that their work shows little interest in a ‘truth to nature’ pursuit, instead their works revolve around love, passion, desire, and sacred spaces. Cruise concludes that the continued criticism of their ‘poor draughtsmanship’ is ‘not attributable to an incomplete art education or a misunderstanding of prevailing academic conventions; Rather, it was a conscious rejection of convention at its most fundamental level to create a more expressive and original art’.[20]

[1] Colin Cruise, ‘Pre-Raphaelite Drawing’ in The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites, ed., Elizabeth Prettejohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp 47 – 61 (p. 47).

[2] Cruise, p. 48.

[3] Cruise, p. 49.

[4] Sadly a fire occurred during WWII, and ongoing restoration work continues on site.

[5] Colin Cruise, ‘Pre-Raphaelite Drawing’ in The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites, ed., Elizabeth Prettejohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp 47 – 61 (p. 51).

[6] Cruise, p. 51

[7] Accessed 11/10/14 at 13:48

[8] Colin Cruise, ‘Pre-Raphaelite Drawing’ in The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites, ed., Elizabeth Prettejohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp 47 – 61 (p. 53).

[9] Ruskin, vol XII, page 388.

[10] Ruskin, vol XV, page 13.

[11] Colin Cruise, ‘Pre-Raphaelite Drawing’ in The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites, ed., Elizabeth Prettejohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp 47 – 61 (p. 55).

[12] Cruise, p. 55

[13] Cruise, p. 56

[14] Note, my own reading of Dante Drawing an Angel is more within the consideration of Christian iconography than purely Dantean romance.

[15] Colin Cruise, ‘Pre-Raphaelite Drawing’ in The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites, ed., Elizabeth Prettejohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp 47 – 61 (p. 57).

[16] Ruskin, Rossetti, and Morris all collected Dürer prints. Kelmscott Manor has numerous Dürer prints, many of which are packed full with angels

[17] Edward Burne-Jones, ‘Essay on The Newcomes’, Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, 1 (January, 1856), p. 60 Groups of maidens together, or hosts of females singing, can often be seen as part of the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite angelic body.

[18] Colin Cruise, ‘Pre-Raphaelite Drawing’ in The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites, ed., Elizabeth Prettejohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp 47 – 61 (p. 58). [19] Cruise, p. 58 [20] Cruise, p. 60.