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  • Writer's picturekatebilbow

Myth and Magic: Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale and Evelyn De Morgan

Evelyn De Morgan

(30 August 1855 – 2 May 1919) - late Pre-Raphaelite

- figural, spiritual, mythological, allegorical, metaphorical.

- Primarily oil painting

- Experimented in sculpture

- Pacifist depictions of war.

- Signed the Declaration in Favour of Women's Suffrage in 1889

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

(25 January 1872 – 10 March 1945)

- late Pre-Raphaelite (considered one of the last Pre-Raphaelite painters)

- figural, spiritual, allegorical, metaphorical

- idiosyncratic symbolism (seen in Neo-Pre-Raphaelite)

- Primarily watercolour

- Experimented in stain-glass

- Influenced by Byam Shaw

Last night I joined an online event organised by the De Morgan Foundation on these two female Pre-Raphaelite painters. It was a really lovely talk from Sarah Hardy, curator at the foundation, and Pamela Nunn, a renowned Pre-Raphaelite art historian.

While it is thought these women were not acquaintances, ties have been made between their artistic careers; from the media they use, and their influences and themes, as well as their timelines.

Their paintings are so beautiful, that I thought I'd put some here!

The Deceitfulness of Riches, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1901)

This was probably my favourite painting of the evening. I love the warmth of the palette and the division in tone and subject. I love the spray of orange, from the dress, to the jacket, to the oranges in the tree. There's a delicacy in the forms; the rounded fruits, the whimsical ribbons, the peacock feathers. However, there's this hardened undertone of ignorance and secrecy. The shadowed figures offer an allegorical narrative. I found it particularly interesting that Brickdale often disregarded the typical symbolic figures of the time, ie. Cupid being the symbol of Love. People would buy her work and have to ask what particular figures meant. This idiosyncratic symbolism is a marker for Neo-Pre-Raphaelite Art.

I also love the carnations, because who doesn't!

Totally missed the cat, which makes the painting so much better!

Something that really shocked me was that Brickdale's primarily medium was watercolour. The ability to create such bright work is even more admirable!

Here are a few more sketches of works shown of Brickdale and de Morgan. Unfortunately I can't find a photo of Time and the Maiden by Brickdale but it was a really lovely print. A lot of these two painters' themes were centred on spiritualism (more so de Morgan) and allegory. There was often a focus on turning away from worldly wealth and vanity, instead to focus on truth and modesty. The titles of the work often introduced the viewer to the subject of the piece.

The Uninvited Guest, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1906)

Here, we see the bride indulging in her material beauty, alluding to marriage of worldly wealth and trivial expenses. Cupid sitting in the foreground, promising true love, if the bride chooses to seek it.

I think the element I love most about this is the drapery - an element these two painters present beautifully throughout their work. As curator Sarah Hardy commented, there's also a comedic factor to this piece, through the title, The Uninvited Guest. It seems Cupid wasn't on the RSVP list or, in any way, complicates the morality of this wedding...

Love the Misleader, Evelyn de Morgan (1889)

This was another painting I found interesting, this time by Evelyn de Morgan. She depicts love too, but by presenting the flaws in following Cupid's words. A blindfolded woman walks to the words of Cupid, foolhardy in her step, as she reaches the precipice of what could be either water or cliff's edge.

Youth and the Lady, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1900)

Another beautiful painting by Brickdale, again highlighting her talent in depicting drapery.

A viewer of the talk noted the possible significance of the flowers in Pre-Raphaelite paintings:

- Roses and lillies: Love

- Teazels and briars: Sorrow

Sadly, this is the only image I could find of An Opportunity. I wish I'd screenshotted some of the slides in the talk! This mother's dress is a beautiful muted blue, her baby's head of hair is bright auburn. In the glowing doorway, a woman stands in green with clasped hands. In the top left corner, the figure of God watches in blue and gold. The flowers in the base of the painting are lively white lilies. The painting seems an allegory of Christian kindness and acceptance to a mother with an illegitimate child, drawing parallels with the story of Mary.

An Opportunity, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (c.1901)

The Passing of the Soul at Death, Evelyn de Morgan (1910-1919)

While I'm not keen on the the entirety of this painting, in terms of mythological subject and composition, I love de Morgan's depiction of these women's dresses.

Theres such a delicacy to their undulations and tone. They're beautiful.

I thoroughly enjoyed this talk. It was wonderful to discover these painters, and witness the beauty in their work. It was also lovely to hear the Sarah and Pamela talk with such passion about two artists who they have helped bring to light after a certain shroud of obscurity over the years.

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