A SEA SPELL
Some people travel for concerts and musicals (which I have certainly done before) but I travel for Art exhibits. Last year my husband indulged me in a 5 hour drive to St. Louis just for that purpose. We had the great fortune of seeing Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum at the wonderful St. Louis Museum of Art. This is one of my favorite periods in art and since I missed the traveling exhibit in Cincinnati, due to being in my third trimester of pregnancy with my daughter, I knew I could not pass up the chance again to see so many Rossetti’s in person. I must say that for those who have not seen a Rossetti, please do not pass up an opportunity to see one should an exhibit come near you. His paintings are truly hypnotic.
My favorite Rossetti painting was not in this particular exhibit but I have a reproduction of the painting in my parlor (which you can see in the last photo). It is called A Sea Spell. Rossetti also wrote a haunting poem to accompany the painting:
Her lute hangs shadowed in the apple-tree,
While flashing fingers weave the sweet-strung spell
Between its chords; and as the wild notes swell,
The sea-bird for those branches leaves the sea.
But to what sound her listening ear stoops she?
What netherworld gulf-whispers doth she hear,
In answering echoes from what planisphere,
Along the wind, along the estuary?
She sinks into her spell: and when full soon
Her lips move and she soars into her song,
What creatures of the midmost main shall throng
In furrowed self-clouds to the summoning rune,
Till he, the fated mariner, hears her cry,
And up her rock, bare breasted, comes to die?
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The model for A Sea Spell was one of DGR’s favorites, Alexa Wilding. Rossetti used Wilding as his model from 1865 onwards. The two became loyal friends, but their relationship was never believed to have been much more than platonic. Alexa was a strikingly beautiful woman who possessed that essential ethereal beauty so coveted by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. She is my favorite of all the Pre-Raphaelite models.
A perfect description of the Pre-Raphaelites is provided from the Delaware Art Museum and I’ve included that below. This museum has the esteemed honor of housing the greatest collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art outside of Great Britain.
In 1848 a group of seven young British artists and writers gathered together to pioneer a new movement in contemporary art-a move away from the established London art institutions of the day. The group consisted of artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and James Collins; sculptor Thomas Woolner; and writers William Michael Rossetti
Drawing influence from art created before the time of the Renaissance artist Raphael, they intended to paint directly from nature in an honest manner that rejected the painterly brushwork and contrived compositions in vogue at the Royal Academy. Bright, jewel-like color and close attention to detail, modes typical of early Italian art, featured prominently in their work.
The founding members of this "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" were very much concerned with the modern world in which they lived, specifically with the social problems brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the rapid urban growth that ensued. Their choice of subjects reflects these concerns and often showed a particular compassion for the "fallen woman," or prostitute.
The young painters gained the support of eminent art critic John Ruskin, who staunchly defended their endeavors in two landmark letters published in the London Times. Although the official Brotherhood lasted only a few years, its work and objectives influenced a second generation of English painters and artisans, including Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, which persisted through the early twentieth century.