The Musee Jacquemart-Andre isn’t very tourist-friendly. It’s off the beaten track, and it’s pricey. But they were having an exhibition of Victorian British artists, and who can resist that ? (Answer: Not me).
The place is basically an old mansion bought by a fabulously rich 19th-century couple, and the permanent exhibition consists of all the art they collected : a miniature Louvre in the comfort of a home. But what interested me was the array of Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the temporary exhibition. Nearly everyone was represented, from John William Waterhouse (The Crystal Ball) to Rossetti to Burne-Jones (one of the Pygmalion series).
I’ve always been fascinated as well as horrified by this particular movement because of the way they depicted women. It was either the angelic pure lady (Beata Beatrix)….
….or the damsel in distress (innumerable depictions of Ophelia)
… or the evil but beautiful witch (Lilith).
Like in modern-day Hollywood, all the women, whether good or evil, are perfectly beautiful – even, if I may be crude for a moment, sexy.
And yeah, they only seemed to paint women, the weirdos.
What in my view has endured more than all the above are the words of the few female pre-Raphaelites who seemed to concentrate more on personal subjects such as spiritual fulfilment and life’s meaning, especially the poets like Christina Rossetti:
All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.
I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?