Sunday, 26 August 2012
From Burne-Jones to Cubism
With a major Pre-Raphaelite exhibition looming at the Tate Gallery, the British obsession with Rossetti, Millais, Hunt and so on clearly continues in full spate. I'm fond of many of those paintings too, but when the Tate exhibition describes the PRB as an ‘avantgarde’, then something in me bridles. No, I’m moved to protest, the real avantgarde – a violent remaking of the fundamental conventions of painting, analogous to and sometimes in actual relationship with revolutionary politics – was in the early twentieth century, not in 1848.
Yet perhaps there are some tenuous links through from the Pre-Raphaelites to the great innovators of the 1900s. James Beechey has suggested as much in an essay on ‘Picasso in Britain’: ‘Picasso later affirmed ... the esteem in which he held Burne-Jones in particular: the wistful melancholy with which Burne-Jones imbued his female models in his work of the 1890s, his use of a reduced, almost monochrome palette, and his preference for such physical characteristics as a long neck, pallid complexion and drooping head, all left an indelible mark on Picasso’s early portraiture’ (p.11).
That Burne-Jones/Picasso link might suggest an aesthetic project for us too. The artist David Mabb has finely clashed Morris design elements with Soviet Constructivist motifs in his visual work, so how about now striking Burne-Jones themes against Cubist multiperspectivism to see what emerges? Or has Marcel Duchamp already done this for us, if we regard his Nude Descending a Staircase (pictured above) as a Cubist-Futurist reworking of Burne-Jones’s The Golden Stairs?