“…working first in the Academic style…then embracing the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s style and subject matter.”*

*from Wikipedia article on John William Waterhouse RA (1849 – 1917). Shown above: his “Vain Lamorna” – a Study for Lamia (1905/9).

“ “Vain Lamorna” is based upon a story by Mary de Morgan, included in her book On a Pincushion and other Fairy Tales which was illustrated by her brother William de Morgan, better-known as the famous potter. ‘The Story of Vain Lamorna’ tells of a beautiful farmer’s daughter whose reflection was stolen by the water-people when she was admiring herself in a stream, to punish her for her vanity. The fairy-tale has a happy ending when Lamorna’s reflection is returned to her after she learns her lesson and is reunited with an admirer who she had cruelly treated.” (JohnWilliamWaterhouse.home.blog)

From: Signs for the Times – Symbolic Realism in the Mid-Victorian World (1984), by Chris Brooks:

“The figurative and symbolic systems adopted by the young men who comprised the original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were incomprehensible and positively insulting to the mid-nineteenth-century critical and artistic establishment. After Rossetti’s indiscreet – if not, perhaps, uncalculated – revelation of the meaning of the esoteric cypher, PRB, the highbrow press replied with all the fanatic zeal of a religious inquisition confronted by rank apostasy. Hunt, Millais, Rossetti, even poor Charles Collins, ceased to be mere artists: they became violators of accepted good taste…

In order to defend and to justify his theory of perception, and to safeguard the separateness of external nature, Ruskin had also to evolve a theory that would deny to imagination the power of recreating reality assigned to it by the Romantics. Thus, in Ruskin’s theory, Imagination simply alters the pure impressions received by the innocent eye…

Let us observe how [Beauty] is concerned with the moral functions
of animals, and therefore how it is dependent on the cultivation of
every moral sense. There is not any organic creature but, in its history
and habits, will exemplify or illustrate to us some moral excellence
or deficiency, or some point of God’s providential government, which
it is necessary for us to know.
(John Ruskin’s Modern Painters (1843–1860) 4, p. 156)

A divinely ordained structure of meaning, a moral order expressing itself through physical beauty, is the organisational principle of the natural world. This semantic order is not generated by the perceiving consciousness but is a property of the outer world it perceives, as palpably real as colour, form and mass. What we have, of course, is Ruskin’s version of symbolic realism…

…The form which it takes in Modern Painters is closer to Dickens than to Carlyle. In order to read history in the way Carlyle does, biblical narratives and thematic patterns must be used as interpretative models. To this extent the meanings inherent in reality are coded and only to be reached through the correspondences established by a typological method. The symbolism of Ruskin’s natural world, however, is not conventional in this way, not dependent upon a specific interpretative key. It is understood immediately in and through the act of perception in the same way, that is, as symbolic meaning is grasped by characters in Dickens’s fictional world. Just as the sky and the mountains in Modern Painters function semantically to instruct those who have the humility to understand, so also do the ocean and river in Dombey and Son and David Copperfield communicate the nature and meaning of time to Florence and David. Nor does the material world lose one jot of its physical reality: a geological hammer can be taken to Ruskin’s Matterhorn just as certainly as Steerforth drowns in the Yarmouth storm. When Ruskin talks of “heavenly light, holy and undefiled…glorious with the changeless passion of eternity’ (3, p. 276), he is reading the same kind of transcendental meaning in sunlight as, in Little Dorrit, infuses the sunset over London, and which Sydney Carton reads in ‘the glorious sun, rising’ over Revolutionary Paris. Differences between Ruskin and Dickens are obvious. Principally, of course, Modern Painters is not concerned with the urban environment in which so much of Dickens’s fiction is set and which, for Dickens, contains its own structure of symbolic meaning. Nevertheless, for both men – as also, in his different way, for Carlyle – symbolic realism is a central determinant of the imagination and of the very process of perception. The attempt of all three ‘to see things as they really are’ never becomes the cognitive abstraction it becomes for Arnold. Instead, symbolic realism provides them with a strategy whereby the complexities of experience – the sheer quantity of things needing to be seen as they really are – may be set in significant order, given a structure of meaning inalienable from and ratified through the physical and phenomenal make-up of the material world itself. The same strategy underlies Pre-Raphaelite painting.”

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