Sunday, December 23, 2012

Inspired by Art

Inspiration for authors can take many forms, but for me, the visual kind is usually the best.  I love watching movies or TV programmes, where the characters often spark ideas in my mind.  But there is something else that really inspires me too - art.

I’m very lucky to have access to London’s many art galleries and over the years they have put on some fabulous exhibitions.  My favourites so far have included Anthony Van Dyck, Lord Frederick Leighton and John Everett Millais, all artists who were able to depict their subjects in almost photographic detail.  I especially love Van Dyck’s portraits as they really show the sitters’ individuality, but I’m also fascinated by Leighton’s imaginary but exotic scenes and Millais incredible attention to detail when it comes to nature.  Also, the sensuous silk clothing they often portray make you want to reach out and touch the canvases and have me imagining my heroes and heroines dressed that way.

Recently, I went to yet another fabulous exhibition at the Tate Britain – ThePre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde.  As I’m a huge fan of Victorian paintings, I knew I was in for a treat, but I had no idea just how wonderful it would be!

The so called Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was founded in 1848, a turbulent time in England and a time of change.  The PRB members felt that with the coming of the machine age, much of the beauty and spirituality of life had been lost and they wanted to fight against this.  At first, it was a secret brotherhood, and they refused to tell anyone what the initials PRB on their canvases meant, but eventually they explained.  They seem to have begun by drawing each other and I enjoyed seeing these early portraits.  The one of Dante Gabriel Rosetti as a young man reminded me of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen (English artist and interior decorating guru) and some of the others were rather dashing.

The PRB admired the freshness of early Renaissance work, but still wanted their paintings to be modern.  They also admired painters like Theodor von Holst and William Dyce – the Tate exhibition had works by both of these which I had never seen before.  One in particular, depicting King Joash shooting the arrow of Deliverance (from the Book of Kings in the Bible) was truly amazing!  Whoever Dyce used as his model for King Joash would have been welcome as a hero in one of my books any day!

(Ophelia - Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)
What I like most about the Pre-Raphaelite painters is their attention to detail (see for example John Everett Millais’ painting Ophelia, where every blade of grass, every flower, every watery swirl is lovingly painted; or the dogs in his paintings Isabella and Order of Release, one a very lifelike greyhound and the other a Jacobite’s mongrel whose fur looks so soft you want to touch it).  Then there are the incredibly vivid colours they used, as in William Shakespeare Burton’s A Wounded Cavalier or Millais’ A Huguenot, both quite stunning.

(Maria Zambaco - Picture courtensy of Wikipedia)
When it comes to inspiration for writing, however, it would be difficult to beat what I call the “hair” paintings some of the PRB members produced.  They all appear to have been fascinated by women with very thick, wavy or curly hair, preferably blonde or flame coloured, but also some dark shades.  Rosetti’s Monna Vanina and Lady Lilith (both of which used the model Fanny Cornforth as his muse) – with masses of gleaming golden tresses, are a perfect illustration and could inspire a historical heroine.  The same goes for his vision of Fiammetta and the darkly stunning Astarte Syriaca.  George Frederick Watts Portrait of Edith Villiers is of a beautiful natural blonde and Edward Burne-Jones’s Maria Zambaco is the ideal brunette beauty, with her enormous eyes and graceful neck.

In fact, there were so many incredible paintings I had to go back and see the exhibition three times and it was lucky I had a pen and paper with me!  Just the sight of all those shining tresses gave rise to quite a few ideas …  Are there any paintings that have inspired you?  I’d love to know!

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year!



Lynne Connolly said...

Every time I go to London, I try to visit two paintings. The first is Titian's "Bacchus and Ariadne." It shows the moment of falling in love, the minute Bacchus sees Ariadne and realizes she is the woman he wants forever. It's an astonishing painting technically, the product of a confident artist in his prime. The daring of the colour work and the complexity of the geometry take my breath away every time I see it.
The other is a complete contrast. It's Holbein's "Christina of Milan." So beautiful. She's dressed in black, except for a small white ruff at her neck and wrists. She was a young, wealthy widow, and the woman who dared to say "No" to Henry VIII. Holbein's portraits rank at the very top. You can believe those people will just walk off the canvas and talk to you. From the flash and colour of "The Ambassadors" to the muted, concentrated "Christina," not forgetting that Holbein created the iconic image of Henry VIII, the man was a genius.

Christina Courtenay said...

Oh, yes, how could I forget Holbein? He was amazing and I love his paintings too! Thanks Lynne :)

Stephanie_C said...

I love Leighton and the Pre-Raphaelites too. There was a brilliant exhibition of the PRB at the Ashmolean in Oxford a while ago. One of my favourite museums. I also love looking at local exhibitions, and bought a gorgeous seascape at our last one.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Lovely post, Christina. I went to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition last week. One of my favourite pantings is Millais' 'Mariana', standing with her back seductively arched. I also love his 'Chill October' owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber - lucky man.

While I was there, I met one RNA member and one from the Historical Novel Society within ten minutes of each other!

Christina Courtenay said...

Stephanie - I missed that one! Love the sound of your seascape :)

Elizabeth - I like that one too, in fact they're all wonderful! Yes, lucky Mr Lloyd-Webber having so many on his walls!

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Great post, Christina, I would love to see that exhibition! I was inspired by Maurice Bishop's Journey's End to write a Christmas story - Snowbound with the Notorious Rake - the picture itself can be found onine and it shows the lovely Exmoor village of Porlock in the snow on a moonlit night and a solitary rider approaching the inn......

Happy New Year to everyone!

Christina said...

Melinda - do go and see the exhibition if you can, it's well worth it! Glad you were inspired by a painting too.