Saturday, 12 April 2014

From Pre Raphaeltes to Pin ups

Anyone who has read my blog before when I've been speaking of my love of Pre Raphaelite work will know I've often held the opinion that the Pre Raphaelite models were the pin up girls of their time. I've always thought of them in the same way, they might not be portrayed as cheeky or scantily clad, but they are definitely unattainable and glamorous, and they certainly define an era through their beauty.

So you can imagine my excitement of recently finding out about an artist who managed to span both genres in his lifetime and reflected this in his art work!

Frank Cadogan Cowper is widely known as 'the last of the Pre Raphaelites' being born in 1877 just around the time Edward Burne Jones was creating such works as The Beguiling of Merlin. 

Although Frank Cadogan Cowper was never one of the 'brotherhood', that title only belonging to seven artists including the best known Rossetti, Milias and Holman Hunt, like countless artists after them, being loosely associated with the Pre Raphaelite movement was enough to earn Cowper an honorary PRB badge.

In fact by the time Cowper first exhibited in 1899 the original Pre Raphaelite brotherhood had disbanded over 30 years earlier, yet it's influence could be seen in artists such as Evelyn de Morgan, John William Waterhouse and of course in the work of Cowper himself.

The painting on the left is called 'An Aristocrat Answering the Summons to Execution'
which won him critical acclaim. It reminds me strongly of Milais work in paintings such as 'Lorenzo and Isabella', just look at the dog, and the attention to detail even the black and white lining of the aristocrats coat echos Isabella's ribbon in her hair. I'm also pretty sure that this picture is laden with symbolism of impending doom just like Milais work.

 As Cowpers career took off his evident admiration of the Pre Raphaelites could be found time and time again in his subject matter and style. Here we see 'Venetian Ladies listening ot the Serenade' which takes obvious inspiration from Edward Burne Jones work, 'Sidonia Von Bork' not to mention Rosseti's 'Lady Lilith'.

The turn of the century saw vast changes in modes in art yet Copwer effortlessly bridged the Pre Raphaelite fixation of beauty and medievalism with contemporary themes. I especially find  his models fascinating because as the decades roll by you can witness the fashion of the times reflected in their faces. Take for instance these two paintings both called Vanity, painted first in 1907 (using that frock from the earlier painting above once again) and then 1919 and you can certainly see a nod to the decadent screen sirens of the early 20's in the latter's face.

Perhaps the best painting by Frank Cadogan Cowper to illustrate my point about pin up girls is this picture called 'The Ugly Duckling' which is startling when you compare it to his earlier paintings. It could easily sit next to a Gil Elvgrin or Peter Driben. If not somewhat more demure than those playful gals, this lady certainly has the aura of a pin up, one of those smiling yet unattainable lovelies which always make the world seem just that little bit perkier

Cowper's work is a beautiful illustration of how art changes and evolves and is one of the many artists who existed between the great art movements, sometimes overlooked simply for that reason. I however, love the fact he represented both Pre Raphaelites and pin ups with equal flare!


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