Log in

No account? Create an account


Behind a Portrait

Behind a Portrait

Previous Entry Share Flag Next Entry
I wrote most of this back in November and had nowhere to post it. Then I remembered Why, I've got a LJ now! A place to post exactly this sort of. . . erm, tale. This is from what was pretty much the best and funniest lecture in 19th Century Painting. It's a tad bit naughty but mostly really funny and odd - beware!

So we're doing the Pre-Raphaelites right now, which I'm so excited about because it's my favorite movement. What I did not know before today were some really wacky stories from time - this is the best one. It starts with Millais, who pretty much started the style - he was initially unpopular despite being a young painting prodigy, and most people didn't like the direction he was going in.

Millais had one friend/defender in creative circles, famous art critic John Ruskin. They were so buddy-buddy that Ruskin invited him up to his home in Scotland to paint his portrait. Up there Ruskin has this little wife, Effie, that he'd been married to for six years. Six celibate years. You see, he was a lot older than she, and had in fact fallen in love with her when she was only eleven. He wrote all these books and poems for little Effie, and waited until she was old enough to marry him.

Problem was, once they were married he refused to consummate their relationship, citing disgust with certain aspects of her person. Turns out Ruskin didn't realize that grown women had pubic hair.

So we had poor little Effie all alone up in Scotland, very pretty and a bit of a flirt, stuck being involuntarily celibate. Cue the arrival of Millais: young, glamorous, the artistic genius of the avant-garde. Things get a little cozy out in the country while Millais is supposed to be painting her husband's portrait - and Millais and Effie become confidants. She confesses the high-and-dry marriage. Despite being Ruskin's protege, he starts pushing her to divorce her husband.

Getting a divorce was huge thing then, even in England, and the whole thing was examined very thoroughly by the courts, which is why we know all the hairy details about things like pubic hair. Effie's and Ruskin's testimonies pretty much went all the way there. At the end of it, their marriage was annulled. Effie and Millais got married the following year and punched out eight kids total.

So, does this painting look a little off to you? Millais took his time with the background, depicting an actual scene from Scotland, but by the time he got to doing the figure of Ruskin all this wacky stuff was coming out into the open. Everything was majorly awkward between the two and neither felt like traipsing out into the countryside together. Eventually Millais had Ruskin pose on a staircase in his house while he quickly finished the portrait. Lolz!

  • Hilarious. Creepy. Hilarious. I suppose the divorce record included a discussion of the possibility of shaving? That "rock" beneath his feet really looks like a staircase. Especially odd is the whole idea that he fell in love with an 11 year old. Though, I suppose girls fall in love with older men at that age. But, there's that whole pedophiliac quality to it -- likes them young, until they grow up, whereas the older lover interest will only get older. So, I guess nude paintings of the time did not include public hair? At all? Any of them? Ever? 'cuz that seems like a particularly significant omission -- you know, he had it, so why did he assume his wife did not?

    PS... great to see you post
    • Pubic hair was always downplayed on the female nude, especially in the Victorian era, but it was still kind of there. The entire thing is so weird/creepy! It begs a whole host of awkward questions. Who tries to mack on an eleven-year-old girl? Why is he making assumptions about her pubic hair?! The way my professor described it, he was basically disgusted/terrified of the qualities of the mature female. So very odd.
  • hahahahahahahaahahahhhhahahaahah the stairwell handbar in the background!!!! Or it supposed to be a walking stick or something?

    Regardless. That is a fantastic story. Basically, ditto everything rth said above. And poor Effie! "I'm in love with you, I'll wait for you!" And then "Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww nope we're being celibate!" Poor girl. I suppose she got her happy ending though.

    I love professors who tell stories like this - it makes the surrounding subject matter that you're meant to be learning easier to remember, for me, and it's just so COOL.
    • Lol, can you just imagine him on the wedding night? "I've lusted after you since childhood, now let's get to it baby... wait, what is THAT? dksjaOMG ack ack" *covers eyes and runs* Meanwhile, poor Effie is crying and confused. So awful! But still kind of funny.

      And Meto, this teacher is my very favorite professor. She's got a story for every artist or important painting we do and tells them soo well. The ones about unsuccessful artists dramatically trying to kill themselves (and doing it wrong) are the funniest. After David lost first place in the Rome competition, he announced that he was ready to die and locked himself in his room at the Academie and refused all food... all his friends and teachers tried to push food under his door and he would push it back with dramatic suicide notes, etc. until he was finally coaxed out into eating food and painting again. And of course, the next year he finally won and the French government sponsored him down to Rome, and he became the great Jacques-Louis David.

      ^My god, I love crap like this. Gaugin! Arsenic! I am always quietly giggling through her lectures.
  • Omg, that is like the creepiest/most hilarious thing ever. But for serious, how did he not realize women had pubic hair!?

    otoh maybe it was a good thing--at least she didn't wind up staying married to a pedophile, ew.
    • Weeeeell, yeah. Though my first thought was that it was a tad creepy that he preferred his image of the child than the reality of the adult.
Powered by LiveJournal.com