A considerable number of women were active in every phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Some, as was the case for Elizabeth Siddal and Lucy Madox Brown, incorporated the ideas of their husbands and fathers into their own art. Others were deeply influenced by the freshness of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, by the resourceful, pious and naturalistic vision of its members and followers. At the same time, the condition of Victorian women was more than ambiguous – women had no right to vote but could open their own commerce, were published and read, and their daughters would soon know Margaret Fuller. However, what characterizes the period is a particular dichotomy of virtue and vice – that ambivalent tension residing in the conflict between the prototypes of the “perfect woman” and the “seductive siren” – and the corresponding birth of feminine self-awareness. Throughout the Victorian age and well into the first decades of the 20th century, there is this continual effort to find the nature of femininity, to reflect upon the mystery of woman and to redefine her role in the modern world. The study of the attempts of women-painters to represent themselves, or rather to depict the very concept of femininity, is therefore all the more fascinating.
[...] The warm autumn colours, the careful handling of light to portray the girl's face and hair, the meticulously traced details of the child's dress, and the accuracy with which her basket is painted give the whole a typically Pre-Raphaelite harmony. Colours parallel each other; from the blushing face of the girl, the viewer's eye is directed to the red apples, scattered here and there on the ground, and is brought back to the girl again. The composition of the painting is precise and well-balanced. [...]
[...] It seems almost transparent on account of that unique play of light and colour which is so characteristic for the faces of many Pre-Raphaelite models and which Swynnerton had succeeded to implement in her work. The mouth is depicted slightly open and with the eyes closed there is no other Pre-Raphaelite painting that parallels the unearthly sensuality and out-of-this-world transience of D. G. Rossetti's Beata Beatrix so well. Joan of Arc provides an image of woman that is both real and surreal. [...]
[...] The physical aspect of the young woman is at once like and unlike that of the typical Pre-Raphaelite woman. The first thing that attracts the attention is her hair. Bunce has conserved that softness of the hair which is proper to Pre-Raphaelite models but its colour seems unusual since it is no longer red, it is black. Actually, this is the only painting in the series of paintings we have seen until now that has a female model with black hair. [...]
[...] Taking up a theme which is one of his, Brickdale creates a structure which seems to follow the exact direction (going down from left to right) of the descending spiral of Burne- Jones' painting The Golden Stairs. However, there is a neat breach with Burne-Jones when it comes to the partitioning of the canvas and the actual execution of the painting. Brickdale has divided the workspace into two interconnected parts, the upper one being the larger of the two. Both parts are fundamentally different from one another when it comes to the use of colours and light, and the general aspect of the figures. [...]
[...] But he might very well be that often neglected double of the viewer of the painting which adds to the degree of involvement into Roper's crime. Once drawn into the painting, it is inevitable that the viewer feels on the side of the criminal and not on the side of the law. Here, the traditional image of womanhood seems to be completely left aside in favour of the image of the faithful daughter as the guardian of the filial honour and the social, political, and religious rebel. [...]
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