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Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism: Why Music?

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By closely examining a number of key nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthete artworks Marte Stinis explores music in paintings

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“Colour is as much an art as music, being in fact to the eye what music is to the ear, - the expression of beauty.”

Written by F.G. Stephens in 1861, a champion of the Pre-Raphaelites and, later, the Aesthetes, as part of his critical project to incorporate musical terminology into his descriptions of visual art. Music as pictorial subject became sufficiently widespread by the 1870s for critics and writers, most famously Walter Pater, to grant it an ideal status for painting to be like or to aspire towards. Drawing on interdisciplinary research into music-art relationships, this talk will examine what music offered a number of Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic artists. This took numerous shapes, ranging from music as emotional, music as abstract, and music as symbolic, to name a few. What was the significance of music as a pictorial tool? Why would artists choose to incorporate music – intangible, aural, abstract – into a visual medium? How does the presence of musical references influence our own experience of the artwork?

Music clearly held a central place in many artists’ lives and oeuvres, including William Holman Hunt, D.G. Rossetti, Albert Moore, James McNeill Whistler, Frederic Leighton, Edward Burne-Jones, G.F. Watts, Kate Bunce, and Evelyn de Morgan. Moreover, it became a staple of the contemporary critical response, with musical metaphor widespread in the periodical press. Taking this wider view will help shed light on the various forms music took in these artists’ works, and why this was significant within nineteenth-century artistic developments.

Marte Stinis, PhD (University of York), is an art historian and researcher. She recently finished her PhD on Aestheticism and music exploring the significance of music as an abstract, temporal, and metaphorical tool in the work of Aesthetic artists.

Her research interests include interdisciplinary studies in the nineteenth century, the significance of music as a tool for abstraction in late-nineteenth-century British and continental art movements, and the temporal potential of music as a model of immersion. She is currently working on a chapter relating to Lawrence Alma-Tadema and theories of immersive antiquity, as well as developing her doctoral research into future publications.

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Organiser The De Morgan Foundation

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The De Morgan Foundation and the De Morgan Collection

The De Morgan Foundation owns an unparalleled collection of ceramics and oil paintings by William and Evelyn De Morgan. The husband and wife duo were key proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

The De Morgan Foundation is a registered, independent charity that receives no revenue funding from the government. All income goes towards managing the care of the De Morgan Collection, loans, tours, research and educational activities. We rely on the generosity of our Friends and supporters to enable us to carry out this important work.

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