Remember Them And Smile
Commission to write Queer interpretation for "Pre-Raphaelite Knights Reinventing the Medieval World" exhibition
The Bowes Museum, Co. Durham, UK
“Remember them and smile: finding a Pre-Raphaelite otherhood*
Atmospheric sensuality, eye fizzingly saturated colours, moody mythology; created by a brotherhood of chivalrous, passionate, anti-establishment young artists. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was my earliest art love and the artists were my heroes.
Then things changed. I discovered more about the self-titled brotherhood and the ideals of Medieval masculinity which inspired them. It seemed to me, both they and their inspiration where characterised, not by a code of honourable conduct, but by sexism, nationalism and privilege. I still loved the art, but these guys were no longer my heroes.
This led me to find an “otherhood”: people often excluded from discussions, research and exhibitions about the movement. Excluded, I think, because of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class and archaic ideas about Chivalry.
My otherhood includes: female painters Rosa Brett and Barbara Leigh Smith, Jamaican model Fanny Eaton, gay artist Simeon Solomon (whose subject matter included 5th century, bisexual poet Sappho).
Their beautiful, complex, stories and work are under-explored. Under-told. But you can change that. To quote Christena Rossetti’s 1849 poem Remember, please don’t “forget and smile”.
Find them, be beguiled by them, intrigued by them, maybe confused or surprised. But don’t forget about them. Remember them, and smile.
*This isn’t a reference to Jason Rosenfeld the "Pre-Raphaelite Otherhood" (an essay about other men involved in the movement)”