The Victorians left their successors with much to think about, not least of which was the immense influence they had on art in general. In this era of digital art we can make direct comparisons back to the Victorian age and show how we are still influenced by that era today.
The Victorians were very much a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ culture – very hypocritical. To the Victorians appearances were everything, and art was part of that doctrine. Art went through a few changes during the Victorian era; the main change was that of decorative art becoming available to and affordable by the commoners. Previously only the aristocracy and royalty would have any form of decorative art in their homes. This major change can be attributed to the Industrial Revolution giving the masses better incomes and more disposable cash, and the Arts and Crafts Movement that created appeal for the taste of the common people.
In this article, I am looking briefly at the Victorian Fairy School, Arts and Crafts Movement/Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Portraiture. Links are supplied for further reading on all subjects and artists.
With each Victorian painting, I have put a Digital Art comparison. I am presuming that we are currently in the Digital Art Movement, and it is certain that there will be very many good examples to lead us into the future of art and whatever trends the future methods, software and technology will head us into from here.
Clicking on any of the images will take you to the original.
Fairy painting was very popular among the Victorians; it was seen as a form of escapism. It consisted of paintings of fairies or fairytale culture, usually with extreme attention to detail.
Probably the best known example from ‘The Fairy School’ is Richard Dadd’s ‘The Fairy Fellers’ Master Stroke’, which was commissioned by G. H. Hayden, and took an astonishing nine years to complete – although Dadd himself considered the work to be incomplete and accordingly added the suffix ‘quasi’ to the painting. The paint is laid on to the canvas in so many layers, making it so thick that it is almost 3D, and can best be appreciated through a magnifying glass.
‘Evolution – A Bored Game’ is the clever title of this digital art concept by Rodney (8025glome on Deviant Art). This is extremely detailed and takes the viewer through the ages of man – it is well worth a close-up study.
The Arts and Crafts Movement occurred between 1880 and 1910, it influenced many art forms, including architecture, domestic design and the decorative arts. There emerged from this movement some very prominent artists, probably the best known being William Morris – famed for his textiles and stained glass designs. The movement was inspired by the writings of John Ruskin. The Industrial Revolution brought money to the masses and the Arts and Crafts Movement in turn brought domestic art to the common people.
Ruskin and Morris are considered the ‘main players’ in the Arts and Crafts Movement, although Ruskin was not an artist – more an idealist, and Morris picked up and ran with Ruskin’s ideology.
And here is a modern-day textile created by Northcott – was the influence Morris? A lot of the design work we see today in textiles and ceramics can be visually directly linked back to William Morris. John Ruskin’s suggestions regarding what ‘the man on the street’ would like to look at obviously still holds true today.
Philip Webb was an architect, sometimes referred to as ‘The Father of the Arts and Crafts Movement’. A typical example of his work was in fact commissioned by William Morris: The Red House in Bexleyheath, South-east London which was designed in 1859. It shows the Victorian way of using many and varied shapes in their architecture, and of course, something the Victorians remain very famous for: chimneys.
We tend towards glass and metal in modern day architecture, a good example of which is the Swiss Re tower in London – nicknamed The Gherkin, designed by architect Ken Shuttleworth and built in 2004 It was London’s first ecological building and has 41 storeys providing 76,400 square metres of offices, a shopping arcade and, on the top floor, a club-room offering a 360° panoramic view of the capital. I know this isn’t strictly digital art, however, these days the feasibility of a structure is digitally calculated.
William de Morgan was a potter and tile designer. His decorative tiles often involved a series of tiles that made up a complete picture. Galleons, fish and fantastical birds were his preferred subjects. But his art was not too well received and his company suffered. He turned his hand to writing novels, and became far more popular in that field than he ever was at the time for his art.
In this series of digitally produced tiles, the inspiration has been taken from a few genres – the costume is in the Regency style, the subject is reminiscent of the saucy seaside postcards popular in Britain from the 1930s to the early 1950s, but Claire Hummel (shoomlah on deviantart.com) has managed to blend the differing styles into this set of tiles perfectly – I would like them as coasters for my coffee cup!!
Victorian portraiture was, for most painters, little more than a side line – and most painters dabbled in portrait work. At the time, paintings of nudes were extremely popular – Queen Victoria commissioned very many such paintings. William Etty was one of the foremost nude portraiture artists of the time.
Often in digital art nudity is not created for nudity’s sake, rather as part of the whole picture, as in this offering by Rozalyn (Miracula on deviantart.com) – we would assume the girl would not wake up to such a bright, lovely morning fully clothed, or wish necessarily to immediately dress, therefore, there is a reason she is almost naked. These days many people need a reason within the picture to hang a nude on the wall, as we live with the reputations brought about by pornography and other such ‘deviations’ in our society.
Edwin Henry Landseer was well known for his animal portraits, however, his most famous work was not in painting, but in sculpture – he sculpted the lions in Trafalgar Square, London. But of course, there are not many British people who have not seen prints of ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ even if few of us have ever seen the Landseer original, which is exhibited by the National Galleries of Scotland.
In digital art, stylising and conceptualising have no limits save for the artist’s imagination, however, talent and flair are and always have been the key to producing good art, as displayed here in a piece called ‘A Rare Sight’ by Courtney Wilson (Windseeker on deviantart.com)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His early works were based very firmly on reality, however, his later portraiture became rather conceptual, moving towards fantasy and mythology.
Talking about reality – did Lisa Derfler use paint and canvas or a computer for this beautiful portrait? Here Digital Art mimics painting at a high level!
Ford Madox Brown was best known for his paintings of moral and historical subjects. His painting ‘Work’ attempted to capture all of the mid-Victorian social experience in one single image. He even wrote a catalogue to explain the painting.
Here is a beautiful conceptual work by Alberto Gordillo called ‘Perdido St Station’. The city looks very industrial, therefore, you would not expect to see doves. The creature on the rooftop (half man, half bird?) – does he want to fly? There’s a lot to look at and think about in this image.
So, can we say we have advanced in leaps and bounds and left the Victorian artists standing? I don’t think so. We work with different media and methods now, but a good artist is a good artist is a good artist – always has been and always will be. Victorian art can be and is still appreciated today, just as digital art – when it is superceded by a new method – will continue to be appreciated in the future. I can’t imagine there ever being a substitute for talent and flair, and let’s face it, would we really want it any other way?
Do you think art is still heavily influenced by the Victorian era, or any other era or art movement? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.