Waugh and Pre-Raphaelites at Yale

The New Criterion’s website has posted an article about an exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art entitled “Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement”. The article is written by Stephen Schmalhofer and opens with this:

In 1927, Evelyn Waugh was fired from his teaching job and wrote in his diary that “the time has arrived for me to set about being a man of letters.” Apart from their artistic achievements, the Pre-Raphaelites deserve our gratitude for supplying the subject of Waugh’s first book, Rossetti: His Life and Works. His father doubted he would finish the book after he enrolled in an Arts & Crafts furniture-making class. He completed both the manuscript and a mahogany bedside table, but “not very well.”

In William Holman Hunt’s 1882–83 portrait of Rossetti, you can meet Waugh’s subject face to face. The two friends often posed for each other. In this portrait, they lock eyes as Rossetti looks up from his own canvas. The picture adorned the cover of Waugh’s book and is on display at the Yale Center for British Art during “Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement,” running until May 10, 2020. With over two hundred works, including significant loans from the Birmingham Museums Trust, the exhibition presents Pre-Raphaelite paintings and drawings from Rossetti, Hunt, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones, and more alongside Arts & Crafts enamels, ceramics, stained glass, textiles, printmaking, and metalwork.

The Holman-Hunt portrait mentioned in the article is on the dust jacket of the 1975 reprint by Duckworths, who also published the first edition. The portrait appears at the frontispiece in both editions, but the dust jacket of the first edition is unadorned (at least in the UK version). The US first edition has a reproduction on the dust jacket of Rossetti’s painting Proserpine depicting Jane Morris.

Schmalhofer makes another allusion to Waugh when he describes the Yale venue for the exhibit:

The building that houses Yale’s Center for British Art was the brainchild of the architect Louis Kahn. It and many of his other concrete and steel monoliths could have just as easily been designed by Waugh’s fictitious Professor Otto Silenus. Appearing as a modernist architect in Decline and Fall, he is one of the author’s perfect minor creations:

“I suppose there ought to be a staircase,” he said gloomily. “Why can’t the creatures stay in one place? Up and down, in and out, round and round! Why can’t they sit still and work? Do dynamos require staircases?”

In the course of his article, Schmalhofer makes several additional references to Waugh’s biography of Rossetti which was recently reprinted by OUP as v.16 of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. The exhibit opened on 13 February and continues through 10 May. For details see this link.

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