Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Anna Lea Merrit, (18??-??)



Figure 1.--"The eldest children of Thomas, 2nd Baron Robartes, in a group portrait painted in 1885 by Anna Lea Merrit. Thomas, the boy on the left, wears a kind of cavalier suit, while his twin sister Eva, on the right, has the fashionable decorative detail of smocking on her dress". The other two children are not identified.

Anna Lea Merrit was a Victorian romantic painter, influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites. She did some charming portraits of children and families as well as for the times some very daring works.

Childhood

I have no background information on Merrit at this time.

Education


Marriage


Children


Career

Merrit painted many avaunt guard works such as Love Locked Out (1889), a rather sensational work for the time. After viewing figure 1 reproduced here, Love Locked Out rather surprised me.

Insights on Clothing

The image shown here in figure 1 shows a boy from a wealthy aristocratic family, the eldest children of Thomas, 2nd Baron Robartes. The Robartes family were from Lanhydrock in Cornwall. Their portrait was painted in 1885, the same year Little Lord Fauntleroy was published.

Thomas-Tommy

The older Robartes boy is Thomas-Tommy. He looks to be about 7 or eight. He wears a black velvet Funtleroy suit, but the style which buttons all the way to the collar. He weas a small lace collar and matching wrist trim with a very small red bow looking much like a bow tie. His knee pants for some reaspn have two rather than the ordinary three buttons. This painting shows that boys were wearing velvet suits with lace collars before the Fauntleroy Craze so affected mothers. It also is an examole of the smaller collars and bows that preceeded the Fauntleroy era of the late 19th century. He was tragically killed in battle during World war I (1915). [Howells] He is one of the many British boys discussed in World War I that were killed in the War.

Gerald

The youngest child in the white dress who we could not udentify is a boy who has not yet been breeched. A reader tells us, "This picture hangs above the landing on the teak stairs in Lanhydrock house, now a National Trust property. The unidentified boy in your article is Gerald Agar Robartes-as you say not breeched. He is the reason for the question, given to school groups visiting the property,"How many boys are in the picture?" Gerald became Viscount Clifden in 1930 and it was Gerald who gave Lanhydrock House to the National Trust. Birth dates of those in the picture are: Mary Vere (in smock) 1879; Thomas & Everilda 1880; Gerald 1883. The picture is extremely popular." [Howells]

The Pre-Raphaelites

Europe at mid century were in the throws of Revolution. The new generation was seeking liberal democracy. Riots and rebellion in 1848 spread from one end of the continent to the other. The results were very different, however, from what the advocates of liberal democracy thought. France began the slide toward the authocratic rule of a new Emperor. Conservative regumes were enpowered in Berlin and Vienna and Bismark began the process that would lead to a unified Germany underan autocratic Emoeror. In the summer of 1848, whilst Europe was suffering revolutions, thrones and governments were being overthrown, two young Royal Academy students in London, met and became close friends, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt.

Rossetti had been studying under Ford Madox Brown, but had tired of his rigid discipline and decided to share a studio with his new friend Hunt instead. Hunt was already a friend of another artist at the Academy, an extremely talented young man called John Everett Millais, and they soon found that they shared many views and artistic ideals. The three of them decided to form an artistic society of their own, a secret one, known only to themselves which made it seem even more exiting and revolutionary.

The name 'Pre-Raphaelite' referred to the era of Italian painters before Raphahel. It was chosen because it reflected their admiration for those early Italian painters that preceeded Raphael. They decided that they wanted to return to the honest simplicity of these primitive Christian artists, in a similar way to the Nazarenes, a German group of artists living in Rome. In doing so they rejected the current artistic establishment notably the Royal Academy and rebelled against what they regarded as their vulgarity and triviality. They considered themselves crusaders, wishing to paint nobler and more serious pictures which 'turned the minds of men to good reflections'. They also rejected the conventional tricks and techniques taught at the Academy schools and were determined to paint pictures with complete accuracy to nature, studying each figure from a model, and painting landscapes out-of-doors. Their are startlingly bright because they used pure colours on a white ground. They were greatly inspired by the celebrated art critic John Ruskin who had said; 'Go to nature in all singleness of heart... rejecting nothing, selecting nothing and scorning nothing; believing all things to be right and good, and rejoicing always in the truth'.

The ideas of the pre-Raphaelites were not necessarily new, but their enthusiasm, vitality and determination was to carry them further. Greatly affected by the turbulent times in which they lived, their early work was often based upon a social or religious theme. Also, they believed that a good picture was one that conveyed a number of ideas and the movement as a whole became a sometimes sentamental blend of romantic idealism, scientific rationalism and morality.

Their Brotherhood was formed in the autumn of 1848 and other artists were invited to join, but they were very selective and debated such invitations at length among themselves. Hunt rejected Ford Madox Brown--an ideal candidate--on account of his pre-set ways and age, but four others joined the society. Only James Collinson was a fellow painter, Frederick George Stephens never finished a painting and gave it up to become a writer. William Michael Rossetti (Gabriel's brother) was a writer and a critic, and the last was a sculptor called Thomas Woolner, who soon emigrated to Australia.

During their regular meetings of 1848 - 49, they discussed their ideas and drew up lists of "immortals", heroes of art and literature whom they admired. Their choices were suitably eccentric. At the top was Christ, followed by such people as Homer, King Alfred, Hogarth and Browning. Rossetti was the first of them to exhibit a painting under these influences, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, signing it with the addition of 'PRB'. He was much helped by Madox Brown, and it was well liked by the critics.

Following Rossetti, Millais and Hunt both exhibited paintings that also received admiration. However, in 1850, the secret of the initials PRB were leaked and the establishment reacted angrily against such a "provocative society". The Brotherhood's magazine The Germ, of which only 4 issues were ever published, tried to explain their ideals and other like-minded artists were asked to contribute. Unfortunately, it was a total failure. The critics turned on the Brotherhood in fury, Charles Dickens described them as 'mean, repulsive and revolting'. This caused rifts between the 'brothers', and accusations flew. But despite all this, Millais and Hunt refused to depart from their chosen path, Rossetti however, went his separate way, but was to have a great influence on the later phase of the movement.

Hunt then took over the leadership, and despite their problems attracted other artists like Arthur Hughes to their cause. They were also lucky enough to find some loyal patrons who were able to support them through this difficult period. In 1851 they again exhibited at the Academy to terrible reviews. But help came in the figure of John Ruskin, who only a young man himself, was regarded as England's leading art critic. He praised their abilities and their attention to detail and said that he hoped they would found a "Nobler School of Art". Millais wrote and thanked him and later the same day, Millais met for the first time, Ruskin and his beautiful wife Effie. It was the beginning of a fruitful, but tragic friendship.

Gradually the critics softened and Hunt was awarded the first prize at the annual Liverpool Exhibition. Their progressive success however, also coincided with the gradual break-up of the Brotherhood. Rossetti had turned away from landscapes and religion and was inspired instead by literature, notably Shakespeare and Dante. He created small intense watercolours along medieval and literary themes, even now considered as some of his best work.

In the summer of 1853, Ruskin invited Millais to Scotland with them, which led to the break-up of Ruskin's marriage, a scandalous divorce, and Effie's eventual marriage to Millais. Late in 1853, Millais was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy and in 1854 Hunt left England to visit the Middle East, thus ending the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Pre-Raphaelitism' was only just in it's infancy.

The next phase of the movement began with the meeting of Rossetti, William Morris, and Burne-Jones. Together they contributed not only to painting, were also strong influences on furniture, architecture and interior design, book design and literature. The Aesthetic Movement started around 1860, Pre-Raphaelitism becoming only one element within it. Rossetti was their natural leader, but passed his domination on to Burne-Jones when his health began to suffer in the 1870s. This was to culminate in 1877 with the opening of the Grosvenor Gallery, and Burne-Jones was hailed as Britain's leading artist of the time. His style was a mixture of Pre-Raphaelite and classical and he did not feel himself to be the leader of the Aesthetic Movement, but he remained faithful to the romantic style of the Pre-Raphealitism to his death. He was to influence many artist followers; John Melhuish Strudwick, Sidney Henry Meteyard, Evelyn de Morgan and others. Alongside the Pre-Raphaelitism of the Aesthetic Movement, emerged another. The Classical Movement, included artists such as Frederick Leighton, Poynter, Watts and Alma-Tadema.

Leighton's ideals were quite different to the Pre-Raphaelite's. His aims were to lead English Art back to it's European classical heritage. When he became president of the Royal Academy, he encouraged it's members to follow him, leaving the Grosvenor Gallery, Burne-Jones and Whistler to champion the Pre-Raphaelite cause. However, Leighton and Burne-Jones were both high Victorian dreamers and represented both the Romantic and Classical elements of the Aesthetic Movement, - one dreaming of Avalon, the other of Parnassus. Other artists also linked the two camps; Albert Moore is one who many associate with the Pre-Raphaelites, which he certainly was not. Holman Hunt was the only one of the original Brotherhood to remain faithful to it's original principles. He laboured for years over some of his pictures, and actually became more well-known in his lifetime than Rossetti with his characteristically serious religious paintings. To us today, they seem too overworked, too sentimental and too religiously Victorian, - all the things that in the modern era we seem to reject. His last great painting, regarded by many as his greatest, turns away from this, and returns to the romantic in the form of The Lady of Shallot, inspired by the poem by Tennyson.

Sources

Howells, Gayn. E-mail message, August 18, 2004. Voluntary researcher at Lanhydrock.






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Created: June 6, 2000
Last edited: 2:53 PM 8/18/2004