Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Pre-Raphaelites were Hipsters

The pre-Raphaelites were a group of British painters from the mid 19th century whose subject matter tended to be allegorical, mythological, or classical. The paintings are all quite romantic in that no one smiles, and everyone looks depressed, especially when the painting is about love.

So of course, I adored these painters when I was in my teens. Because I was hugely unoriginal.

Right now, the San Francisco Legion of Honor has an exhibition called “The Cult of Beauty.” It features work from many of these artists, as well as examples of furniture, textures, and clothing of the time.

What is so delicious about this exhibit, apart from the fact that it allows me to revisit a part of my life I very much enjoyed, is that it is so obvious that the pre-Raphaelites were the hipsters of Victorian times.

For example:

1) They wore deliberately ugly clothes that harkened to an earlier era. In the pre-Raphaelites’ case, that time was either classical Greece and Rome or medieval Europe Now, it’s the 70s or 80s. I suppose pop culture had a longer shelf life back then.

2) They came across as unbearably smug and judgmental, even while accusing the dominant culture of being unbearably smug and judgmental. They had opinions about everything.

3) They were proponents of alternative lifestyles, which they documented rather openly. For example, one of the artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti had a well known, long running affair with Jane Morris, the wife of William Morris. You can see Jane in many of Rossetti’s paintings. Now, we have Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, in which some people are extremely candid about their life and current activities.

So yeah, I guess everything is a reboot, including personalities.

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