Illustrator and theatrical designer Elizabeth E. Schuch of Immortal Longings discusses how the work of the Pre-Raphaelites influences her own craft.
The blend of gothic arches and delicate grapevines winding across the page first caught my eye in The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry. When drawing my own illustrations from classic literature and poetry, I love to conjure up a mix of architectural elements and botanical fancies as the framework for setting the scene.
The subtle humour with which the figures have been composed taps into Brown’s sense of fun in finding fresh new moments to capture from well-known stories and material. Flanking panels reveal the poets themselves, caught up in a self-conscious moodiness, each trying to look more serious and melancholy than the next. The mix of apathy and liveliness in the courtiers breathes life into to what could be a stiffly posed and structured scene, were it not the early work of a Pre-Raphaelite.
Finding inspiration from classical poetry gave the Brotherhood free reign to conjure up dramatic, evocative storytelling in their images that taps into the extreme moods of poetry and drama. Lost love, bravery, betrayal…the heady mix of words and images is a perfect match for the realistically captured emotions on canvas. When rendered in such naturalistic portrayal by talented painters like Brown, these classical and medieval subjects give us a glimpse into the souls of the characters in a fresh and vital way. Shakespeare’s plot twists and tempests come alive in the billowing garments and wistful expressions of the Pre-Raphaelite painters like nowhere else.
As a designer, the cohesive crossover that happens between the different crafts of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is fascinating to me: nature is incorporated into motifs for textiles and architecture, then these in turn influence the composition of the paintings, popping up across the ornaments of illustrations and the flowing onto costumes of the poetic heroes. The floral references in the poetry are turned into symbolic flourishes that make a framework for bringing the poetry to life on the page. It’s a mesmerizing effect that joins the art of the wordsmith and the illustrator perfectly.
Elizabeth E. Schuch works as an illustrator and theatrical designer internationally, creating artwork inspired by Shakespeare and Opera. You can see her work at Late at Tate Britain on Friday 7 December 2012.