Pre-Raphaelites, hippies and historical revivalism

Bookmark and Share

 

Fashion and Dress History BA (Hons) graduate (2017) Elina Ivanov reports on being shortlisted for the prestigious Association for Art History essay prize

1. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A Sea-Spell, 1875-77. Oil on canvas. 111.5 x 93 cm. Fogg Museum /Harvard Art Museums, Massachusetts, USA. Courtesy of www.harvardartmuseums.org

1. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A Sea-Spell, 1875-77. Oil on canvas. 111.5 x 93 cm. Fogg Museum /Harvard Art Museums, Massachusetts, USA. Courtesy of www.harvardartmuseums.org

When the second year of my studies came to its end, I did not immediately have a clear idea for my final year dissertation topic. I did know that, ideally, I would want to incorporate aspects of art history into a topic centred on fashion, in the same way that in studying Fashion and Dress History we had extensively studied its relationship with broader culture and the history of art and design. Throughout my studies, I had held a particularly keen interest in the dress practices of women in artistic circles and subcultural groups from the nineteenth century onwards. The women associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement were something I was curious to look into for a long time. At the same time I wanted to draw my research closer to the modern day, and to look at the much discussed subject of Pre-Raphaelite women from a fresher angle. I soon had the idea of doing this by basing my research in the historical revivalism typical to the fashion imagery of the late 1960s and early 1970s, noting its visual correlations to Pre-Raphaelite images of women a century earlier (see images 1-2 and 3-4).

2. Nicky Samuel wearing a dress by Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell

2. Nicky Samuel wearing a dress by Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell for British Vogue, September 1971. Photographed by Norman Parkinson. Courtesy of theredlist.com

Additionally, I wanted to bring in the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic and spirit over wider hippie culture, which was heavily represented throughout popular culture of the time, particularly in popular music. The same kind of lyrical and visual evocations of women seemed to accompany hippie culture as had been typical to the Pre-Raphaelites a century earlier. In my dissertation I delved into this particular fabled feminine stereotype which, while drawing from history and its conventional images of soft and submissive femininity, seemed regularly to emerge in tandem with seemingly progressive, bohemian cultural movements. Throughout the course of my research process I kept encountering one theme after another, the discussion of which seemed to be crucial in order to present a thoroughly informed analysis of this ‘Pre-Raphaelite femininity’, which could so often be found pictured in Western visual culture since at least the mid-nineteenth century. There was the matter of femininity, feminism, fashion, art, historical revivalism, hippie culture, popular music, etc., etc.… I confess that at times it was difficult even for me to keep track of what I was actually arguing.

3. John William Waterhouse. Windswept, 1903. Oil on canvas. 114.3 x 78.7 cm.

3. John William Waterhouse. Windswept, 1903. Oil on canvas. 114.3 x 78.7 cm. Private collection. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ultimately, however, the general theme which rang out from all the different parts of my research was the idea of myth, in two ways. Firstly, in the sense of this mythical idea of feminine beauty, taking shape in images of women as sprites, enchantresses and medieval maidens, and secondly, in the sense of the very concept of femininity being a cultural myth itself; an idea recurrently discussed within works of feminist gender theory. At the core of my dissertation were female musicians of the 1960s and 70s who often seemed to encapsulate this timeless image of women as mythical creatures, especially insofar as this was evident in the style, songs and persona of musician Stevie Nicks. As a highly successful woman in a field which has historically favoured men and the male perspective, Nicks functioned as the perfect way to prove, pinpoint and bring together the larger themes discussed in my dissertation.

4. Model in an Ossie Clark dress, reclining on a settee covered in the original William Morris’ Bird Design. Photographed by John Kelly at Wightwick Manor for Vanity Fair, May 1970. Scanned by Miss Peelpants.

4. Model in an Ossie Clark dress, reclining on a settee covered in the original William Morris’ Bird Design. Photographed by John Kelly at Wightwick Manor for Vanity Fair, May 1970. Scanned by Miss Peelpants.

While my dissertation largely discussed fashion, dress and style, it turned out to be a broader examination of visual culture and popular representations of gender. Having at times seemed like a dauntingly difficult task, handing in the finished dissertation felt fantastic and I was ultimately very happy with the end result. Furthermore, my dissertation supervisor, Annebella Pollen, who had been a tremendous help throughout the process of writing and editing it, offered to nominate my work for the annual dissertation prize held by the Association for Art History, an organisation dedicated to advocating the study of the subject. I was delighted to learn recently that my work had been selected as the runner-up for the 2017 prize. It felt especially rewarding to receive recognition from a renowned body such as the AAH, whose annual conference will be held at the University of Brighton in 2019.

Having received such positive feedback for my dissertation from my tutors as well as the AAH has been encouraging in terms of applying for further study, with the aim of building a career in fashion curation. Since graduating from the University of Brighton, I have done volunteer work at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, alongside working in fashion retail. While I have opted for a break from academia for the present year, I am applying for a number of Master’s degrees for the coming autumn. Hopefully, having been shortlisted for the AAH dissertation prize will be helpful in terms of applying for further study as well as, eventually, in securing future employment.

Read Elina Ivanov’s dissertation: ‘“West Coast Ophelia”: Stevie Nicks and Representations of Pre-Raphaelite Femininity in Fashion and Rock Music of the 1960-70s’ here.

The 2019 Association for Art Historians Annual Conference will be held at University of Brighton. The Call for Sessions is here.

A prize-winning return to university study

Bookmark and Share

 

Thinking of studying as a mature student? Wendy Fraser, a finalist studying BA (hons) History of Art and Design shares her experiences and celebrates her recent success.

Wendy Fraser and Andrew Davidson, Celebration Event

Figure 1 Wendy Fraser and Andrew Davidson, Celebration Event, University of Brighton Grand Parade. Photograph: Philanthropy Department.

In December, I was honoured to receive the Khadija Saye Visual Culture Breakthrough Award 2016/17 for my performance in the second year of my History of Art and Design degree. Khadija Saye, in whose name the award is presented, was a young photographer from London whose work was included in the Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. Tragically, Saye died along with her mother in the Grenfell Tower fire, in the twentieth-floor flat that she also used as her photographic studio.

I am thrilled to have received the award, which is validation for the decision I made to come back to university as a mature student. I wrestled with different ideas of what to embark on next in my life, flip-flopping between a business plan or further education. My first experience at university was embarking on a degree in English Literature and History of Art at Edinburgh University when I was 19. At the time, I regretted the choice of Edinburgh as a University and English Lit as my subject but rather than make changes I left at the end of the first year. Retail jobs led to a career in fashion and giftware wholesale as an Account Manager with trade shows and twice-yearly travel to the Far East, which was creative and fun but ultimately intellectually unfulfilling. After the births of my daughters I juggled lots of part-time jobs to fit in with them – selling on Ebay, baking cakes for cafés, a sales role for a Childrenswear brand and supper club hostess.

I knew that I had not reached my academic potential and it would become a regret if I did not act upon it. The degree programme has exceeded my expectations and I have really appreciated learning about so many different aspects of visual and material culture. It has been a joy to have a legitimate reason to visit so many galleries and museums, rather than just as entertainment. My confidence in my subject has grown incrementally, helped in part by my volunteering roles at Charleston and at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, which we were encouraged to do in first year. Amazingly being a ‘mature’ student hasn’t made me feel awkward and my fellow students have been really inspiring – I have learned a lot from them and really enjoy their company.

The Khadija Saye Visual Culture Breakthrough Award was given at a ceremony in the Sallis Benney Theatre where students from across the University received Breakthrough Awards, Merit Awards, International Scholarships, Sports Scholarships, Enterprise and Employability Grants and Santander-funded awards. The donor of my award is Andrew Davidson (pictured with me above), a University of Brighton Alumnus who studied Visual Culture and is now an Education and Communications Consultant. I was awarded £500, which I plan to use towards a trip to the 2019 Venice Biennale, inspired by Khadija Saye’s achievement. This will be my first experience of an international biennial and further my understanding of contemporary art exhibitions. I haven’t been to Venice since I went on a three-week trip to look at as many examples of Titian’s work as I could before enrolling at university first time around, so this will be a memorable and beneficial use of the award money, representing my circuitous journey back to the History of Art.