Annebella Pollen, History of Art and Design co-Academic Programme Leader, introduces a recent competition and announces its winners.
With access to museums and galleries closed, not to mention libraries and universities, how are History of Art and Design programme students staying close to their subjects? In recognition of the unique challenges facing our current cohort of students and as a fun activity to lighten the mood in these difficult times, History of Art and Design staff recently invited our undergraduates to recreate famous art works at home. We were inspired by similar artistic challenges taking place in other cultural institutions, for example, the invitation to recreate, with domestic objects alone, art housed in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Vogue magazine’s call to restage famous red-carpet outfits from the history of the Met Gala and, my personal favourite, the spontaneous efforts made to mimic kitsch submissions to the cult Facebook site Terrible Art in Charity Shops.
We were not sure if any students would have the time and space to take up this invitation; we are aware that many are facing major personal and practical challenges brought by the enormous changes of circumstances resulting from the global pandemic. Students have dispersed across the world and are contained in their homes and gardens. We were delighted, therefore, to receive two submissions to the competition, particularly as both were of excellent quality. To our surprise and delight, the submissions unwittingly formed a pair. Both are inspired by Pre-Raphaelite paintings. In reverse order, then, I am pleased to announce our competition winners.
In second place, with a wonderful updating of J. W. Waterhouse’s 1908 painting The Soul of the Rose, is Annie Jones, second year BA Visual Culture. In the original painting, an auburn haired young woman with a peaches-and-cream complexion leans against a terracotta wall to inhale deeply the scent of a pink rose in full bloom. Dressed in a wide-sleeved robe, against a background of whitewashed walls and tiled roofs, the subject demonstrates Pre-Raphaelite preoccupations with colour, sensuality and literary inspirations (the title comes from a Tennyson poem).
Annie’s recreation, retitled The Soul of the Rose in Quarantine, has stayed faithful to many details, with a pink rose, a string of pearls loosely entwined through the subject’s auburn hair, a deep-sleeved chinoiserie-style dressing gown in place of a robe, and a terracotta brick wall. The structures in the background – including a chimney and wooden door – signal its British lockdown setting. The detail of Annie’s tattooed forearm adds a neat twenty-first century reboot. It is an excellent contribution, and a fitting partner to the winning submission.
Olivia Terry, second year BA Fashion and Dress History, also chose a famous Pre-Raphaelite painting for her recreation. Sir John Everett Millais’ 1851-2 Ophelia is one of the most beloved works of the stylistic school and the most popular painting in Tate Britain’s collection. Depicting the tragic death by drowning of a character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the painting was famously composed by posing its model, Elizabeth Siddal, in a tin bath of cooling water. Olivia’s recreation shows a similar commitment to art at the risk of health, as she impressively took to the waters in a creek in her backyard wrapped only in a bed sheet. Surrounded by rocks and foliage, in Olivia’s native Idaho rather than in Surrey, she clasps a bunch of flowers to indicate Ophelia’s final actions before her poetic demise, and to take first prize in the competition.
We are very pleased with the imaginative way that both these entries took up the challenge. We are also very pleased to reward both winners with book token prizes for their excellent artistic reinterpretations. Bravo!