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on 11 July 2011
I was drawn to this book after loving the series of the same name (and having Aidan Turner on the cover is no hardship either!) and found it a really good introduction to the art of the Pre-Raphaelites and their various hangers on. Franny Moyle has written a fascinating, easy to read book that makes art history accessible to people like me who have no idea about art but are interested in history. Moyle has also popped up on a couple of programmes I have seen about the Pre-Raphaelites as an historical consultant, so she clearly knows her stuff. What makes this book a joy to read is that she doesn't patronise as she writes. I've recommended this book to quite a few people.

The characters are beautifully written and the various narratives of the people are told in a way that is easy to follow and understand. I also found that I was interested enough by the book to continue reading other books about this movement and to seek out the paintings and poetry written by the artists.

A really good first step into understanding who the Pre-Raphaelites were and why they're important to British art (and a thoroughly good read!)
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on 23 September 2009
IF you've recently seen the tv series Desperate Romantics and want to know a bit more about the Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood (PRB) then this is a good place to start. It's gripping, exciting and eminently readable. If anything, you'll find that the PRB were wilder and more outrageous in real life than anything which can be portrayed on film.
It traces the private lives (and less closely) the careers of the three main PRB members as seen in the programme (Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais) and also includes other members who were not featured much or at all like Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and William Rossetti. It also charts the rise and fall of the women in their lives (and there were many!) and who were just as interesting in their own right: Lizzie Siddall, Annie Miller, Fanny Cornforth, Ruth Herbert, Georgiana Burne-Jones etc.
John Ruskin is the lynchpin which holds the text together because as well as being an early promoter and patron of the group before they were really accepted my the establishment his life became painfully intwined with theirs.
Franny Moyle writes in an engagin style and I was gripped from the beginning. It's better than a novel!
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on 10 November 2010
I came to read this book after my imagination was captured by the TV series of the same name. I was interested to read the facts behind the fictionalised drama I had been watching, and to learn more about the work of the PRB generally.

I found this book instantly engaging in style. Although not simplistic, the tone is light and pacy rather than academic. Moyle does not assume any pre-existing knowledge of art, artists, the historical or sociological context, and provides context as the book goes along, in very small doses. She covers a lot of ground, as the book follows numerous personalities, their work and influences, from youth to death, and all in a volume about the same size as your average novel. Ruskin and Rossetti are probably given most coverage, and the book does tend to emphasise the more "rock star" aspects of the PRB, though this isn't necessarily a bad thing as it is quite fascinating. Some of the paintings are discussed, in terms of the symbolism and motivation behind the choice of subject, and there are some colour plates, which are helpful to illustrate the points Moyle is making. No one aspect of the PRB is covered exhaustively, but this keeps the pace of the book moving, and also provides the reader with scope to follow up their own areas of interest afterwards should they choose to.

I would expect that if you are already an expert in the field then this book would probably not offer you any new insight. As far as I can see it is a drawing together of existing research and knowledge filtered and coloured, as with any biographical work, by the preferences and opinions of the writer.

I loved this book. I expected to enjoy reading about the individuals involved in the PRB, and the book delivered on that point. What I didn't expect was that it has made me look at art in a different way. My academic background is in literature, and though I have visited lots of galleries and enjoyed looking at paintings, I've never really felt that I understood art very well. The book opened my eyes to the idea of "reading" a painting much as I would read a poem. This probably sounds really obvious, but I'd never thought of it that way before, so I think reading this book will increase my general enjoyment of art in the future.

The only improvement to the book would have been more and larger colour plates, but I guess there would be a cost implication to that!
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VINE VOICEon 9 February 2009
The Pre-Raphaelites were nothing if not colourful. Initially met with contempt John Everett Millais, Wlliam Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti gradually changed the Victorian world's perception of what made great art. In the process they achieved fame and acquired impressive sums of money but, as so often proves to be the case, success arrived hand-in-hand with notoriety, scandal and, in some cases, a slide into excess and untimely death. The story largely tells itself because the people involved are so much larger than life and the many notorious events so very colourful (Rossetti having the body of Lizzie Siddall exhumed so he could recover some manuscript poems he had placed in her coffin; or John Ruskin's deeply peculiar 'marriage' to the lovely Effie Gray and his later pursuit of the worryingly young Rose La Touche). Yet, even allowing for the spectacular nature of the personalities involved Franny Moyle does a terrific job in pushing the narrative along and providing excellent detail about the social context shaping the lives of the central players. In particular she's very good on the women in the lives of the artists: from the tragic Lizzie Siddall to the stunning Annie Miller, not forgetting the demure Georgiana Burne-Jones and the lovely Jane Morris, the tangled romantic inter-twinings of the artists and the women in their lives are all well explained. Moyle is also especially good on explaining the symbolism and the stories behind the paintings themselves. I must have made annual visits to Tate Britain to look at many of these pictures for the last dozen years or so and yet the author made me aware of numerous telling details I had somehow managed to miss.

What, sadly, lets the book down is the editing and proof-reading. Every couple of pages there's a silly typo of one sort or another - words are repeated, 'friends' becomes 'fiends' and 'chloral' becomes, rather strangely, 'choral' (how exactly, I wonder, would a choral overdose actually work?). One or two errors would be forgivable but here there are so many it does become rather distracting.

Still, quibbles about the editing aside, this is an excellent introduction to a fascinating art movement. Brilliant, dazzling, eccentric and emotionally absolutely all over the place the Pre-Raphaelites have found an author sympathetic and skilled enough to tell their story with suitable style and dash. Definitely recommended.
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Subtitled as "The private lives of the Pre-Raphaelites", this follows the lives of a, changing, group of artists and writers. These include John Ruskin, John Everett Millais, William 'Mad' Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, as well as the women in their lives. This is an absolutely riveting account of the art world in the mid 1800's, when not only the Royal Academy of Art was challenged, but the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood also created scandal with their often outrageous private lives and bohemian lifestyles. They were, in effect, the first celebrities - satirised in the press and the cause of gossip throughout London society.

One of the most interesting characters is John Ruskin, whose marriage to Effie Gray hid a dark secret and whose reliance on his parents was certainly harmful to his relationship with his wife. His later infatuation with a young girl (only ten when he first met her) also bordered on unhealthy obsession. Yet, despite his damaged personal relationships, he was very involved and often supportive of many of the artists in this novel. We have Millais, the child prodigy, the ever changeable Rossetti, the volatile Morris and some of the greatest art ever created, plus the models who inspired them. Will I ever look at the beauty of "Ophelia" by Millais without imagining the tragic Lizzie Siddall shivering in a tin bath as she modelled for the painting? Indeed the women who populate the pages of this book are every bit as interesting as the men they inspired, and loved. The pre-Raphaelites seemed to share their lovers as often as they shared inspiration and this book abounds with love triangles and affairs, drug reliance, suicide attempts and every kind of emotional pitfall it is possible to imagine.

This is really a very interesting read and, if you enjoy this you might also like the BBC DVD Desperate Romantics [DVD]. Franny Moyle is also the author of the wonderful biography of Oscar Wilde's wife, Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde, which I also highly recommend.
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on 14 August 2009
This book is a game of two halves. The introduction promises much, cinematically setting characters who haven't yet met, in their individual environments on 10 April 1848 (the day of the great Chartist rally and march from Kennington). But then the first half of the book becomes tepid. It is written in cliche-ridden style and goes over ground made famous by the TV dramatisation, Desperate Romantics [DVD].

However, once Lizzie Siddal, uber-Muse and model, is off the scene, all hell breaks loose and things get REALLY interesting. Rossetti, a serial Lothario, develops fatal fascinations for Fanny Cornforth, Ruth Herbert, and Jane Morris. He behaves reprehensibly towards his colleague William Morris, moving in with him and his wife Jane at Kelmscott. The critic Ruskin, having been dumped by his wife Effie for John Millais, develops a destructive obsession with the teenaged Rose la Touche. In another love-triangle Ned Burne-Jones forsakes his spouse Georgina for the predatory Mary Zambaco. The downtrodden William Morris also has a triangular affair later on. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the sparkling material, Moyle's writing becomes supercharged.

It's all a bit like a dress rehearsal for the The Bloomsbury Group (National Portrait Gallery Insights) later on. So much dissipation, drug hell, and heartbreak. And somehow entirely human and therefore entirely readable - but only after about p. 150.
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on 18 October 2009
If - like me - you watched the recent BBC TV series "Desperate Romantics" and want to know what really happened then this book is definitely for you. Although the TV programme was very enjoyable, it did take a few "liberties" with the historical record and in fairness to the BBC, they did admit this. This book, however, portrays the chronological order of the events involving the lives of the Pre-Raphaelites and starts with a very interesting account of the early life of Ruskin which helps to set the scene. I found the book extremely easy to read and the author maintains a lively pace to the narrative without letting it get bogged down in too much detail. I should point out that as the book progresses, the focus very much shifts onto Rosetti and his involvement with Lizzie, Annie and his other models. Millais and Hunt get relegated to the background and are rarely mentioned but this is not a criticism as the extraordinary life led by Rosetti (involving William Morris and Burne-Jones)is fascinating.
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I'm not an art buff and only really know about the Impressionist Movement and more modern artists. I have heard of these artists but didn't know much about them (except that Rossetti was Christina Rossetti's brother). When the tv series started I became interested and when I saw this book I thought this was an ideal place to start.

Franny Moyle, who is an executive producer of Desperate Romantics [DVD], has written this pop history book on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which is an ideal accompaniment to the series. Whereas the series is more fictional than this this book goes into greater depth about what the Brotherhood was trying to achieve and introduces more characters than the series. This book also goes into more depth about the bizarre Ruskin marriage, which I think a lot of people know something about. Included in this book are a number of pictures which helps add to its informativeness.
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on 27 September 2014
This is a relatively short book which packs in a lot of information. It is particularly interesting in the way it links the stories of the Pre Raphaelites with John Ruskin's. It is sympathetic rather than sensationalist and an excellent background to the paintings.
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on 22 October 2009
Its hard not to fall in love with so many of the pre raphaelite 'characters' that fill this book. It is a wonderful introduction to Dante , mad , and the many 'stunners' in the gang that formed the pre-raphaelites. Although factually based the book has a lovely flow to the story of a great piece of art history. If you already know the works this is a great way to gain insight into the thoughts and troubles these great artists faced. Its filled with Passion and spirit , love for art and women . It is 19th century gossip , the 'hello' of 1850 , it is hot gossip of people we wish we knew! Read this before you watch the tv series for a slightly more accurate account , but then get the tv series!
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