Picturing music in Victorian England
This thesis analyses musical imagery created by Victorian artists. It considers paintings, decorative arts and photography, as well as contemporary art criticism and poetry. Focusing on artists associated with Pre-Raphaelitism and aestheticism, it shows how they used musical subjects to sidestep narrative conventions and concentrate instead on explorations of femininity, colour, mood and sensuality. This thesis begins by considering the musical experience of four artists - Frederic Leighton, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and James Whistler - and the influence of personal taste on their musical subjects. It then looks at the depiction of non-Western performance, including images of dancing girls. The third chapter explores the links between music and worship, and the subversion of traditional religious iconography by aestheticist artists. Chapter four analyses images of musical women, and especially the late-Victorian interest in mermaids and sirens. The theme of sensuality continues with an investigation of the connections between music and colour, by assessing the influence of Renaissance Venice, Wagner and French theories of synaesthesia on the Victorian art-world. The final chapter looks at the interconnectedness of music, nostalgia and bereavement in aestheticist painting. Although this study approaches the subject of music-in-art from a number of different directions, there are two key themes that underpin the interpretation of musical images. The first is that musical symbolism was malleable: music could signify both religious devotion and sexual passion. The second is that, in the Victorian imagination, music was oppositional and unstable. It was linked with femininity, emotion, colour, desire and the supernatural. This thesis demonstrates that the idea of music was a key component in the emergence of anti-Establishment art in Victorian England.