October 26, 2017

Heredity … of a Sort

Category: Art :: Permalink

Angela Thirkell was the granddaughter of the painter Edward Burne-Jones, who was influenced in his early years by Gabriel Rossetti but who later developed his own style and his own ideals of beauty, which he transmitted not only in his art but, surprisingly, also in his progeny.  She talks about the “pure ‘Burne-Jones’ type” of woman:

The curious thing is — and it ought to open a fresh field of inquiry into heredity — that the type which my grandfather evolved for himself was transmitted to some of his descendants.

In his earlier pictures there is a reflection of my grandmother in large-eyed women of normal, or almost low stature, as against the excessively long-limbed women of his later style.  But the hair of these early women is not hers, it is the hair of Rossetti’s women, the masses of thick wavy hair which we knew in “Aunt Janey,” the beautiful Mrs. William Morris.  When I remember her, Aunt Janey’s hair was nearly white, but there were still the same masses of it, waving from head to tip.

To any one who knew her, Rossetti’s pictures — with the exception of his later exaggerated types — were absolutely true.  The large deep-set eyes, the full lips, the curved throat, the overshadowing hair, were all there.  Even in her old age she looked like a queen as she moved about the house in long white draperies, her hands in a white muff, crowned by her glorious hair.

But when my grandfather began to develop in a different direction from his master Gabriel he saw in his mind a type of woman who was to him the ultimate expression of beauty.  Whenever he saw a woman who approached his vision he used her, whether model or friend.  Some of my grandparents’ lasting friendships were begun in chance encounters with a “Burne-Jones face” which my grandfather had to find a way of knowing.

As my mother grew up she was the offspring of her father’s vision and the imprint of this vision has lasted to a later generation.  I do not know of another case in which the artist’s ideal has taken such visible shape as in my mother.

If the inheritance were more common one would have to be far more careful in choosing one’s artist forbears.  El Greco, for instance, or Rowlandson, would be responsible for such disastrous progeny from the point of view of looks. — Angela Thirkell, Three Houses, pp. 23-24.

Moral: Be careful what and whom you admire.  If Thirkell is right, your children might just look like that.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:22 pm | Discuss (0)

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