Why the lady tossed her hair

Pre-Raphaelite Prints
January 31, 1997

Rodney Engen defines his areas of interest as, etchings done by the artist, reproductive engravings and etchings by professional engravers after paintings, and wood-engraved book illustrations drawn by the artist then engraved by professional wood engravers. For the first of these, particular attention is given to the prints produced for the short-lived Pre-Raphaelite periodical The Germ. The text is strong on facts and anecdotes about the production of prints and the tussles that took place between painters and printmakers over the process of translation; likewise struggles between authors and artists. Tennyson wanted to know why Holman Hunt had depicted the Lady of Shalott "with her hair weirdly tossed about as if by a tornado"?

Engen's familiarity with, and enthusiasm for his material is evident throughout but insufficient thought has gone into meeting the needs of the reader lacking his first-hand experience. No sizes are given in the captions to the illustrations, for example. Headings in the margins instead of an index give the design an old-fashioned feel.

Writing of Victorian engraving Engen remarks "it is only recently that these works have taken on social, historical and artistic value for the art historian as well as the enthusiastic print collector". Rarely does this book address the kind of questions which occupy art historians. Engen's claim that "Pre-Raphaelite prints were coveted by homesick colonials who wanted comforting reminders of their homeland" calls for more analysis.

An appendix of artists' biographies and lists of engravings at the end of the book caters for some of the needs of the collectors and print dealers who make up part of the intended readership listed on the jacket. The other readership, "scholars", may be left wanting more.

Elizabeth Miller is assistant curator of prints, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Pre-Raphaelite Prints: The Graphic Art of Millais, Holman Hunt, Rossetti and their Followers

Author - Rodney Engen
ISBN - 085331 656 2
Publisher - Lund Humphries
Price - £25.00
Pages - 128

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