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Thesis title: The Hidden Pre-Raphaelite: Frederic George Stephens, Artist and Author
Start year: 2016
My project investigates the life and work of Frederic George Stephens (1827–1907), a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. Stephens trained at the Royal Academy, producing a number of paintings and drawings in the early Pre-Raphaelite style and earning a living as a portraitist. Although his professional career as an artist dwindled in the late 1850s, he continued to paint in his spare time and for several decades worked as a drawing master at University College School in Gower Street. Stephens’s writing career began with two essays for the PRB’s magazine The Germ in 1850, followed by an appointment as art critic for The Critic from 1851–53. In 1856–67 Stephens wrote a series of articles on Pre-Raphaelite painting for an influential American journal, The Crayon. In 1860 he joined The Athenaeum and held the post of art critic for that magazine until the early 1900s, writing over 2,000 weekly articles including exhibition reviews and ‘Fine-Art Gossip’. Despite his integral role within the Brotherhood, and his lifelong dedication to promoting Pre-Raphaelitism in his writing, Stephens has been significantly overlooked in scholarship on the movement.
This interdisciplinary project utilises Stephens’s unpublished correspondence in the Bodleian Library, the University of British Columbia Library, the New York Public Library and Getty Research Institute, together with a previously unknown collection of his private papers in the Colonel Stephens Railway Museum in Kent. A number of poem manuscripts from this last source have provided fresh insights into Stephens’s capabilities as a writer. Many of his articles on contemporary and historical art have not been revived since their first publication and are examined for the first time. My research also focuses on Stephens’s paintings and drawings in the Tate and the Ashmolean Museum – and one or two newly discovered works – which have long been dismissed by art historians, considering them seriously in the broader context of Pre-Raphaelite production. A new history is therefore presented, which reconsiders the Pre-Raphaelite movement from the vantage point of a central but hidden individual, through the material he published and the images he created.
Nineteenth-century British art, Victorian literature, early photography, medievalism, material culture, periodical culture, religion, literary theory, ekphrasis.