|Biography from Christie's London, King Street:|
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Like his friends James Archer and G. D. Leslie, Storey was among the
many artists who felt the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites in the
1850s, although his later work is more conventional, reflecting his
membership of the St John's Wood Clique. In his autobiography, Sketches from Memory, he recalled how Millais's painting The Carpenter's Shop
(Tate Britain) 'startled the art public of England' when it was
exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850, how many people, himself
included, 'saw in it the advent of a great artist', and how this
masterpiece and other work by Millais that followed - Mariana, A Huguenot, Ophelia,
etc. - 'sent all the younger men to nature', thus doing 'more than
other all the lecturers, art-masters, art-critics and the rest of our
guides put together'.
The Bride's Burial, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859, is
one of the pictures in which Storey most obviously acknowledges
Re-Raphaelite influence, not only in terms of the clear colors and
meticulous rendering of nature but the subject. This is a little
ambiguous. On the picture's first exhibition in 1859, part of a sonnet
from Dante's Vita Nuova was printed in the catalogue; yet eight lines from Romeo and Juliet are written on a label on the back. A more recent cataloguer has concluded that the lines from Romeo and Juliet had been inscribed 'in ignorance of the picture's iconographical connection with Dante's Vita Nuova'.
But the matter is not as simple as this since Storey himself refers to the picture in Sketches from Memory as '"The Brides's Burial" or "The Burial of Juliet".' Both quotations, in other words, are apparently relevant and valid.
Whatever the case, the subject has Pre-Raphaelite antecedents.
As an illustration to the Vita Nuova
the picture suggests that Storey had some knowledge of the work of D.
G. Rossetti, for whom Dante was a source of paramount importance. But Romeo and Juliet too had inspired works by Millais before 1859, and would later attract the attention of other Pre-Raphaelites.
Where, of course, the picture differs from these precedents and
parallels is in showing the scene enacted by children. This introduces
a note of frivolity that is very un-Pre-Raphaelite and more in keeping
with conventional Victorian genre. Indeed there was a certain sub-genre
of children masquerading in heroic or historical roles kindling humor
from the incongruity involved. This had been pioneered by Hogarth more
than a century earlier in his painting The Conquest of Mexico
(private collection), in which child actors are seen performing
Dryden's 'Indian Emperor or The Conquest of Mexico' before the Royal
Family at St James's Palace in April 1732. But it was the Victorians,
unsurprisingly, who milked the idea for all the sentiment it was worth.
The leading exponent was Charles Hunt, who in the 1860s, only a few
years after Storey's picture was painted, exhibited a series of works
at the RA in which children act out scenes from Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, and Macbeth.
There is also a certain parallel with the vogue for portraits of
children in historical costume, an idiom explored, among others, by
Storey's friend James Archer and hero John Everett Millais.
According to Storey, 'several critics' said 'kind things' when The Bride's Burial was shown at the RA. One of these was perhaps the art critic on the Athenaeum
(not yet F. G. Stephens), who, while not entirely 'happy' with the
subject, wrote that Storey's handling of paint 'gets firmer, and in
every way better'. Forty years later the picture's Pre-Raphaelite
tendencies led Percy Bate to illustrate it in his English Pre-Raphaelite Painters,
the first attempt ever made to consider the movement as a whole. It
was, Bate wrote, a 'beautiful work', the 'rich color and close
technique' of which 'betrayed the artists admiration of the earlier
pictures of Millais'.
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