England’s not a country of lots of famous painters; I mean they’re not as famous as the Italians of the Renaissance, or the Baroque artists from Flanders and Holland, or the French impressionists (among others). At least they’re not as famous as Da Vinci, Rubens, Rembrandt, Gauguin, Picasso or Dali.
But there was a typically English current of the art that flourished during the Victorian epoch (in the 19th century); it was in the middle of the effervescent capitalism of the industrial revolution. It was the pre-Raphaelesque current.
The portraits by Rossetti, Hunt, Millais, Morris and others don’t stand out for their focus on social contradictions (although some carry traces of these). Actually they’re just the opposite: the majority of them are portraits of people, real or legendary or contemporaries of their artists or not.
Many of those works are tremendously beautiful. But for me there’s a very intensely significant detail: It’s the way pre-Rafaelists conceive of the image of women.
If we take a good look at the Venus Verticordia, the several Ophelias, Proserpina or the Lady of Shalott — works of these types and other pre-Rafaelesque paintings — what most impresses are the alienated, carnivorous and depersonalized faces of the women that appear in these. Their facial expressions are expressive in effect, but there’s no affection in them.
It’s as if the muscles of their faces were moved with precision by small steam engines until accurately achieving the desired external configuration. Beauty? – yes; but with feelings specifically modulated by a rigidity of the aesthetic design.
These have nothing that to do with the women of the Renaissance by the impressionists, or with the Russian peredvizhniki. They contain a pure dense message of beauty condensed on surfaces that cover desirable bodies, but these are where desire ends exactly with the body. Nec plus ultra: nothing beyond.
This is what I see walking around Havana or riding on the bus through the surroundings of our capital. I notice girls from between 13 and 25. Almost all of them have intensely colored lips, clothes adapted to corporeal desires, eyes elaborately delineated, and some flaunt their piercings and/or tattoos. They’re all very beautiful: pretty girls.
It’s only that something’s lacking. I know it’s there, but the prevailing feminine youth aesthetic in a country in full transition is focused on surface beauty. Nec plus ultra: nothing beyond.
I wonder: Is there some sort of affinity with the traumatic experiences of the industrial revolution in England?
In my heart a rejection is born. Not of the girls or of their beauty, but of the new social codes that cause their souls to be engulfed by operationally and effectively carnivorous decisions. Instead of amputation (Orwell), their souls become the objects of aesthetic cannibalism. I hate it. It’s the pre-Rafaelesque beauty of young Cuban women.