Size zero models: 1912
I have spent a very happy day in the Fitzwilliam Museum, in their archive, investigating the early display of classical antiquities there. But, as always in real (as against a virtual) archive, you stumble across unexpected things.
Today that was a satirical story clipped out of a 1912 issue of the Cambridge student magazine, The Granta. Entitled "A tilt at the Fitzwilliam", it features a jocular student, "The Jester", and a woman he is walking out. Their first dilemma is whether to visit the Fitzwilliam (a picture gallery) or the local cinema (a picture house). Having opted for the Fitzwilliam, they don't have a great time.
The Jester points out to the girl that most of the good stuff on show is borrowed. You can find, he explains, "the most beautiful Nicholson woodblock (. . .on loan) among a whole crowd of Rossetti's languorous maidens -- these latter being on the permanent staff -- very poor and always with us".
But, objects the girl, "Oughtn't we to like Rossetti nowadays?"
"It's only done at Oxford," retorts the Jester, "not in artistic circles. You see no one except Rossetti, and a select crowd from 'the other place' ever saw a girl like that. And they never saw it themselves really. However, they're trying to show you what you ought to be like -- a protest against the standard pattern you're manufactured on."
Which seems to me as close as you can get to talking about body-image role-models in 1912.
Much of the rest of the story is of course a little bit more remote. The Jester soon launches off into his own view of art and representation. "There is hardly a picture that shows us what we really see -- always what someone -- probably the painter, and Dutch at that in most cases -- thinks we ought to see." And this in turn, becomes an excuse for old-fashioned Oxbridge snobbery: "A picture can be as pedantically correct as you like, but unless it has somethimg in it that makes you say "I've seen that," or "I know that it's the real thing," it is absolute passive and only fit to be hung in a sleek Aldermanic drawing room."
So, asks the girl, "How would you reform it?"
"Sell ninety percent, and with the proceeds buy a few good pictures." And more or less with that, they quit the Museum and make for the Picture Palace, in the other sense.
But for me a nice tilt at pre-Raphaelite skinny women (which we plastered on our walls in the 1970s).. and it reminds me of Vernon Lee's Miss Brown, which I havent read for ages for had a go -- if I recall rightly -- at the sexual exploitation of pre-Raphaelite models by pre-Raphaelite artists.