My name is Robert Wilkes. I’m a current PhD candidate at Oxford Brookes University, researching the life and work of Frederic George Stephens, the Pre-Raphaelite artist and art critic. Supervising me are Professor Christiana Payne (Professor of History of Art, School of History, Philosophy and Culture) and Dr Dinah Roe (Senior Lecture in 19th-Century Literature, Department of English and Modern Languages).

I completed a MA in History of Art at the University of York, and wrote my dissertation on the watercolours of Dante Gabriel Rossetti from 1850-1870 (supervised by Professor Liz Prettejohn). Prior to this I attained a BA in English and History of Art from Oxford Brookes University; my BA dissertation explored Pre-Raphaelite elements in the writing, photography and drawing of Lewis Carroll.

I can credit my first awareness of the Pre-Raphaelites to a poster of Millais’s Ophelia which was stuck on the wall of my English classroom in Year 9 at secondary school; this blog is the result of all my subsequent obsessions with that lovely group of nineteenth-century British artists and writers.

6 thoughts on “About

  1. Kate Denison Bell

    Robert, you are a revelation. My old friend, a professor at the University of Delaware, just shared your most wonderful blog with me. You are spot-on with your observations about the Pre-Raphaelites and I’m delighted you are including them in your dissertation. When I was your age (donkeys years ago), I was also passionate about this then progressive group. I only earned a bachelor of arts, from Florida State University, but did my senior thesis on Rossetti’s Blessed Damozel: The poem and the painting. I’m now a middle-aged lady living in Ireland with my family but still have great passion for the PRB (college era framed posters of Ophelia and Lady of Shalott, etc. hanging round). The older I become, the more I admire the elegant Arts and Crafts textile and furniture designs of William Morris, foretelling the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright. I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Kelmscott yet but hope to do so at some point. And, of course, I want to visit the excellent PRB collection at the University of Delaware. Hopefully when I finally have a reunion with my dear old friend, I can also visit the art gallery, which you have so well documented in your lovely blog. Looking forward to your future posts. Keep up the good work, and wishing you all the best as you pursue your Ph.D.!

    P.S. I’m also a fan of Richard Dadd, having been introduced to his work through Queen’s ‘Faery Feller’s Master-Stroke.’ So sad to think that Dadd murdered due to the suffering of mental illness (at least had progressive doctor who encouraged his painting), and Freddie Mercury now long gone too. The tragedy of genius, but may we preserve and treasure it in the years to come, thanks to bright young academics like yourself.

    1. Hello Kate! Firstly, thank you so much for your lovely message, I really appreciate you taking the time to write to me. Secondly, I was astonished to learn that a professor at the University of Delaware had got wind of my blog and thought to recommend it — that does mean a lot! I’m glad that I’ve managed to find some way of externalising or expressing my deep inner love of Pre-Raphaelitism through this blog; it’s a project I have long wished to start, so I’m very pleased it’s paying off and that people are able to read and respond to my ramblings on various Pre-Raphaelite topics. Thank you also for telling me of your interests, I can see we have similar artistic tastes!

      A wonderful subject to choose for your senior thesis! I am actually yet to see any version of the ‘Damozel’ painting in reality, and someday I would love to visit the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard and see the first, original version in situ. It’s such a fundamental Rossettian painting and poem, and it must’ve been fascinating to compare the two works in your writing. Since applying to Oxford University to study a Masters in Art History I’ve had to keep an idea for a possible dissertation at the back of my mind, and would be interested in exploring either the portrayal of men and masculinity in Pre-Raphaelitism (an oft-overlooked topic, I think, given Pre-Raphaelitism’s general focus on female beauty), or the influences of Tractarian, Anglo-Catholic tendencies on very early Pre-Raphaelite painting. Anyway, that’s all for the future! I would recommend a visit to the Delaware museum to any Pre-Raph fan, I feel fortunate to have gone all the way over from England to see it (my father has recently moved to nearby Washington DC). When I met Margaretta S. Frederick she mentioned the museum’s Pre-Raphaelite fellowship, which definitely sparked my interest — I like to think I’d be in with a chance of studying Stateside!

      Richard Dadd is wonderful! I’ve heard of the Queen song, but sadly am yet to actually listen to it. Dadd had such a fascinating life, and I always find it interesting that he gets categorised as an ‘outsider artist’ even though he trained at the Royal Academy and was entrenched in the London scene before his onset of madness. It often seems the case that genius and madness go hand in hand, as in Munch, Van Gogh, &c.

      Best wishes

  2. Anne Harrison

    Robert, I have just seen the Christmas Carol painting you refer to above with the panel shown separately, and which is hanging in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight. However, in your blog you make no reference to the phrase “Winchester Mysteries ” at the base of the panel. As a resident of Winchester I am particularly interested in finding out what that is referring to -please can you help? Thank you, Anne Harrison

    1. Hi Anne,
      Thanks very much for getting in touch! I had forgotten I wrote about that Rossetti ‘Christmas Carol’; it feels like such a while ago now. I too am a resident of Winchester, as it happens, so it intrigued me too! My best guess is that ‘Mysteries’ might refer to a medieval mystery play that was performed in the town. Probably the best-known cycle of mystery plays from the Middle Ages are the York Mystery Plays, which were were performed annually in that town on the feast of Corpus Christi. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York_Mystery_Plays. Chester and Wakefield are also notable. The Nativity was a popular subject for these plays, and the Latin phrase ‘Hodie Christus natus est’ (inscribed on the picture frame) relates to that. There was a general enthusiasm for medieval literature in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, particularly in the 1850s and 1860s, and I can only imagine Rossetti was attracted to the pageantry and colour of an English mystery play, as were Morris and Burne-Jones. Rossetti probably encountered the text of a ‘Winchester Mystery’ in one of the antiquarian books he enjoyed perusing. I hope that answers your question! All the best, Robert.
      P.S. There’s an excellent essay on the painting on the Sotheby’s website, where the picture was sold in 2013. http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2013/old-master-british-paintings-evening-l13036/lot.48.html

  3. Tracy


    I’ve acquired a small Victorian drawing and I’ve been unable to identify either the artist or sitter. It looks Pre-Raphaelite to me, but the signature ‘A.J.’ has left me puzzled. I’m wondering if it’s a portrait of a very young Frederic George Stephens, and I’ve just found your blog, so thought I’d get in touch to see what you think. Would you be interested in taking a look?

    1. Hello,
      Thank you very much for your intriguing message! I would be glad to take a look at the drawing and give you my opinion, as someone has studied F. G. Stephens for nearly 3 years now. Feel free to send photos, if you have them, to my university email address: 16007032@brookes.ac.uk. I look forward to seeing it!
      Many thanks,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s