All the Pretty Dresses

You know how some people watch the Oscars just to see the clothes? Well I’m sort of like that when it comes to Victorian art. I’ve got to hand it to all those Pre-Raphaelite and Neo-Classical British painters. They knew how to do the gossamer flowing fabric, draped semi-nude, dreamy idealized female thing better than any other gang of artists. And the silky feminine fashion show almost makes up for the studied poses and vapid facial expressions.

I confess that I’m actually a little jealous, and let me explain why. While art models are expected to pose nude most of the time, clothed poses are popular too. I have done the “street clothes” thing a lot. We’re talking very basic, casual, tank top and jeans stuff. And it looks cool. But I’m never asked to do the flowing gown, mythological maiden, lady of Pompei thing. Not ever. And I’m disappointed! Hey, I like soft colorful fabrics. I like to play dress up. I’m a feminine girly-girl. Oh sure I have a potty-mouth like a drunken sailor, flash my boobs to strangers, and spit on sidewalks, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a lady, right? (Just kidding. I never spit 😉 )

Yes, even I have romantic knight-in-shining-armor fantasies. I have a helpless little lass inside me. I have wistful moods and enjoy running barefoot through grassy meadows. But do I ever get the opportunity to play those roles in my art modeling? Hell no. I enter a studio for work and it’s, “Hi Claudia. Get naked and strike a hot pose. And if we find a stitch of fabric on your person we’re kicking you out of here, you got it?”. Just my offering a pretty soft scarf as an accent gets me ejected from the premises. I guess I should take it as a compliment. But once – just once – I’d like to be idealized in the classical tradition, with elegant fabrics draped around my body, wind blowing through my hair, and my mind in pensive repose. Do they think I can’t pull it off?

A common complaint with the art from this school is its lack of imagination and psychological depth. Not much gravitas to be found, it’s true. But still you have to admit that visually they are quite fetching, and the clothes are just soooo pretty!!! Told you I was a girly-girl 🙂

This is Lord Leighton’s Flaming June:

Boreas, 1902, from John William Waterhouse:

This dress rocks! I’d pose in that any day. John Godward’s Athenais, 1908:

Waterhouse again, this is Windflowers:

12 thoughts on “All the Pretty Dresses

  1. Goose says:


    I’m a big fan of Rosetti, but I try to branch out. About a year ago, as I was searching for new desktop wallpaper, I came across a gorgeous picture that I centered over an orange background. The subject of the painting relaxed me, while the orange invigorated me, and I was happy every time I looked at my desktop. When I found the picture, it did not have a title, and I have searched ever since. This summer, I got a new computer and sold the old one, and I had to say goodbye to my happy picture.
    When I read the sentence about “gossamer flowing fabric,” my mind immediately went to that orange dress, and I considered the probability (low) that you would actually post my picture. Thank you so much for posting and titling “Flaming June.” You may never never know how grateful and happy I am at this moment. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    But to be honest, they’re all beautiful, and now I have some more names to look up and add to my “favorite artist” list.


  2. dougrogers says:

    The Waterhouse is stunning.

    Odd thing about near naked models… A wisp of fabric, a scarf, sexualizes the whole thing. Either dressed or undressed, not half-dressed, please, as that bit of fabric plays peekaboo and we can’t have that kind of strip-tease going on. Serious art only please and none of that pandering to the lower instincts.

  3. Amanda says:

    Oh I love these photos too. I’ve always been a fan of Flaming June. Maybe it’s because of the orange, or her hair, or because she’s sleeping (I”m a fan of naps). Great post, thanks!

  4. pastelpages says:

    Such beautiful paintings, thanks for sharing them with us.

  5. artmodel says:


    You’re very, very welcome! That’s a great story, and it made me happy. I’m so glad I posted Flaming June! I completely understand why you love that painting, it’s so gorgeous. That color is incredible.

    Leighton did many other beautiful works that you’d like. And Waterhouse too, who I am particularly fond of.

    I’d check out this site for Pre-Raphaelites, and great biographies of their models which you might be interested in:

    And this site has an excellent gallery of Neo-Classicals. A lot of Leighton.

    So great to hear from you, Goose! Hope everything is well. And thanks for your comments 🙂


  6. artmodel says:


    Now I would NEVER pander to the “lower instincts”! Although a little peekaboo never hurt anyone 😉 😉 But seriously, you’re right about the half-clothed tease thing. I agree that one or the other is the best way to go. The statement is stronger, I think, when the model is either fully dressed or fully undressed.

    Yes, the Waterhouse is stunning. I assume you’re talking about Boreas? I love that one. Those blue colors are so unusual, for some reason. And the whole painting is great to look at.

    Thanks for commenting Doug!


  7. artmodel says:


    Glad you enjoyed the pictures. Flaming June is a big favorite apparently, which is understandable. It’s eyecatching, feminine, dreamy. And of course, the magnificent color!

    Great to hear from you.


  8. artmodel says:


    You’re very welcome, and thanks for commenting! Nice to meet you, and welcome to Museworthy 🙂


  9. forestrat says:

    K over at “ars longa” did a post not too long ago about representing cloth in art works.

    I like Boreas – it is dark and mysterious. The model for the Windflowers looks the same and the pose is suspiciously similar, eh?


  10. artmodel says:


    Thanks for the link. And yes, the two models – in Boreas and Windflowers – are almost certainly the same woman. Waterhouse employed many professional art models of his day, although their exact identities are a bit of mystery. I’m thinking the Waterhouse model in these post pictures is either Mary Lloyd or Ethel Bantock. But Mary Lloyd is also believed to have been the model for Leighton’s Flaming June. In that painting she looks slightly different, but it’s similar enough to also be Mary, possibly.


  11. I just love this period of painting – and it was so discredited by the time I was in art school – Chocolate box art, it was called.
    First of all, the faces are quite unusual – and that was one of the models who posed for several of the painters – and then the skin looks so real, touchable, soft and feminine; and then of course, as you say, that wonderful facility to represent cloth.

  12. artmodel says:


    From this post, I learned just how popular, appealing, and admired this style of art is. So much positive feedback! Makes one reconsider what the “standards” should be in assessing the value of art overall. There’s definitely something to be said for enchantment, gorgeous color, and beautiful faces.

    I hadn’t heard the term “chocolate box art” before. Pretty insulting and demeaning. Coined by a snooty, arrogant “art critic” no doubt!

    I really enjoyed reading your comments, K. Thank you, and please write again 🙂


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