John Melhuish Strudwick (1849-1937) was a late Pre-Raphaelite painter who worked with meticulous attention to detail and deep, rich colors. Edward Burne-Jones' work strongly influenced Strudwick. In fact, a distinct shift in Strudwick's work occurred in the 1870s when he began working as a studio assistant for Burne-Jones. During this time Strudwick's personal style developed as his own version of Burne-Jones' work. The influence is particularly apparent in Strudwick's A Symphony. Like in a number of Burne-Jones's paintings (for example, the Pygmalion series), architectural elements provide a linear structure for the human subjects in A Symphony. The marble floor and bench, as well as the columns crowned with detailed angels, all echo classical forms seen in Greek and Roman architecture. More than referencing Classical Antiquity, though, Strudwick's work is actually more closely related to Italian Renaissance paintings, particularly those of the quattrocento. The bright robes of the two women in the foreground, and even the instruments in the work, also point to the Renaissance as a source of inspiration for style and subject matter.
Strudwick's characteristic detailed style appear most clearly in the minute way the bright red and blue robes worn by the two main subjects are painted. Strudwick clearly defines each crease and deep fold with shadow, highlight, and a distinct feeling of depth and texture. This attention to detail continues in his rendering of the subjects' hands and feet, as well as in the decor of the interior. Strudwick even paints the musicians in the background and their instruments with care and precision, though they recede into the shadows and are secondary to the women in the foreground. All of Strudwick's work after his first introduction to Burne-Jones show this same sharp, precise style. Consequently, Strudwick was not a prolific painter because his exact style required a significant time investment for each work.
1. Burne-Jones and Spencer-Stanhope both strongly influence Strudwick while he worked in each of their studios during his early career. Beyond the importance of architectural elements mentioned earlier, what are other similarities between Strudwick and Burne-Jones's work? How about Spencer-Stanhope's work? What are some distinctions you can make between Strudwick and the styles of his two influences?
2. The seated woman in blue has an unusual expression on her face. Compare it to the expression of the woman in Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience and D. G. Rossetti's The Annunciation. What emotion is Strudwick trying to convey in her expression? How does it relate to the rest of the painting?
3. According to Christopher Wood, many of Strudwick's subjects were purposefully allegorical. Are there any elements of allegory in A Symphony? If not, what else could the painting be about?
4. Strudwick is considered a late Pre-Raphaelite painter. What elements in A Symphony can be identified as Pre-Raphaelite in style and philosophy? How does Strudwick fit into the Pre-Raphaelite movement stylistically and thematically?
Last modified 5 December 2004