Rudyard Kipling and The Pre-Raphaelites

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In order to better understand the works of any kind of artist, one can usually look to that artist’s past and discover inspirations or influences that may play a role in the shaping of their later work. The famous author and poet Rudyard Kipling had a rather tumultuous past, so it is only natural that one seek clarification of his works in it. Upon some inspection, one may find that in his earlier years, Kipling was influenced by a group known as the Pre-Raphaelites, not only because they were a notorious organization at the time, but also because two of his mother’s sisters were married into the community. The Pre-Raphaelites embraced realism as the sole true form of painted art, and fiercely denounced the stylized method advocated by the Royal Academy. It seems that the seed of realism was only planted in Kipling’s mind as a child, but did not sprout until he had reached adulthood, perhaps provoked by the death of his son in World War I, for Kipling began his career with a particularly simple and somewhat aesthetic style, but eventually matured into the rigid realism he is prominently known for.

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The Pre-Raphaelites believed that only true great art came from before the 16th century Italian painter, Raphael (hence the group’s name). Raphael represented high renaissance, a time when painters, instead of letting their subjects dictate their qualities to the artist, would manipulate the subject into their own ideal of beauty. Thus, all realism was lost. The Pre-Raphaelites, with the vigor of youth, denounced this art of idealization, and led the way to produce works based on real landscapes and real models, and paid intense attention to accuracy of detail and color. One can make the argument that purity can almost always be found in children. Perhaps in his own way, Kipling sought to achieve the pure form of art professed by the Pre-Raphaelites by creating children’s books, such as his Just So Stories and The Jungle Book. If viewed in any other way, however, these books would most likely be denounced by the society for being idealized, in the “happy ending” sort of way. However, while the Pre-Raphaelites did not idealize their subjects as other painters of the time did, they certainly were not as realistic as they claimed themselves to be. They often omitted distortions in the works, lending a sense of surrealism through perfection to the art.

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