There is far less information written about Rosa Brett than other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. According to Nunn (1984, 633), it was the intention of the artist to be an outsider of this group. Starting with the use of the masculine pseudonym, Rosarius, to her aversion of socializing with the other members who sought more of the spotlight; the artist made conscious choices to express her identity uniquely through her paintings. In The Hayloft, we see a measure of who the artist was and how she expressed herself by the scientifically precise observations favoured by the Pre-Raphaelites. 

“Intense experiences involve… both strength of feeling and interconnectedness of ideas, memories, and emotions…” (Ujszászi 2015, 35)

Painted on a vertically oval canvas, we see the image of a brindle-coated tabby cat, with a white face and neck, resting on its forepaws over a rectangular bale of fresh hay. The bale is situated in front of a row of other bales piled before a red-brick and weathered timber wall. The setting is a timeless reminder of the barn which was central to the daily lives of Medieval citizens and can still be found on the modern farm. Holmes (2018, 700) states about Pre-Raphaelite arts: “At its heart lies detailed observation… of the natural world and modern life.” This can be seen in the choice of representing the machine made hay bales in their rectangular shape. 

The near super-realist details of the scene indicate her dedication to the aesthetic ideals of the PRB. To the right of the cat is a burnt-sienna coloured, velour vest that could be for either gender; further revealing the artist’s choice to hide her identity. In front of the coat and on the hay covered floor is a navy blue bandana, partially covered by a simple round rimmed hat with a sharp, black band on it. There are a pair of a dark green leaves leaning on the hat’s rim. The cat’s fur and the criss-crossing strands of hay are rendered in photographic detail, as are the calcium and mold stains on the bricks and wood. The scene is warmed by indirect sun light entering the space from the left through glass that tints the scene in a welcoming yellow. 

In The Hayloft, Rosa Brett expressed the Romanticism that inspired the work of The PRB through classical painting skills of past masters and with the detailed observation of a scientist. The composition is a snapshot of reality raised to a spiritual beauty by the loving attention given every detail. It raises the question of whether the artist really wanted to remain obscured behind her paintings or was she calling for people to get to know her. 

Resources:

Diebold, William J. 2012. “Medievalism.” Studies in Iconography 33, 247-56.

Holmes, John. 2015 “Pre-Raphaelitism, science, and the arts in The Germ.” Victorian Literature and Culture 43, no. 4, 689–703.

Holmes, John. 2018. The Pre-Raphaelites and Science. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Nunn, Pamela Gerrish. 1984. “Rosa Brett, Pre-Raphaelite.” The Burlington Magazine 126 (979), 630–34.

Ujszászi, Zsuzsanna. 2015. The Pre-Raphaelite Journey into the Middle Ages. Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Philologica.

Extra Readings:

Barret, Cyril. 1965. “Medieval Art Criticism.” The British Journal of Aesthetics 5 (1), 25–36. 

Frank, Philipp. 1958. ”Contemporary Science and the Contemporary World View.” Daedalus 87, no. 1, 57-66.

Munn & Co. Inc. 1909. “Medievalism in Modern Chemistry” Scientific American 101, no. 7, 106.

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