The Subject in Art. I.

John Lucas Tupper

General Description

Date: 1849
Genre: prose essay


◦ Coombs, James, ed. A Pre-Raphaelite Friendship: The Correspondence of William Holman Hunt and John Lucas Tupper (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1986).


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Germ text.

Scholarly Commentary


The essay is by John Lucas Tupper (1826?-1879). The fact that Tupper contributed two pieces to the first number of The Germ testifies to the esteem in which he was held by DGR and the PRB circle. (The other piece is his poem A Sketch from Nature.) This essay is the first of two parts, the second part appearing in the third number of The Germ.

As the title suggests, the essay treats art as a vehicle for a certain kinds of “subject”—as opposed to art as a discipline or set of practises. Tupper focuses in particular on “High Art” and its relation to subjects that would be proper to it. He connects those subjects to what he calls Nature, which he opposes to models derived from previous artistic practise. By Nature he means something like what Heidegger means by Dasein. The essay develops in a slow, not to say prolix and meandering, way toward a consideration of “the highest” subjects proper to High Art. These are “every thing or incident in nature which excites, or may be made to excite, the mind and heart of man as a mentally intelligent, not as a brute animal” (18). Like other PRB members, Tupper singled out Raphael for criticism as the source of art's movement from religious to heathen subjects.

WMR observed at the time that the essay seemed to him “argued on deducation from the most abstract propositions in the manner of a philosophical dissertation” (Fredeman The P.R.B. Journal 29, entry for 24 November 1849). In his Introduction to the 1901 facsimile reprint of the periodical, WMR is critical of Tupper's prose work: “Mr. Tupper was, for an artist, a man of unusually scientific mind; yet he was not, I think, distinguished by that power of orderly and progressive exposition which befits an argument” (page 16). These seem fair assessments, as does his subsequent comment: “The views expressed by Mr. Tupper in these two papers should be regarded as his own, and not by any means necessarily those upheld by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” (page 17). WMR's caveat probably reflects his dissent from Tupper's sharp distinction between High and Low art, and his implicit argument that simple descriptive work deals with a relatively minor subject matter. Nevertheless, the essay clearly espouses ideas that are congruent with PRB thought in a general way.

Printing History

First printed in The Germ no. 1, pages 11-18.


John Tupper was born in or around the year 1823 into a family of printers and stationers. His father, George Frederic Tupper, who was trained as a lithographic draftsman, owned his own firm, in which his two older sons, George and Alexander, also worked. Tupper's brothers undertook the first printing of The Germ and, subsequently, its publication (largely, one suspects, to provide their brother with a means of publishing his writings.)

Tupper began to study at the British Museum on 8 December 1836, in hopes of gaining admittance into the Royal Academy to study sculpture. On 18 December 1840, he was admitted into the Academy. There he would meet Hunt, Stephens, Collinson, Woolner, and DGR. After leaving the Academy, he was employed as an anatomical designer at Guy's Hospital, where WMR made his acquaintance. Like many other members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Tupper aspired to create both visual and verbal art, and in the course of his career he published poetry, art criticism, book reviews, and a treatise on art education.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: jtupper001.raw.xml