Sunday, 21 October 2012

Victorian avant-garde?

Alongside the Turner Prize, Tate Britain's other current ticketed exhibition is the Pre-Raphaelites show that presents the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) as an avant-garde movement. I feel that this is an attempt by Tate to re-package a movement that they have had in the form of ticketed exhibitions in the past and that contains many works already from the Tate collection. When the accompanying guide states: "boldly original in style and conception, the Pre-Raphaelites made a profound contribution to the history of modern art," they dont explain how and this perhaps should be a describtion of the slightly later Impressionist movement?

They describe the many industrial, scientific and artistic changes that happened in the second half of the 19th Century, but not how "Pre-Raphaelite art distilled the energy of the world's first industrial society into striking new forms." Arguably it was the Italian Futurist movement who did this early in the 20th Century, admittedly when these changes had developed further still. I understand that the PRB considered their contemporary art as decadent, but by looking to art before Raphael for inspiration for their artistic style is not new or experimental. Neither is using for their subject matter themes that are taken from Shakespeare, the Bible, landscapes or the view from a window, however much they slightly developed any of the above.

I bow down to the fact that the curators undoubtedly have far more knowledge of the movement than me, but why not present the PRB movement for what they were based on their work? Many of the paintings on display do themselves provide evidence that they were a group of technically accomplished artists who created aesthetically pleasing artworks whether or not they were using classic subject matter or traditional painting genre's. They produced romanticised art which dealt with age-old subject matter, such as love, death, rejection, class and mythology.

Perhaps that would decrease potential visitor numbers and some may argue why shouldnt they look at art with a fresh curatorial perspective? So having said all that, I'll probably sound pedantic when I list my favourite paintings in this exhibition below that I really enjoyed seeing again!

Previously in the Romantics exhibition and taken from Tate Britain's collection, Henry Wallis' impeccably painted Chatterton (1855-6) (below) shows a young poet on his death-bed having commited suicide following repeated rejections from publishers. One of the most romantic yet tragic stories told in the artworks on display.


John Everett Millais Ferdinand Lured by Ariel (1849-50)

I always admire the soft style with which John Everett Millais painted Ophelia (1852) (below).


When looking closely at these 2 paintings by William Dyce you can see the incredible detail, such as the individually painted blades of grass. Pegwell Bay, Kent - a recollection of October 5th (1858) is above & The Man of Sorrows (1860) below.

I like Work (1852-63) by Ford Madox Brown (below) because its one of those paintings that are busy with various different people doing things, some more honestly than others! In this way it reminds me of a painting by William Powell Frith, The Derby Day (1856-8), thats in Tate Britain's Historic Collection.

I've included William Holman Hunt's The Children's Holiday (1864) because I like the stylised faces and the incredibly well painted silver on the left hand side of the painting.

In Isabella and the pot of basil (1866-68) William Holman Hunt expresses his incredible technical ability, such as in the way he painted the folds in the fabrics, the reflection on the furniture from the watering can and in Isabella's face.

Every page is like a work of art in William Morris' prints in this publication of The works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896).

Edward Burne-Jones' The Golden Stairs (1880) is one of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite paintings in terms of its detail, the ladies stylised faces and the great use of colour. 

The next three paintings by Edward Burne-Jones use as their inspiration Greek mythology, specifically Perseus slaying Medusa (the Gorgon) in order to rescue Andromeda from the Kraken.

The Rock of Doom (1885-1888), Edward Burne-Jones

The Doom Fullfilled (1885), Edward Burne-Jones

The Baleful Head (1886-7), Edward Burne-Jones

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