Monday, 17 September 2012

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde at Tate Britain

As a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites, I visited the new exhibition, 'Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde' at the Tate Britain today. It's a huge exhibition of some 180 pieces, but as someone who has visited Tate Britain, the Ashmolean and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (and even the small collection at the V & A) to view the PRB's art, it was all strangely familiar. In a way, it almost went against the grain of what I like about the paintings - the fact that they are often localised, or subversive, or don't quite fit in with other paintings within more traditional collections gives the paintings their individual appeal. When they are all stacked up together like this - DGR's 'Beata Beatrix', Millais's 'Ophelia', and Wallis's 'The Death of Chatterton' among them - they seem less individualistic somehow. I've always thought their power was something that grew on you slowly, thanks to the opulence of the colours, or the odd perspectives that were used; but when put together in a crowded space the time to linger on them is somewhat lost. As a 'literature' person I was also quite disappointed that more was not made of the literary connections of the paintings; though some paintings were displayed with their relevant poems attached, much more could have been made of the link between painting and poetry at the heart of the PRB (and even inscribed upon some of the frames of the paintings themselves). I did love, however, the room that gathered together furniture and wallpapers, stressing the collaborative side of the Brotherhood's projects - and placing the focus on William Morris's exceptional talent (see Morris's bed, above). The main result was that I really wanted to go to Kelmscott Manor to see more!

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