Now on view in the Pre-Raphaelite galleries!

December 15, 2015

It is human nature to categorize, and this method of learning is often applied to our understanding of art. The placement of one or more works of art of different style, time period or locale can stimulate new observations, breaking down previously held assumptions and adding to our understanding of the referential nature of the history of art.

The Council Chamber, 1872-92. Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). Oil on canvas, 49 x 104 inches. Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935.

Now on view in the Pre-Raphaelite  galleries, Edward Burne-Jones’ (1833-1898) The Council Chamber is paired with Passengers, a painting by the American artist Steven Assael (born 1957). Burne-Jones’ interpretation of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale is an escapist vision—a response to the overwhelming changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution in Victorian Britain. Assael is well known for his enigmatic characters and ambiguous narratives, and draws on the grand tradition of painting, mining artistic precedents for style, technique, or source material.

For Burne-Jones, beauty, as expressed in ethereal images of fantasy, was an essential element of life. Assael similarly explains, “Beauty transcends the appearances of things and gets to the meaning and depth of human experiences that are very often difficult to look at.”

Passengers, 2008 by Steven Assael. oil on canvas, 72 x 90 inches. © Steven Assael, Courtesy of Forum Gallery, New York.

In Passengers, Steven Assael has placed the sleeping trio in a contemporary time and place, but one full of contradictions. Are the travelers asleep in a train car or lounging in an interior? Is the countryside a view out of the window or a painted landscape? Perhaps the inclusion of two watchful, Capuchin monkeys signals these inconsistencies as the primate was often featured in 17th-century Dutch painting to indicate ambiguity.

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You will find Assael’s painting on view in the Pre-Raphaelite galleries in spring 2016 and in the Museum’s fall 2016 special exhibition, Truth & Vision: 21st Century Realism.

Margaretta S. Frederick
Chief Curator, and Annette Woolard-Provine Curator of the Bancroft Collection

Margaret Winslow
Associate Curator for Contemporary Art

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