National Portrait Gallery to Feature Selected Works from Pre-Raphaelite Collection

Major new exhibition in London showcasing the women who shaped the Pre-Raphaelite movement will include four pieces from the Delaware Art Museum

WILMINGTON, DE (September 26, 2019) – In the 1880s, American textile mill owner Samuel Bancroft, Jr. was “shocked with delight” upon viewing a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Wilmington industrialist purchased his first Rossetti oil painting, Water Willow, around ten years later. By the time of his death in 1915, Bancroft had amassed what is now the largest and most significant Pre-Raphaelite collection outside the United Kingdom. In 1935, Bancroft’s family donated his entire collection to what is now the Delaware Art Museum, along with 11 acres of land on Kentmere Parkway to construct a museum.

Today, the Delaware Art Museum is home to this important collection of Pre-Raphaelite artwork, and this fall, for a special exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, select works from the collection will return to the U.K.

On view at the National Portrait Gallery in London October 17, 2019, through January 26, 2020, Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, curated by Jan Marsh, emphasizes the stories of the women in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Through paintings, photographs, manuscripts, and personal items, Pre-Raphaelite Sisters explores the significant roles they played as artists, models, muses, and helpmeets who supported and sustained the artistic output of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Among the new discoveries and unseen works from public and private collections across the world included in the landmark exhibition are four pieces from the Delaware Art Museum: Found and Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Mother of Moses by Simeon Solomon; and a pair of embroidered shoes by Marie Spartali Stillman.

The items on loan each offer unique insights into the incredible story of the women behind the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, highlighting the Museum’s longtime commitment to fully capturing the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The paintings in particular feature models who were either artists themselves or very important in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

“The Pre-Raphaelite artists mentored many female artists and, in fact, that’s just one of many practices which shook up the London art world,” says Dr. Margaretta S. Frederick, the Annette Woolard-Provine Curator of the Bancroft Collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art at the Delaware Art Museum. “Jan Marsh is renowned for her work on reviving and making a part of the story all of the women who were so intimately involved with this group of young painters. In curating the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, she shows how they unofficially banded together and helped one another to negotiate the male-dominated art world through ‘a Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood.’ They understood that through collective support they could get a lot further.”

Marsh and Frederick have previously collaborated on Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions, and Dr. Frederick has been integral to the Museum’s Bancroft Collection for over 20 years. Most recently, the two co-curated the first retrospective exhibition of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Marie Spartali Stillman, which opened at the Delaware Art Museum in November 2015.

Given the rich history of the Bancroft Collection and professional connection, it was natural for Marsh to contact the Delaware Art Museum, Dr. Frederick says. Visitors to the National Portrait Gallery exhibition who are familiar with the Bancroft Collection may recognize several works of art and be moved by the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of women as both artists and subjects.

Found by Dante Gabriel Rossetti features his frequent model Fanny Cornforth. Although notably incomplete, Found still dramatically relays a scene of industrial England, wherein a young woman, desperate to find work, has collapsed on the street after turning to prostitution. Mother of Moses by Simeon Solomon is also an important addition, as it depicts Fanny Eaton, a model of color, which would have been a departure from the traditional “English roses” who traditionally appeared as models during the Victorian period. Additionally, the inclusion of Rossetti’s Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal illustrates one of the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood; and Marie Spartali Stillman’s embroidered shoes show another artistic side of this successful female Pre-Raphaelite painter.

Back home, the Delaware Art Museum’s collection will similarly place a renewed emphasis on the work of women and the importance of including diverse voices. For those interested in the Pre-Raphaelite movement locally, Sound the Deep Waters from Angela Fraleigh, on display October 5, 2019, through April 12, 2020, at the Delaware Art Museum is directly inspired by the Museum’s Pre-Raphaelite and American illustration collections.

Dr. Frederick is also curating an upcoming exhibition for the Museum on Pre-Raphaelite painting duo Evelyn and William De Morgan. That exhibition, planned for 2022, will help launch the updated Pre-Raphaelite galleries. As part of the Delaware Art Museum’s continued commitment to the Pre-Raphaelite collection, as well as to continuing to highlight women and diverse voices, there will be a reinstallation of the Bancroft Collection in 2020.

“We will be highlighting our commitment to Pre-Raphaelite art and the women of the movement in 2022. Through conversation with our Museum members and members of the community, we’ve honed in on aspects particularly relevant to today’s audiences,” Dr. Frederick says. “Certainly, women, their role in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and a contemporary response to that, is of interest.”

About the British Pre-Raphaelites at the Delaware Art Museum

“Thanks to the passionate acquisitions of Samuel Bancroft, Jr., the Delaware Art Museum in the small city of Wilmington has long boasted the largest and most significant collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the United States.” —The British Art Journal

“It is one of the finest Pre-Raphaelite collections outside Britain.” —The Guardian

The Pre-Raphaelites rejected the conventions of their time and focused on the past, particularly the Middle Ages—the time “before Raphael.” Their subjects were drawn primarily from literature, the Bible, Shakespeare, and Arthurian legend, as well as contemporary life. Beautiful, seductive women, often referred to as “stunners,” are depicted in the later works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Comprised of paintings, drawings, photographs, decorative arts, and illustrated books, the Delaware Art Museum’s Bancroft Collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art is the largest Pre-Raphaelite collection outside the United Kingdom.

About the Delaware Art Museum

For over 100 years, the Museum has served as a primary arts and cultural institution in Delaware. It is alive with experiences, discoveries, and activities to connect people with art and with each other. Originally created in 1912 to honor the renowned illustrator and Wilmington-native, Howard Pyle, the Museum’s collection has grown to over 12,000 works of art in our building and sculpture garden. Also recognized for British Pre-Raphaelite art, the Museum is home to the largest and most important Pre-Raphaelite collection outside of the United Kingdom and a growing collection of significant contemporary art.

Under the leadership of our Board of Trustees, the Delaware Art Museum is implementing a comprehensive approach to community and civic engagement. This exciting new strategic direction requires that we increase our value and relevance to all audiences. Visit delart.org to for the latest exhibitions, programs, and performances or connect with us via social media.

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